Archive for the ‘Diana Wynne Jones’ Category

For all you fans of Diana Wynne Jones, here’s my 2007 Howl’s Moving Castle/Dr. Seuss crossover.  (It’s based on the novel, not the anime.)

Everybody in Ingary
Liked Christmas a lot.
But the Witch,
Who’d been kicked out of Ingary,
Did not.

The Witch hated Christmas!
The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why.
No one quite knows the reason:
It could be her head
Wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be they got
Her last face-lift too tight.
But I think the
Likeliest reason, by far:
She had given her heart
To a cruel fallen star.

But whatever the reason,
Her heart or her face,
The Witch hated the annual
Yuletide rat-race,
Staring out from the Waste
With a sour Witchy frown
At the warm lighted windows
In every town.

“They’re hanging their stockings!”
She snarled with a sneer.
“Tomorrow is Christmas!
It’s practically here!”

With her long sharp red fingernails
Nervously clacking,
Said she, “I’ll find some way
To send Christmas packing!”

Then, “I’ve got it!” she cried.

“With this illusion spell,
I’ll create a disguise
So that no one can tell
That I’m not Mrs. Claus;
Sneak in quietly, very,
And steal every present.
Make Christmas un-merry!”

So she conjured a elf-hat,
Coat, and mini-skirt, red,
All trimmed in white fur.
Then she conjured a sled.

“All I need is a reindeer.”
The Witch looked around;
There were none in that world
So no reindeer was found.

Did that stop the old Witch?
Dear, no.  Don’t be silly.
She tied big fuzzy antlers
On her fire demon, Lily.

Lily felt quite exploited,
Being hitched to a sled.
“I am so going to
Get her for this,” Lily said.

Then the Witch said, “Giddap!”
Up the slope gently slipping,
They rode to the heath
Just above Market Chipping.

The village was dark.
Quiet snow filled the air
As they came to the house
Just beyond Market Square,
Where the three Hatter girls
Dreamed sweet dreams without care.

“This is stop number one!”
The fake Witchy-Claus hissed.
And she climbed to the roof,
Evil spells in her fist.

She got stuck in the chimney—
Too tight for the Witch.
Muttered Lily, “Why don’t you lose
Thirty pounds, b- – – -?”

She got all the way down,
Though her face had turned blue.
Then she stuck her head
Out of the fireplace flue
Where the Hatter girls’ stockings
All hung in a row.
“These stockings,” she said,
“Are the first things to go.”

Then she slithered and slunk
With a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room,
And took every present!

There was perfume for Lettie,
New combs for her hair,
A sparkling gold necklace,
A new frock to wear.

For Sophie, new scissors,
And needles and thread,
Three novels, two histories,
And a quilt for her bed.

For Martha, the youngest,
With a fortune to seek,
Cotton aprons and undies
For each day of the week.

The Witch made them all vanish!
Then, quick as a wink,
Hit the closets—she even
Took Fanny’s faux mink!

Then she transported up
Through the chimney with glee,
Pausing only to hijack
The wreath and the tree!

It was quarter past dawn
When the Witch, in great haste,
With Lily the reindeer
Returned to the Waste.

But she’d left off a listening-in spell
At Chez Hatter,
Eager to hear the girls’
Christmas hopes shatter.

“They’ll wail and they’ll weep,
They’ll shriek at the sight,”
She told Lily. “They’ll get in
A juicy cat-fight!
And that is a sound
That I really must hear!”
She added.

Then, putting a hand to her ear,
She listened in horror
As there came, clear and bright,
The three lovely Hatter girls’
Squeals of delight,
The crinkling of gift-wrap,
The crackling Yule fire
(Which, had she but seen it,
Was blue and quite jolly,
Munching pungent pine needles
And crunchy bright holly),
And old carols sung
By an impromptu choir—
Four warbling Hatters,
A tenor, a bass,
And one other
Who wandered
All over the place.

And the Witch and her fire demon
Stood in the Waste,
Looks of sour disappointment
On each ravaged face.

“Wait a minute!” cried Lily.
“I thought I heard men!”

Yes, those three manly wizards,
Howl, Michael, and Ben,
Had magicked the egg nog,
The wreath and the tree,
The gifts they had brought
For the fair sisters three,
The gifts that the girls bought
For Fanny, their mother
(Or step-), and the things
They all got for each other—
Right back down the chimney.
They’d re-hung the wreath
And put back the tree,
With the presents beneath.

While the Witch of the Waste
And her fire demon Lily,
Were doomed to a Christmas
Both bitter and chilly.

But our three noble wizards
Remembered the pair,
And gifts soon came winging
Through the dry Waste-y air:
Lily got Chicken Soup
For the Fire Demon Soul,
But the Witch got a stocking
All full of Welsh coal.

And in fair Market Chipping,
Old and young, short and tall,
Raise a glass to your health:
“Merry Christmas to All!”

