Kids, reading, and "good" lit...

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Sat Aug 7 20:32:56 EDT 1999

In a message dated 8/7/99 11:13:04 AM Eastern Daylight Time, 
sheeyun at writes:
  >>jessie wrote: 
  >>Howl's Moving Castle -- besides the problems of memory for non-protags, 
  >>Sophie herself bears the responsibility for the situation she is in....
  >I believe that I understand what Howl meant when he remarked that Sophie 
  >doing the oldifying spell to herself. It has always made me uncomfortable, 
  >Has anyone else felt this way? 
  >Mary Ann

    I felt that DWJ was referring to how sometimes one can be one's own worst 
enemy.  So much of what one accomplishes depends on what one 'believes' one 
can accomplish.  Sophie is so accustomed--thanks to 'socialisation' 
("everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst...." p.1)-- 
to thinking of herself as someone destined to fail that she completely 
disregards her own talents--talents blindingly apparent to everyone else 
around her.   Before she even reaches the castle, it is clear to us readers 
that Fanny, Letty, Martha, the Witch of the Waste, even the countryman 
stranger in the lane who meets her as dusk is falling--all recognise her 
magical gifts.  And the clues are certainly there for Sophie to see--ie. when 
all her hat predictions start coming true.  She just has to say something for 
it to be so.  She makes her own reality.
    But in spite of all this evidence, Sophie 'believes' she will fail, so 
she doesn't even try to succeed.  Perhaps she's frightened to succeed because 
then she will be taking complete responsibility for her life, not living it 
on other people's terms.  It is so much more comfortable to be able to say 
"Oh, I won't succeed anyway so why bother" than to say "These are my gifts 
and abilities, what use am I going to put them to in the face of other 
people's jealousy and threatened feelings?"  So she colludes with the Witch 
to make the aging spell stick. (Calcifer says "I can see you're under a 
spell....  It's a strong spell....  It feels like one of the Witch of the 
Waste's to me....  But it seems more than that....  I detect two layers." p. 
    And when she's old, she's freed because no one has any expectations of 
old women (other than that they'll die) so she can rediscover herself and 
acknowledge her gifts.  Also, perhaps as one gets older one realises that 
time is running short and one becomes less willing to live what's left of 
one's time on other people's terms.  There's a sort of last chance feel that 
certainly puts things into perspective.  One is finally forced to make a 
choice, and one learns that what other people think doesn't (and never did) 
matter. ("As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the 
way she was behaving.  As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or 
said.  She found that a great relief. p.41)
    I suspect it is this sense of 'collusion' that is so uncomfortable.  It's 
one thing to be able to blame the world if one doesn't succeed, but it's 
quite another to acknowledge one's own responsibility for what happens to 
one, to admit that one might willingly, if unconsciously, harm oneself rather 
than take risks or change one's life.  There's such fear, stigma and shame 
attached to failure that women in particular (says I) because we are so 
socialised to consider what the great 'they' will think before we consider 
what 'we' think, would rather not risk failure.  We would rather not try.  
Plus it's not 'ladylike' to be ambitious, to want to succeed.  So it seems to 
me that these may all be issues (hate that word) that Sophie is battling with 
under the surface.  So Howl is exactly right when he says to Sophie, "I came 
to the conclusion that you liked being in disguise.... It must be, since 
you're doing it yourself.... What a strange family you are!  Is _your_ name 
really Lettie too?" (p. 183)
    What DWJ seems to be saying (and maybe I'm just reading that into her 
work because it's what I want to see) is 'your life is your own in the end.'  
It's up to you to make the most of it, but if you don't, the responsibility 
is your own not society's.  And it seems to me that that is part, at least, 
of what lies at the heart of all her stories.  (Also, it seems to me that she 
uses magic as a sort of metaphor for creative gifts in general.  Her 
characters try to run away from their gifts but of course they can't, for 
when they do everything goes wrong, and only being true to themselves puts 
things right.  With a gift, it seems, comes a responsibility on some level to 
put that gift to use or suffer the consequences of stifling that sort of 
    Well that's my two cents' worth.  The children's story I'm working on at 
the moment has an old woman as the protagonist, so this has been great--I've 
been able to put some of my thoughts in order and clarify things in my mind.  

  >(I'm catching up gradually-- I was off getting married, honeymooning 


  >then having net access problems of various sorts....) 

    Mercury retrograde?

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