Study Guide

Howl's Moving Castle Appearances

By Diana Wynne Jones

Appearances

With all of the enchantments in Howl's Moving Castle, we learn early on not to take people's appearances for granted. After all, Sophie may take advantage of her old age curse to take a break from her usual humdrum, anxious life, but she's not actually a ninety-year-old woman.

But beyond the deceptiveness of appearances thanks to all the magic in Ingary, Howl's Moving Castle also considers the ways in which people's regular appearances can be deceiving. When Sophie first meets the King, she is struck by how bland he looks in person, even though she is intimidated by his position as the supreme ruler of her country.

And Calcifer's face may look "extraordinarily evil" (3.41), but as we get to know him we find out that he is quite vulnerable, nervous, and sympathetic. Clearly it's important to use instinct and judgment to figure out what's going on behind both the everyday and the magical appearances that these characters project.

Questions About Appearances

  1. Does anyone in this novel turn out to be exactly as they appear?
  2. What examples are there in this book of disguises that make the characters look more like they truly are?
  3. How do the different characters take advantage of their false appearances? What can they use their physical appearances to achieve? How does appearance become strategic in this book?

Chew on This

Misjudgment of character based on physical appearance is not only accidental or a matter of prejudice in Howl's Moving Castle; many of the main characters—including Sophie, Howl, and the Witch of the Waste—deliberately take advantage of their appearances to achieve something they want.

The only characters in Howl's Moving Castle who seem to be exactly what they appear are minor characters with no real plot function; all of the central characters in the novel reinforce the idea that appearances cannot be trusted to assess someone's real personality.

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