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"howl's moving castle
is based in a slightly fantasy setting, in that magic fantastical creatures and many fairy-tale conventions exist. the heroine is sophie
, who lives with her step-mother and two step-sisters after her father dies, leaving them his hat-shop. since they are very poor, the step-mother decides it would be best to send to of the daughters away where they can be assured of a good start in life. in fairytale convention, the youngest child will always suceed best when seeking their fortune, so the youngest daughter martha is sent to learn magic with a friendly white witch, while the middle daughter lettie begins an apprenticeship with the local baker. sophie, the eldest, doesn't have much chance, so she stays on with her mother to help run the hat-shop, which she will inherit someday.
however, things don't work out as planned. martha and lettie use a spell to switch places, since lettie wants to learn magic and have adventures while martha wants to get married and raise a family. after sophie discovers this, she crosses paths with an evil sorceress who for some reason that is not revealed at first, casts a spell on sophie that turns her into an old woman and prevents her from telling anyone about it. forced to leave the hat shop, sophie goes to find some way of breaking the curse and ends up taking refuge at the moving castle (yes, it is a castle that can move about, and also has a door that can lead to four different locations). this place belongs to howl
, a charming yet seemingly irresponsible wizard with a reputation for chasing pretty girls. the castle is powered by calcifer
, a fire demon who lives in the hearth and is bound by a contract with howl. he makes a secret bargain with sophie; he will break the curse she is under, if she can find a way to break the contract as it could destroy him and howl. sophie takes a position as housekeeper and tries to find out what the contract is (calcifer is also bound not to tell her what it is), whilst putting up with howl's annoying behaviour and there are further complications when he clashes with the evil sorceress..."