Howl's Moving Castle (synopsis - Page 1)
Amid the rolling hills, a noisy contraption emerges through the swirling mists. The castle of the wizard Howl is on the move.
In the town below, a quiet girl works diligently within a milliner's shop. While the rest of the girls are going out, she stays behind. They spot the castle in the distance as it disappears into the mists to conceal itself from a flying military patrol, and giggle about rumours of Howl taking the heart of a young girl from another town. Finally Sophie finishes up, putting on her own hat which is much plainer than any creation to be sold to her customers.
Sophie heads out into the town, which is oozing with the pomp and circumstance of military displays. She quietly slips into a back street, but there she is accosted by a couple of soldiers, out to have some fun with the local ladies. However, a passing stranger backs her up and seems to send the soldiers marching on their way with merely a few gestures of his finger. As he escorts her along the narrow lanes, sinister black blobs sporting jaunty boaters emerge from the walls of the buildings and give chase. Finally, there is only one way out - upwards! They leap high into the air and find themselves walking on air above the town square. Lightly tripping from spire to spire, Sophie is delivered to the safety of the veranda of the luxurious hotel where her younger sister Lettie works as a shophand, and Howl takes his leave to avoid attracting the blobs to that place.
The stunningly beautiful young Lettie is surrounded by various besotted male customers and hotel staff, but immediately tears herself away when told of her sister's unusual arrival. In a sisterly chat, Lettie can't really believe that this man who appears to have stolen Sophie's heart in the traditional way really was Howl, who by rights should have eaten it instead, according to the rumours. Despite Sophie's protestations that her plainness is unworthy of such attention, Lettie hopes for better things for her older sister, even amid the troubled times and rumours of the return of the Witch of the Waste.
When Sophie returns to the empty shop that evening, an elegant woman arrives straight after her. After deriding the appearance of both Sophie and the shop, she is shown the door in no uncertain terms. As she passes outside to her waiting blob footmen, the Witch of the Waste leaves Sophie with a spell that cannot be revealed to anyone else. Seeing her wrinkled hands, Sophie realises that the Witch has turned her into an old woman! In a mild panic, she rushes distractedly from the mirror, which confirms her shocking appearance, to the courtyard and back again...
The next morning, Sophie shuts herself inside her room and feigns illness, obviously unable to show herself to the rest of the shop, and especially not to her fashionable and beautiful mother, returning from the town of Kingsbury. Putting on a brave face, Sophie concedes that her plain clothes finally suit her physical appearance, although the creaking joints of an aged body are less easily ignored. Gathering some provisions, she sneaks out of town, which is all a-murmur of the impending war. She hitches a lift on a hay cart to the edge of the Waste outside the town, and despite warnings from the farmers, heads off up the hill to seek the wizard Howl. Spotting a stout branch poking out from a bush, she tries to claim it for a walking stick, using all her strength and determination to extract it. However, it turns out to be the support for a turnip-headed scarecrow, who seems to somehow be able to stand on his own once righted. Despite Sophie's proclaimed dislike of turnips, at least he does not appear to be in cahoots with the Witch.
As she struggles up the hill, she hears the scarecrow hopping along behind. While she tries to dissuade him and all his magical hoo-ha from following, she sees that he has brought a walking stick for her. Jokingly, she wonders out loud if he might bring a house for her to shelter in as well - and realises that she is getting more cunning with age. Near exhaustion, she carries on, towards the smell of smoke that promises nearby shelter. However, it is Howl's Castle that looms over the hill, with Turnip-Head gleefully hopping along before it. Sophie's shock that she has indeed been delivered the house that she requested, is not assuaged when close inspection shows the castle to be a rather ramshackle collection of nearly-alive parts. Nevertheless, with Turnip-Head pointing out the inviting back door, Sophie realises that she must run after her only available hope of shelter. Once again summoning all her strength, she leaps after the passing doorway and peeks inside. Turnip-Head chases after the receding castle to return Sophie's shawl, but the warmth inside is inviting and she farewells her new friend fondly, realising that there is some good even in a turnip.