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Having stirred up a cloud of dust, Sophie has to sprinkle water in order to “lay” it. [64] I seem to have had heard of this practice before; I’m not sure, though. It would be like the first rain of autumn clearing the haze of dust and ag particles that follows the harvest. It makes the air fresh and the sky blue, but all I can see it doing to a stone floor is coating it with dirt that is now damp and slimy.

This leads to more sweeping, which also allows Sophie to sweep her way to the door so she can examine the fourth side of the knob and have a go at the cobwebby beams. Calcifer has been sneezing purple sparks since page 62. (The physiology of this is not explained.)

Marvelously spruced up, Howl enters.

He took one look and backed into the bathroom again with a blue-and-silver sleeve protecting his head.

“Stop it woman!” he said. “Leave those poor spiders alone!” [65]

The ensuing conversation is not so much about spiders as about boundaries. Howl may regard Sophie’s response to them as a test of her Witch of the Waste credentials or lack thereof: even those of us who dislike spiders, and are terrified of turning over a planter or a board and finding a black widow, would prefer to let them be than outright kill them (at least I would). If Sophie can remove the webs without harming the spiders, that will ease some of his misgivings about her real identity.

On the other hand, he’s got a real infestation there, which enhances the creepy-castle air of the place. Likewise, the spiders represent another object onto which Sophie can project the anxiety of her unrealized feelings about Howl: “Probably he had a wicked affinity for spiders, Sophie thought.”

Either way, the subject is changed from their mutual efforts to impress one another. The boundary-crashing continues, however:

Sophie leaned on the broom and watched Howl cross the room and pick up his guitar. As he put his hand on the door latch, she said, “If the red blob leads to Kingsbury and the blue blob goes to Porthaven, where does the black blob take you?”

“What a nosy old woman you are!” said Howl. “That leads to my private bolt hole and you are not being told where it is.” He opened the door [green-down] onto the wide, moving moorland and the hills. [65]

“Bolt hole” is a British phrase that apparently means “escape hatch.” Actually this seems to go for any of the castle’s exits, not just the black one: Howl walks away from the entire situation, leaving Sophie duly warned about spiders, Michael “despairingly” wondering when he’ll be back, and Calcifer crackling “with malicious laughter.” [66] When you’re a slitherer-outer, any old portal will do.

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The washing/cleaning/sweeping activities are signs of renewal. Really, I could end this post here; that pretty much says it.

If I did, though, I’d miss pointing out the sheer drollery of the conversation on p. 62:

“What are you doing?” cried Michael and Calcifer in a horrified chorus.

“Cleaning up,” Sophie replied firmly. “The place is a disgrace.”

Calcifer said, “It doesn’t need it,” and Michael muttered, “Howl will kick you out!” but Sophie ignored them both. Dust flew in clouds.

“It doesn’t need it…!?” How can Calcifer SAY such a thing, particularly when he’s already agreed to go along with the cleaning lady ruse? Is it because he’s a non-corporeal being and thus is neither aware of nor attuned to material clutter? Or is it just guy-speak? Howl himself seems unconcerned about the mess, so Calcifer is as well.

Michael, on the other hand, is broadcasting his own still-uncertain status in the household. He’s never pinned Howl down about anything, let alone whether he is welcome to go on staying there, and getting kicked out is probably always at the back of his mind. Plus I detect a bit of jealousy towards Sophie on the next page, when the doorknob goes blue-down and there’s a little girl from Porthaven there to pick up a spell for her dad’s boat.

“Has the Sorcerer got a witch working for him too?” she asked.

“No,” said Michael.

“Meaning me?” Sophie called. “Oh, yes, my child. I’m the best and cleanest witch in Ingary.”

Michael shut the door, looking exasperated. [Michael knows how rumors get started and spread.] “That will be all round Porthaven now. Howl may not like that.” [63]

Sophie cackles in reply. She doesn’t care. She’s cast off the grey mouse, she’s out of the hat shop, and she’s having the time of her life. She’s also just made herself the best and cleanest witch in Ingary.

Just as she notices that the fourth paint blob on the revolving doorknob is black, then sets to work on the cobwebs festooning the beams, Howl emerges from the bathroom. “He looked marvelously spruce.” [64] Other than that his suit looks brighter, that’s all we get of Sophie’s response.

She’s hoping to impress him with her diligence. He’s hoping to impress her with his gorgeousness. It seems to be working. Feelings are happening. This is uncomfortable for both of them. Best to change the subject; this Howl does by directing the conversation to spiders.

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Chapter Five begins with Sophie desperately wanting to stay.

