In which Sophie talks to hats
In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots
and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be
born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail
first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the
child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of
success. Her parents were well to do and kept a ladies' hat shop in the
prosperous town of Market Chipping. True, her own mother died when
Sophie was two years old and her sister Lettie was one year old, and
their father married his youngest shop assistant, a pretty blonde girl
called Fanny. Fanny shortly gave birth to the third sister, Martha. This
ought to have made Sophie and Lettle into Ugly Sisters, but in fact all
three girls grew up very pretty indeed, though Lettie was the one
everyone said was most beautiful. Fanny treated all three girls with the
same kindness and did not favor Martha in the least.
Mr. Hatter was proud of his three daughters and sent them all to the
best school in town. Sophie was the most studious. She read a great
deal, and very soon realized how little chance she had of an interesting
future. It was a disappointment to her, but she was still happy enough,
looking after her sisters and grooming Martha to seek her fortune when
the time came. Since Fanny was always busy in the shop, Sophie was the
one who looked after the younger two. There was a certain amount of
screaming and hairpulling between those younger two. Lettie was by no
means resigned to being the one who, next to Sophie, was bound to be the
"It's not fair!" Lettie would shout. "Why should Martha have the best of
it just because she was born the youngest? I shall marry a prince, so
To which Martha always retorted that she would end up disgustingly rich
without having to marry anybody.
Then Sophie would have to drag them apart and mend their clothes. She
was very deft with her needle. As time went on, she made clothes for her
sisters too. There was one deep rose outfit she made for Lettie, the May
Day before this story really starts, which Fanny said looked as if it
had come from the most expensive shop in Kingsbury.
About this time everyone began talking of the Witch of the Waste again.
It was said the Witch had threatened the life of the King's daughter and
that the King had commanded his personal magician, Wizard Suliman, to go
into the Waste and deal with the Witch. And it seemed that Wizard
Stillman had not only failed to deal with the Witch: he had got himself
killed by her.
So when, a few months after that, a tall black castle suddenly appeared
on the hills above Market Chipping, blowing clouds of black smoke from
its four tall, thin turrets, everybody was fairly sure that the Witch
had moved out of the Waste again and was about to terrorize the country
the way she used to fifty years ago. People got very scared indeed.
Nobody went out alone, particularly at night. What made it all the
scarier was that the castle did not stay in the same place. Sometimes it
was a tall black smudge on the moors to the northwest, sometimes it
reared above the rocks to the east, and sometimes it came right downhill
to sit in the heather only just beyond the last farm to the north. You
could see it actually moving sometimes, with smoke pouring out from the
turrets in dirty gray gusts. For a while everyone was certain that the
castle would come right down into the valley before long, and the Mayor
talked of sending to the King for help.
But the castle stayed roving about the hills, and it was learned that it
did not belong to the Witch but toWizard Howl. Wizard Howl was bad
enough. Though he did not seem to want to leave the hills, he was known
to amuse himself by collecting young girls and sucking the souls from
them. Or some people said he ate their hearts. He was an utterly
cold-blooded and heartless wizard and no young girl was safe from him if
he caught her on her own. Sophie, Lettie, and Martha, along with all the
other girls in Market Chipping, were warned never to go out alone, which
was a great annoyance to them. They wondered what use Wizard Howl found
for all the souls he collected.
They had other things on their minds before long, however, for Mr.
Hatter died suddenly just as Sophie was old enough to leave school for
good. It then appeared that Mr. Hatter had been altogether too proud of
his daughters. The school fees he had been paying had left the shop with
quite heavy debts. When the funeral was over, Fanny sat down in the
parlor in the house next door to the shop and explained the situation.
"You'll all have to leave that school, I'm afraid," she said. "I've been
doing sums back and front and sideways, and the only way I can see to
keep the business going and take care of the three of you is to see you
all settled in a promising apprenticeship somewhere. It isn't practical
to have you all in the shop. I can't afford it. So this is what I've
decided. Lettie first -- "
Excerpted from "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones. Copyright © 2008 by Diana Wynne Jones. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.