We know, we know, obviously the supernatural is important in this book—it's a fantasy novel, after all. But Howl's Moving Castle never takes its supernatural elements for granted. In fact, the first paragraph of the novel draws attention to the fact that Ingary's magic—its "seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility" (1.1)—is what separates Ingary from the real world where we live. Obviously Jones doesn't want us to get so sucked into the novel that magic seems ordinary; she keeps it weird and unexpected.
But if you disregard the spells for safety and flowers and moving castles and the many (many) curses, the main plot of Howl's Moving Castle really hinges on personal relationships. Oh sure Sophie has to cope with her old age curse and Howl has to get his heart back, but symbolically speaking, this just means that Sophie has to get out more and improve her self-esteem and Howl has to learn how to commit to one woman.
While the magic of this novel keeps us entertained and interested in what's happening, when you get down to it, the actual story of Howl's Moving Castle is a fundamentally simple one about human beings figuring some personal things out for themselves.
Questions About The Supernatural
How do the ordinary residents of Porthaven or Market Chipping appear to regard magic? What do they use it for, and how do they interact with local magic users? What would you say the social status of magic might be in Ingary?
What signs do we get early on that Sophie has a magic gift? How does the novel depict her magic while she is still unaware that she is doing it?
Which acts of magic in this book appears to have larger symbolic significance? How about examples of magic that don't have larger significance, or that seem just to happen?
Chew on This
While Howl's magical heartlessness clearly symbolizes his inability to commit to one woman, his less symbolic, smaller magic acts—such as selling the people of Porthaven discounted safety spells and giving his nephew a magic video game—actually give us a greater sense of Howl's character than his big contract with Calcifer does.
Howl may struggle with money due to his spendthrift ways, but the examples of prosperous Mrs. Fairfax and Mrs. Pentstemmon suggest that magic-working is generally a socially respected and elevated profession in Ingary.