The only thing to do, Sophie decided, was to show Howl that she was an excellent cleaning lady, a real treasure. She tied an old rag round her wispy white hair, she rolled the sleeves up her skinny old arms and wrapped an old tablecloth from the broom cupboard round her as an apron….She grabbed up a bucket and besom and got to work. [63]

In checking my notes and my favorite books of folk tale/fairy tale interpretation for this post, I got merrily caught up in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s chapter in Women Who Run With The Wolves on the story about the innocent girl Vasalisa and the chicken-legged house of the crone Baba Yaga. There are some compelling similarities between Vasalisa and Sophie, which once again I attribute not so much to any direct, intentional parallel, but rather to the “primordial sludge” — comprising everything she has known, learned, or read — which DWJ cited as inspiration in “The Profession of Science Fiction.”

Vasalisa began life with stepmother and stepsister problems, which in Sophie’s case are inverted/averted; however, she shares with Sophie a missing “positive mother,” the source of a girl’s self-esteem and ability to trust her own intuition. Although Fanny never abused Sophie in any wicked-stepmother way, there’s no denying that Sophie’s loss in infancy of her real mother, combined with her own tendency toward passivity, had in her hat shop days collapsed Sophie’s reality into practically nothing.

Vasalisa does the everyday chores without complaint. To submit without complaint is heroic-seeming, but in fact causes more and more pressure and conflict between the two oppositional natures, one too-good and the other too-demanding….At this point a woman begins to lose her psychic bearings. She may feel cold, alone, and willing to do anything to bring back the light again. This is just the jolt the too-nice woman needs to continue her induction into her own power. One might say that Vasalisa has to go meet the Great Wild Hag because she needs a good scare. [WWRWTW, p. 87]

We’ve already seen Sophie longing for something more to life as she dutifully trims hats all day and far into the night. We’ve seen her so deeply compliant and resigned that the Hag, the Witch of the Waste, finally had to come to her. Having been jolted from her passivity by the Witch’s curse, we’ve seen Sophie leave home and shop and set out into the Wild — willing, as night comes down cold and windy, to take her chances with Wizard Howl’s Castle because there’s fire and light inside.

(Miyazaki’s version even helpfully puts the castle on giant biomechanical chicken legs.)

At this point, DWJ begins departing from the old story, inverting it. In the folk tale, Vasalisa’s family send her to Baba Yaga seeking fire, an errand which they assumed and hoped would be the end of Vasalisa. Upon meeting her, Baby Yaga then strikes a Rumpelstiltskin-esque bargain with the girl — she will give Vasalisa the magical fire in return for impossible fairy-tale household chores such as sorting mounds of poppy-seeds from mounds of dirt before dawn. There will also be sweeping and laundry to do. But Baba Yaga doesn’t live in Howl’s Moving Castle. There is an enchanted fire at the heart of it, but rather than passively waiting to be stolen, this fire has drawn Sophie there and and allowed her to enter.

As far as the sweeping and washing go, the resident bachelors don’t demand it in return for lodging. In fact, they insist they don’t even want it. [62] Yet Sophie throws herself into it with a wild, mad joy. For now it’s what she is choosing to do, and for someone who for so long had felt so trapped, that means the world.

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So Sophie has accomplished a Goldilocks or Snow White-style occupation of Howl’s Moving Castle, complete with gratuitous house-cleaning. She has learned that there’s really no castle beyond the small house with one dingy room overlooking Porthaven and a large well-appointed bathroom downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. She’s learned that Howl and Calcifer somehow created the castle, and that Calcifer “keeps it going.” [59] She’s observed that the doorknob was green-down when she entered the castle from the moor above Market Chipping, and that moving it to red-down opens the door onto Kingsbury.

(There are four colors on the knob in all, just as there are four sides with a door each on the castle’s facade. In this sense the castle’s interior and its one door can be said to “revolve” to each of its four locations.)

Howl stonewalls, refusing to be pinned down or to answer Sophie’s questions other than to explain that he designed the castle this way because “I’ve reached that stage in my career when I need to impress everyone with my power and wickedness. I can’t have the King thinking well of me. And last year I offended someone very powerful and I need to keep out of their way.” [59]

In this statement I hear Howl warning Sophie (in case she is an enemy) that he is powerful and wicked, so don’t try anything, and that if she is an enemy she won’t get to the King through him. Owing to the wondrous ambiguity which DWJ is able to build into her dialogue, I also detect that he does not believe she is the very powerful someone he offended, and that he is warning her that he is a coward and that this is no safe haven.

Sophie merely wonders inwardly (and quite sensibly, I think) why, if you’re trying to avoid someone, you would call attention to yourself with a large hulking smoke-throwing illusion. “[She] supposed wizards had different standards from ordinary people.”

We also learn that the King pays extremely well for the two thousand pairs of seven-league boots he ordered, and that Michael is watchful and anxious about money. Nor does he trust Howl to manage it well.

We get a brief glimpse of the splendor of Kingsbury, the capital, and learn that our three portal cities Porthaven, Market Chipping, and Kingsbury are impoverished, middle-class, and wealthy respectively.

Then Howl is off to the bathroom to get ready for whatever it is he does all day, leaving Sophie — and the reader — completely up in the air as to whether she is going or staying.

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