Diana Wynne Jones
Howl’s Moving Castle
1: In which Sophie talks to hats
In the land of Ingary, where such things as
Seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is
Quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you
Are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set
Out to seek your fortunes.
Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even
The child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some
Chance of success. Her parents were well to do and kept a
Ladies’ hat shop in the prosperous town of Market Chipping.
True, her own mother died when Sophie was just two years old and her
Sister Lettie was one year old, and their father married his youngest
Shop assistant, a pretty blonde girl called Fanny. Fanny shortly gave
Birth to the third sister, Martha. This ought to have made Sophie and
Lettie into Ugly Sisters, but in fact all three girls grew up very
Pretty indeed, though Lettie was the one everyone said was most
Beautiful. Fanny treated all three girls with the same kindness and
Did not favor Martha in the least.
Mr. Hatter was proud of his three daughters and sent them all to
The best school in town. Sophie was the most studious. She read a
Great deal, and very soon realized how little chance she had of an
Interesting future. It was a disappointment to her, but she was still
Happy enough, looking after her sisters and grooming Martha to seek
Her fortune when the time came. Since Fanny was always busy in the
Shop, Sophie was the one who looked after the younger two. There was
A certain amount of screaming and hair-pulling between those younger
Two. Lettie was by no means resigned to being the one who, next to
Sophie, was bound to be the least successful.
“It’s not fair!” Lettie
would shout. “Why
Should Martha have the best of it just because she was born the
Youngest? I shall marry a prince, so there!”
To which Martha always retorted that she would end up
Disgustingly rich without having to marry anybody.
Then Sophie would have to drag them apart and mend their clothes.
She was very deft with her needle. As time went on, she made clothes
For her sisters too. There was one deep rose outfit she made for
Lettie, the May Day before this story really starts, which Fanny said
Looked as if it had come from the most expensive shop in
About this time everyone began talking of the Witch of the Waste
Again. It was said that the Witch had threatened the life of the
King’s daughter and that the King had commanded his personal
Magician, Wizard Suliman, to go into the Waste and deal with the
Witch. And it seemed that Wizard Suliman had not only failed to deal
With the Witch: he had got himself killed by her.
So when, a few months after that, a tall black castle suddenly
Appeared on the hills above Market Chipping, blowing clouds of black
Smoke from its four tall, thin turrets, everybody was fairly sure
That the Witch had moved out of the Waste again and was about to
Terrorize the country the way she used to fifty years ago. People got
Very scared indeed. Nobody went out alone, particularly, at night.
What made it all the scarier was that the castle did not stay in the
Same place. Sometimes it was a tall black smudge on the moors to the
Northwest, sometimes it reared above the rocks to the east, and
Sometimes it came right downhill to sit in the heather only just
Beyond the last farm to the north. You could see it actually moving