Imagine how wonderful it would be to bring people from books into the real world—the greatest characters of literary history, leaping from the pages to stand before you, alive and real. This is the premise of Inkheart, and Cornelia Funke takes it to its logical (and dangerous) conclusions.
For example, what if every person that leaves the book must be replaced by a person from the real world? What if it's impossible to predict who or what will leave and enter the story? And what happens if you bring a villain out of a story? Or a monster?
Bookbinder Mortimer Folchart discovered this power accidentally when, one fateful night, he read three characters out of the book Inkheart, and his wife disappeared back into it. Two of the characters were Capricorn and Basta, the villain of Inkheart and his murderous sidekick. The other was the mysterious and complicated fire-eater Dustfinger.
Nine years later, Mortimer has kept this secret from his twelve-year old daughter Meggie (who calls him "Mo"). When Dustfinger returns and warns Mo that Capricorn is on his trail, he packs up and prepares to flee again. But Capricorn has spies and allies everywhere, and soon Mo is taken by Capricorn's men. It is up to young, scared Meggie to save her father, for Capricorn wants to use Mo's talents to summon a terrible monster from the pages of Inkheart.
Some parents may be concerned by the way Meggie refers to her father by his first name. This doesn't come from an attitude of disrespect; on the contrary, her father has been her only constant friend for as long as she can remember, and she most certainly loves and respects him. Though she is occasionally disobedient in the way that all kids are, she aims to please her father, and they grow closer together through the troubles that they face.
The book has a darkness at its heart that is not often found in modern children's literature. The villains are not just bad; they are cruel, malevolent, and frighteningly competent. The heroes are kept down for most of the book, without any significant victory till the very end. And the ending itself doesn't wrap up neatly and perfectly. Their happy ending is realistically bittersweet.
Inkheart may be a fantasy adventure full of magical creatures and fantastic characters, cold-hearted villains and suffering heroes, but it's also a book about books for people who love books. We know that life doesn't always end as happily as it does in stories. We know that heroes are much braver than we can ever be. And we know that magic does not exist. But Inkheart reminds us that all stories have a magic of their own. Like life itself, that can be both wonderful and dangerous.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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