August 14

Inkheart Critical Review

Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is about a young girl who, along with her father, has the ability to read characters from books into the real world.  To tell this story, Funke uses dialogue to convey plot-related information and the character’s emotional state to readers in a realistic fashion.

In Inkheart, Meggie has been kept ignorant of several aspects of her past, until a stranger appears one night at her house.  Through dialogue, Funke begins to hint at the secrets that have been kept from Meggie. At the time, Meggie is eavesdropping on her father and the stranger:

“I’ll never let them have it.” That was Mo.
“He’ll still get his hands on it, one way or another! I tell you, they’re on your trail.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve always managed to shake them before.”
“Oh yes? And for how much longer, do you think? What about your daughter?  Are you telling me she actually likes moving around the whole time? Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.” (8-9)

Through this dialogue readers glean a lot of information.  Readers know that someone is after something her father, Mo, has.  That Mo is determined to keep the object away from the mysterious person later identified as Capicorn.  Mo has been preventing Capicorn from getting the object—in this case a book—from him for years, which is why Meggie has moved so often in her young life.  This information is passed along to readers quickly, through dialogue, without it feeling as if the characters are only saying such things to inform the reader of what is going on.

Dialogue can do more than provide information to readers.  When done well, we can also get a sense of the characters emotions are through what they. A great example of this is seen when Mo is about to introduce himself to Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart—the book Dustfinger was written out of. The dialogue Funke wrote is filled with emotion:

“Don’t you dare tell that man about me!” he said.  “I don’t want to see him.  I’ll wait in the car.  I only want to know if he still has a copy of the book, understand?”
Mo shrugged his shoulders.  “As you like.”
Dustfinger inspected his reddened fingers and felt the taut skin. “He might tell me how my story ends,” he murmured. (243)

In this short exchange we know Dustfinger is afraid. We know that although he wants information from Fenoglio, he doesn’t necessarily want to know everything Fenoglio may want to say to him.  Mo comes across as indifferent toward Dustfinger’s request. In three words, Funke reveals that Mo did not necessarily care where Dustfinger was.

Funke also uses dialogue to reveal information and the characters emotions at the same time.  A great example of this is when after Meggie, Mo, and Elinor are captured by Capicorn and they’re locked away.  Dustfinger makes a comment about those who Capicorn plans to kill are put in the crypt:

Meggie looked at the church.  “Do they often condemn people to death?” she asked quietly.
Dustfinger shrugged.  “Not as often as they used to.  But it does happen.”
“Stop telling her such stories!” whispered Mo. (195)

In those three lines of dialogue we sense that Meggie is concerned, if not afraid of the possibility of being put to death and being where she is.  Funke lets readers know through Dustfinger’s dialogue that, although it doesn’t happen as often any more, Capicorn has put people to death in the past. But the way he says it, suggests he’s resigned to the fact and to fate. This also lets readers know that Capicorn is still capable and willing to kill people if he needs or wants to.  “Stop telling her stories!” lets readers know that Mo is either feeling protective of Meggie—trying to keep Dustfinger from frightening her or that he is uncomfortable, afraid of the situation they’re in and does not like where the conversation is going.  It could be a combination of the two as well.

Funke conveys plot-related and emotional depth through dialogue in a way that does not slow the pace.

July 30

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke Review

Meggie’s father Mo has an interesting talent: when he reads aloud, things, and sometimes people, come out of their stories and into the real world! But now the evil Capricorn wants to use Mo’s talents to bring himself great wealth and power. Then Meggie discovers that maybe Mo isn’t the only one who can read things to life. 

I saw the movie long before I saw the book.  Usually that isn’t a problem for me. The books and movies are often significantly different from each other.  And their different enough where I can see the similarities but feel like I’m reading/watching something completely different. While reading this book, I kept thinking of the movie and how the movie did it better. The plot and characters are overall the same, but the movie tightened everything, made everything happen faster, kept my interest more, much more.

The book has its good things. It breaks some YA conventions.  In a lot of YA/Middle Grade books the parents are vague, dead or don’t make an appearance in the novel. In Inkheart, the Father, Mo, is not only a major player in the book but he’s the reason Meggie goes on the adventure she does. Not everyone in the book gets a happy ending.  Some do, some are left wandering the world, looking for their happily ever after. The story does combine different stories and characters into Funke’s own fictional world.

