Review: Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

28194[1]I had a lot of reactions to this book beginning with OMG, I love this so much! which I did.  I do.  It’s a wonderful tale about the power of stories and storytelling.  It has wonderful characters, and a plot that kept me guessing where it might lead.  I want to read the rest of the books ASAP.

Another reaction was: This is way dark for a children’s book.  It made me uneasy and I know dark.  I’ve written it.  It isn’t so much that there’s violence because that’s more implied than shown.  Rather it’s the sense that decent people can have some difficult secrets, and the others carry around horror and misery that they enjoy visiting on anyone who gets in their way.  There are a whole lot of damaged people in this book, and not a lot of redemption.  Quite the contrary.  Even Meggie, the 12-year-old protagonist, is not immune to terrible thoughts and desires, and it’s disturbing to watch a child who is old enough to know what death is, wishing death on another person.  And yet, it’s also completely understandable given what she’s going through.

Everyone seems to be working at cross-purposes, either because they’re unable to communicate with one another, or they’re so stubborn that no matter how many times they’re told what’s what, they’re sure they know better.  Meggie’s aunt, Elinor, is a great example of a character who always knows better than anyone else how things should be, and I found that she reminded me of John Hammond from Jurassic Park.  As I read about Elinor, I gritted my teeth.

And then I realized something about the difference in writing between Funke and Crichton.  Crichton made Hammond a cardboard figure, almost clownishly so.  But Funke has created a complex character in Elinor.  She has an internal life which informs what she does and says, and we understand her even if we don’t always like her.  We know she’s acting for everyone’s good, even though it often seems as if the opposite is true.

It’s the characterization which is one of the stand-out qualities of Inkheart. It’s a story of magic in an unmagical world, of people doing and saying things that are stupid, or petty, or stubborn, or cruel, sometimes because they’re just that awful, but sometimes because they’re trying to keep their heads above water.  And in every case, we do understand why they are who they are.

In fact, the conceit of fictional characters being pulled out of a book, and meeting their author gives us  an opportunity to consider character behavior vs human behavior.  Capricorn is a complete and utter villain because that’s how his author wrote him.  He cannot be anything else and wouldn’t even think to try. But Meggie is written as a human being and her motivations are complex. Her behavior can change.

I can’t help but feel that Inkheart is a lesson about human character, and how we have the ability to change the things about our lives and behaviors, if we wish to.  It’s a valuable lesson for young people, though I wonder if it’s a little too complex for the target age group.

But all that aside, it’s just a hella good story.  I devoured it and want more.

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