The Witch of the Waste (荒地の魔女, Arechi no Majo) is a character in the film Howl's Moving Castle. Seduced by evil ways, this once great sorceress turned into a wicked witch. She hates Howl for abandoning her. After he rescues Sophie, the witch puts a curse on her. She is voiced by Akihiro Miwa in the Japanese version and by Lauren Bacall in the Disney dub.
The Witch of the Waste was once a powerful sorceress who hid her age through magic. She is often accompanied by her magical henchmen, who do her every bidding. She curses Sophie into a a 90-year-old lady out of jealousy. She is later lured by Madame Suliman into the royal palace and drained of her magical powers.
According to the original novel, she made a pact with a fire demon, granting her untold magical abilities. Their relationship was parasitic in nature, which drained much of her power over the years.
She is a talented witch who was so beautiful that Howl pursued her, but after finding out that she used magic to keep herself looking young and beautiful, he left her. She is still in love with Howl, however, and uses her magical powers and henchmen to try and capture him after seeing him with Sophie. That is why she arrives at night to Sophie's hat shop, and insults her before turning her into a 90-year-old woman. As Sophie leaves her hometown in order to break the curse on her, she reaches Howl's castle. Through Sophie's pocket, the Witch uses ancient sorcery to put a powerful spell on Howl in the form of a note. The scorch marks read:
'You who swallowed a falling star, oh heartless man, your heart shall soon belong to me.'
She travels aboard a palanquin, carried by her magical henchmen. She does this not just for her incredible girth, but for her aversion to sunlight, as even within her palanquin are dark curtains. Initially the antagonist, the Witch becomes somewhat of a protagonist after Madame Suliman lures her to the castle to drain her of her magical powers. When forced to climbed the stairway to Suliman's palace, the sunlight slowly exposes her actual appearance and age. She further regresses when she is taken into a room with several large incandescent light bulbs.
She starts living in the castle alongside Heen, and when Sophie;s mother brings a parcel with a peeping bug she quickly discards it. When she realizes Calcifer has Howl’s heart, she tries to take it for herself only to be burned by Calcifer’s flame, prompting Sophie to attempt to douse her.
Decades before the beginning of the novel, the Witch caught a falling star which became her fire demon. Because of this, the Witch became evil. The relationship between her and her fire demon was parasitic, as the demon was draining her magic. Fifty years before the events of Howl's Moving Castle, the current King's father banished the Witch to the Waste, and the Witch bore the current King a grudge for that.
A year before the events in the novel, the wizard Howl pursued her, and later jilted her. Out of fury and the need of his head for her human puppet, the Witch cursed him so that he would be forced to return to the Waste.
The Witch of the Waste is far more terrifying in the novel as she serves as the antagonist. In her first appearance in the novel, she curses Sophie by turning her into an old woman (she mistakes her for Lettie). Howl has spent the past year hiding from the Witch while trying to find Prince Justin and Wizard Suliman. Near the end of the novel, Howl kills the Witch when arriving at the Waste to rescue Sophie.
Behind The Scenes
According to supervising animator Akihiko Yamashita, "We first began with some sketches based on a photo of an old English lady. It became obvious she wouldn't be very appealing if she only looked scary. Following Miyazaki's request, I made her look more erotic in her character design by drawing a full-blossomed, voluptuous woman. In his initial sketches, Miyazaki also drew her as plump and voluptuous. We drew her in the same vein."
Supervising animator Takeshi Inamura elaborated on her personality and design, "I worked on portraying the Witch of the Waste as caring, so she wouldn't be seen as a simple evil character. She herself doesn't consider herself evil at all, and in fact, she isn't a bad person. In terms of animation, it was difficult to draw her after she ages. The wrinkles we added inevitable stretched her face. The downward multiple lines would make her nose droop, elongating her entire face. The hardest task was to subdue that effect and keep her physique intact."
- "The Art of Howl's Moving Castle", p.64
- "The Art of Howl's Moving Castle", p.65
|Howl's Moving Castle|
|Main Cast||Howl | Sophie | Calcifer | Markl | Turnip Head|
|Kingdom of Ingary||Suliman | King | Heen | Kosho | Witch of the Waste|
|Hatter Family||Honey | Lettie|
|Others||Bessie | Madge (Howl's Customer) | Mayor of Porthaven | Star Children|
|Locations||Ingary | Market Chipping | Cesari's | Hatter's Hat Shop | The Waste | Porthaven | Star Lake | Kingsbury | Royal Palace | Howl's Castle | Howl's Bedroom | Cave of Mind | Secret Garden | Howl's Cottage|
|Mechanical Designs||Battleship | Flying Battleship | Bomber | Flying Kayak | Palanquin|
|Magical Objects||Magic Ring | Peeping Bugs | Blob Men | Tadpole Monsters|
|Music||Soundtrack | The Promise of the World|