On Being an Old Hag

We’re doing something fun today with the blog – I’ve swapped writing duties for the day with another editor! This article is a guest post by Allison Baron, the managing editor of Area of Effect magazine at Geekdom House. It’s a wonderful piece that I hope you’ll read (and read more about Allison following the article). Meanwhile, I’ve moved off the trodden anime path to write about one of my favorite childhood movies over at Geekdom House – check it out!

For most people, myself included, getting old isn’t something to look forward to.

Sure, I loved the idea of being an adult when I was ten years old and no one listened to my opinion, but now that I’m getting older? I’m only in my twenties now, but I don’t like the idea of bones cracking when I get up or finding grey hairs on my head in the future. I don’t like getting queasy on roller coasters when I used to be able to ride the loopiest tilt-a-whirl with gusto. And still no one listens to my opinion, so what’s the upside?

To Sophie Hatter, being cursed with old age (literally) is probably the best thing that could have happened to her.

In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie is a young woman who works at her mother’s hat shop. She is resigned to working long hours, never speaking her mind and rarely having fun.

Illustration by Robert Neito (syntetyc.com) | reprinted with permission
Illustration by Robert Neito (syntetyc.com) | reprinted with permission

Then, one day, a witch puts a curse on her. Suddenly, Sophie is an old hag, creaking joints and all. But, after some expected expressions of shock, Sophie doesn’t cry, hide, or let despair take over. Instead, she embraces her newfound retirement and, like Bilbo Baggins before her, sets out on an adventure. Interestingly enough, Sophie seems much freer and happier than she used to be in her new predicament. I guess being transformed from a shy girl into a stubborn old woman who won’t take no for an answer does that to you. Whether she’s ignoring Howl’s whining or bullying a fire demon into cooking bacon and eggs for her, the old lady’s sass is something to behold.

“This isn’t so bad now, is it. You’re still in pretty good shape, and your clothes finally suit you,” Sophie says after being transformed.

Though she does complain now and then (“Why do you get so cold when you’re old? I’m fatter than ever, but the wind blows right through me!”), she finds peace in her old age, something that had escaped her before.

It is Sophie’s selflessness that makes her one of my favourite heroines of all time. Her faults, in fact, lie mainly in thinking too little of herself. Through making friends and adopting a new family, she learns that other people care about her for who she is, not how old she is, and that she has immense value as a person. Old age doesn’t stop Howl, Markl, and Calcifer from caring about her.

Howl tells her to her face that she is beautiful in a moment of emotion between them:

Sophie: So you are going away. Please, Howl, I know I can be of help to you, even though I’m not pretty and all I’m good at is cleaning.”

Howl: Sophie, Sophie! You’re beautiful!

You can see the curse begin to fall away at this point, but then Sophie hunches back up into the form of an old woman:

Sophie: Well, the nice thing about being old is you’ve got nothing much to lose.

It’s only when she’s completely accepted that she has value and that she is beautiful in the eyes of someone else, after Howl fights for her, that she is able to finally throw off the curse.

Sophie’s journey makes me think maybe old age isn’t something to be scared of so much. If Sophie can do it with such tenacity, so can I. Wisdom comes with age, after all; the more I’ve lived, the better I understand the people around me… or so my grandparents tell me.

I think Sophie’s fear of how she was perceived was cast out by love and by recognizing that the time she had was very little. She wanted to make every day count and was willing to set aside the things that don’t really matter for the things that do.

Sophie reminds me that the love of the people in my life and the God I believe in is not conditional upon my age or looks. I’ve been promised that whether my hairs are young or old, washed or unwashed, brown or (one day) grey, they are all accounted for—that I am worth something to the one who created me (Luke 12:7).

And if I’m as spry and spunky as Sophie is when I’m eighty, I won’t complain… much.

allisonCurrently living in Winnipeg, MB, Allison has loved writing and art ever since she could hold a pencil. When she’s not busy managing Area of Effect magazine, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.

2 thoughts on “On Being an Old Hag”

  1. This is great! I never realized how much of a trying woman she was! Probably a sign that I need to rewatch this awesome film. My friend Lita, coincidently, just brought this movie up in her favorite Ghibli Movies post, so yeah, it must be fate urging me to kick it back with Calcifer again 🙂


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