Their are a lot of cliches though. The main characters are, obviously, book worms.  Their are the imbecile bad guys and the bad guy who everyone seems to fear but he never seems to actually do anything to be worthy of the fear.  He orders everyone to do his crimes for him but other than hoarding money and wanting people to fear him, he doesn’t seem to have anything remarkable or scary about him.

The concept of the story is great but it was poorly executed.  Funke pushes and pushes and pushes the fact that Meggie, Mo and Elinore are book lovers. She makes several references to books, some I’ve read, some I haven’t. And if I hadn’t read the book I was sometimes confused as to the reference and how it related to the book.  I can’t really think of single character arc in the story. The characters simply don’t seem to change from start to end. As soon as the great bad is over, they all return to their old ways, even Dustfingers, who had the most potential at having the greatest arc.

Despite the lack of character arc, the characters were interesting.  As a bibliophile, I felt an affinity for the three main leads. They all showed the love of books/stories in different ways. Though that was all they seemed to think about outside of surviving and each other. Meggie, never mentioned friends or games she liked to play, unless the game was somehow related to a book. Dustfingers was probably the most interesting of the characters.  He earns money with fire tricks–eating fire, dancing with fire, etc.–has his charm, is quick both on his feet and in mind, he has a tame marten.
However, the book was so slow, and repetitive that the book could have been cut in half, or half of a half–kept all the important parts of the story and been so much stronger and compelling. I’m not sure if the way the book read was because of a Anthea Bell’s translation or if Funke really read it so it was as repetitive as it came across. An example of the redundancy could be found on the very first page:

“Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.  Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane.  A dog barked somewhere in the darkness and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn’t get to sleep.

“The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages.”

Two pargraphs later we read this:

“That night–when so much began and so many things changed forever–Meggie had one of her favorite books under her pillow, and since the rain wouldn’t let her sleep she sat up, rubbed the drowsiness from her eyes and took it out.”

One mention of the rain and the book under Meggie’s pillow is all that is required.  We don’t need to be beat over the head with the details.  However, it felt like every detail of the story was repeated, two or three times.  Sometimes more. And usually the details are told in the same irrelevant way. Funke also uses a lot of the same similes and metaphors throughout the book.  As if she simply cut and paste them and didn’t bother thinking of something better or more relevant to what she was describing.

Other times I think she trusted that her story was riveting, so hard to put down that she could linger on things of no importance. She overestimated the books hold on me.  I was well-aware of the entire chapter she spent on Meggie reading for example.  We were told about how the sun fell through the window, and the positions she moved in when she grew stiff and tired from being in one position too long.  Her father is doing things. She knows he is and that she doesn’t want her to know what he’s planning.  So, she reads.  She doesn’t spy or anything that might make that time more interesting. Meggie reads and instead of simply glossing over this fact with a “few hours later”  or “the next day” and moving onto the next scene. We’re forced to read through the entire scene.  By the end of that chapter I was certain a whole day had passed in the real world, because I was so bored.

Get on with it!

Eventually she did, but with that continued snail’s pace.

The closer to the end we got the faster the book seemed to move.  The last 130 pages or so started getting my attention.  I do like the book ends. I think it sets up the sequel well. Though I have not read Inkspell, I glanced at the first two pages of it via Amazon.com and it immediately sounds better than Inkheart did in it’s first two pages. Because of that, I might try reading Inkspell.  But Inkheart, the copy I got, does not make me want to read the sequel as it is.

I recommend this book to those who can much more easily read past the slow pacing, and redundancies. If you are not one of those people but would like a decent idea of what the book is about, I would suggest the movie. It’s better than the book and the overall story is similar.  The movie is faster-paced, tighter and more compelling.  It doesn’t stay directly with the book, for example, in the book Meggie reads Tinker Bell out.  In the movie, she reads Toto from the Wizard of Oz out. But it is close.

Have you read Inkheart? Was it a different version than what I read?  What did you think?