Study Guide

Miss Angorian in Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones

Miss Angorian

In our analysis of the Witch of the Waste elsewhere in this section, we said that the Witch is the showy villain of this novel. We know that she's a baddie from the outset, and she remains one of our main antagonists through the end of the book. Miss Angorian, on the other hand, appears much more ambiguous. In fact, she is so difficult to read that Sophie herself completely misses the fact that she is the Witch's fire demon and has to be told so by Howl in the last chapter.

The cool thing about Jones's decision to keep Miss Angorian's identity as the Witch's fire demon under wraps for so long is that it gives the novel a chance to develop Sophie's feelings for Howl so that the happy ending at the end doesn't come completely out of the blue.

When Sophie first sees Miss Angorian, she is struck by the fact that, "For a fierce schoolteacher, Miss Angorian [is] astonishingly young and slender and good-looking" (11.53). Sophie is so distracted by Miss Angorian's appearance that she assumes Howl must be too. Sophie keeps teasing Howl about going off to court Miss Angorian, but she also eventually admits her jealousy to herself: "Even young and fresh, she did not think her face compared particularly well with Miss Angorian's" (18.60). Don't despair, though, Sophie.

Luckily, the fact that Miss Angorian turns out to be a fire demon saves Sophie from any need to keep being jealous. What's more, the fact that Howl already knows Miss Angorian is a fire demon makes it less strange that he has apparently been pursuing her right up until the final chapter, when he proposes getting together with Sophie. We can trust Howl's sudden declaration because he hasn't actually been carrying a torch for Miss Angorian—that was all Sophie's pessimistic and negative thinking.

Most Terrifying English Teacher Ever

We will admit that we find it a bit puzzling that Miss Angorian the fire demon first appears to us as Howl's nephew Neil's English teacher. Why does the Witch of the Waste send her curse to Howl through a homework assignment regarding John Donne's famous poem "Song"? Why should Miss Angorian teach poetry at all?

Besides the possible message here that you shouldn't mess with your English teachers just in case they happen to be fire demons in disguise, we think that Miss Angorian's chosen job gives the novel as a whole the chance to reflect on the relationship between poetry and magic. Donne's poem is weird and wonderful and hard to figure out (but also kind of mean about women, if you get to the end of the second verse and continue on to the third).

And the novel's definition of magic also emphasizes the difficulty of the wording of spells. Howl teaches Michael: "You'll find every spell of power has at least one deliberate mistake or mystery in it to prevent accidents" (6.15). So both poetry and magic depend on acts of interpretation. The next time you're in English class, consider that your poetry analysis may be helping you to learn the skills you need to become a wizard.

Miss Angorian's use of John Donne draws our attention to the literary nature of magic. But of course, her roundabout way of getting access to Howl through his nephew Neil also proves her power by being able to influence Howl in both Ingary and in the real world, in Wales. Miss Angorian is performing a major power play here, which seems completely consistent with her later efforts to just grab Howl's heart directly from Calcifer by force. She believes in showing her strength as often as possible, and it might have worked if Sophie weren't so tough in the final chapter.

P.S. Jones's respect for the literary aspect of designing spells makes a lot of sense to us. After all, she was at Oxford when both Lord of the Rings writer J.R.R. Tolkien and Narnia creator C.S. Lewis were still teaching there. Both of these guys—but especially Tolkien—emphasize the importance of language to the world of fantasy. Maybe Jones's use of John Donne is one sign of their influence on her world-building approach.

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