Guest Review: The Inkworld Series by Cornelia Funke
There are books that are relevant only for a certain part of your lives, and then there are those that stand the test of time, change and experience. I decided to re-read the Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke this summer, a series my sister and I had enjoyed as kids.
(As a side-note, take a moment to enjoy these gorgeous covers. There are illustrations at the start and end of each chapter as well as quotes from other writers/books at the start of each chapter.)
What can be better than a series about books, stories and fantasy worlds?
For an avid reader, it is sort of perfect when someone finds words to replicate their exact feelings about the joys of reading and books. How many times have we spent late nights caught up in a book that refuses to let us go until we reach the end? How many days have we spent happily in the company of worlds, characters and stories about people and places we have never met, never been to and possibly never will? (Especially in the cases of fantasy literature) And how many times have we wished that those worlds could be real so we too could be a part of them?
In Funke’s series, that is exactly what happens. Mortimer Folchart is a “book doctor” who restores and binds old books. He and his young daughter, Meggie are wanderers, never staying at one place for too long, always carrying with them their few possessions that of course include their favourite books. But Mo, as everyone calls him, has a secret, one that has already changed his life and that of his daughter’s without her knowledge. His voice (the power of the silver tongue) can bring characters to life, and theirs are changed forever when a mysterious stranger called Dustfinger knocks on their door in the middle of the night.
Since I am talking about the series as a whole, I won’t go into too many details about individual books apart from the really relevant stuff. But for those of you looking for light-hearted narratives, this trilogy might not be for you. The books in the series have an increasing amount of darkness and adult themes that add to their status as enjoyable even for adults, albeit keeping their young adult core throughout.
Another thing to remember is the pacing of the narrative.
The trilogy as a whole is fairly slow – it builds up and has layers with bits of fast-paced action. But it is probably not one of those books you just cannot put down. For me that was not necessarily a bad thing – the world itself that Funke has created as a representation of our own is reminiscent of days gone by, where you read by candlelight and daily life was leisurely; a more innocent time where it was perhaps easier to believe in magic.
This also translates into a certain sincerity and seriousness that is either endearing or annoying depending on your personal tastes. (Though personally I would have loved more humour and sarcasm) The writer loves obviously words and detailed descriptions, and there are many beautifully written passages and lines to savour. I didn’t enjoy how they sometimes bogged down the narrative or how Funke stopped in the middle of a scene to talk about the trees or the birds, but as pieces of writing, some were downright poetic … the sort you want to re-read then and there to get the most out of them and the images they created.
“Night was fading over the fields as if the rain had washed the darkness out of the hem of its garment.”
“It was a chilly morning after the night's rain, and the sun hung in the sky like a pale coin lost by someone high up in the clouds.”
“Sometimes, through the window of a car coming the other way, she caught a glimpse if a stranger's face, then it was gone, like a book you open then close at once.”
And many of these beautiful lines were about books, the magic of words, the power of stories and about the people who worship them.
They raised questions that made you pause and think, and then think some more. What if someone is writing our story and we are simply puppets in their hands? Do stories really end or begin? How much of our fates and destinies can we really control? Are our choices our own or dictated by someone/something else?
“Stories never really end...even if the books like to pretend they do. Stories always go on. They don't end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page.”
“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells . . . and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower . . both strange and familiar.”
Then there is the novel Inkheart which plays such a pivotal role in the first book of the trilogy that takes its name. The first book is essentially about a book in a book, while the second and third actually take place in the Inkworld, the world of Inkheart. It is this world that throws up some of the more complicated questions we ask ourselves about the real authority of a writer and about whether there is such a thing as a creator. Are the worlds our favourite writers write about already out there somewhere? Do they simply find them and write about them while life in them goes on with its own rules and minds?
“Perhaps there's another, much larger story behind the printed one, a story that changes just as our own world does. And the letters on the page tell us only as much as we'd see peering through a keyhole. Perhaps the story in the book is just the lid on a pan: It always stays the same, but underneath there's a whole world that goes on - developing and changing like our own world.”
The Inkworld is a place full of wonders, magic, tiny glass men, blue fairies and fire-eaters. But it also a dark place which is cruel, a place where there is bloodshed, violence, poison and swordfights, a world where the White Women come to take away dying souls to the afterlife. It is a world that has a certain pull on your heart, as all the characters in the book from our world are about to find out.
This book has an eclectic cast of characters (including some very complex supporting characters) apart from Mo and Meggie. There is the enigmatic Dustfinger, the fire-dancer from the Inkworld who Mo has accidently read into our world and who wishes nothing more than to be read back into it. There is Meggie’s book-crazy great aunt, Elinor who has more courage and resourcefulness that he realises. There is Meggie’s mother, Theresa who has lived two different lives. There is the smug self-titled Orpheus, another silver-tongue, and Fenoglio, the writer of the original Inkheart book. There is the mysterious Bluejay who suddenly appears in the second book, a sort of Robin Hood of the Inkworld. You also have the colourful motley players like the Black Prince and his bear and Cloud-Dancer, as well as Farid who is read out of The Arabian Nights. Then there are all the flat-out villains found in the Inkworld – Capricorn, Mortola, Basta, The Adderhead, The Piper – each with their own agenda and desire for power and control.
One of the complaints I have heard from other readers about this series is a certain lack of character development. The villains are fairly caricature-like, and that there is a clear demarcation between good and evil. But that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. And there are a few developments in the second and third book, particularly with regards to Mo exploring a side of him that he (and the readers) never knew existed, that I really enjoyed.
There was also a certain amount of exasperation when characters were stubborn and pig-headed, but I put that down to the writer succeeding in making us care. Meggie, despite her teenage troubles, is a strong and resourceful female lead for the most part. My favourite though is undoubtedly Dustfinger, the man whose love for his wife was carved on his face. He is probably the most three-dimensional and complex character in the trilogy, and it’s all the better for his presence, a presence that will result in a lot of emotional heartbreak, pain, confusion but also a delicate kind of beauty and joy.
There is always a question when it comes to translated works.
How much of the language or intentions get lost in translation? I haven’t read the trilogy in its original German, but having a bit of knowledge about the language, I can tell that some of the stilted, stiff sounding dialogue could be because of it. That said I also wish it could have been edited better and there was more attention to plot-holes – there are parts that drag on without contributing anything new (even in terms of beautiful prose) and parts where the previous rules are changed to suit the current situation.
This is especially the case in the final book. But I would urge you to read it till the bittersweet, unexpected yet ultimately satisfying end to the trilogy. Though I was able to see the flaws clearly this time around, the same was also true for my enjoyment of its more mature themes, and I don’t regret my second journey into the world Cornelia Funke has created.
Anushree Nande has Creative Writing Bachelors and Masters from Edge Hill University. Born and brought up in Mumbai, India, she is an eternally optimistic and fiercely loyal Gooner Girl. She freelances for various magazines, blogs, literary websites on books, writing, football, film, TV and has had short stories and poems published. She is also a freelance editor and proofreader. Anushree is working on her first novel and her Facebook writing page can be found here.