|The original cover for Inkheart/Tintenherz.|
“Her curiosity was too much for her. She felt almost as if she could hear the books whispering on the other side of the half-open door. They were promising her a thousand unknown stories, a thousand doors into worlds she had never seen before.”
Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
As part of this week’s theme of YA fiction, I’m going to start by reviewing some “stand-alone” novels. This is because there are few YA novels I’ve read that are truly stand-alone; either they are part of a series, or they are so similar to another novel that the two beg to be reviewed and compared together.
Now you probably are wondering, “Hey, I’ve read the title of this post. And I know that Inkheart is the first in a series.” This is true. Inkheart (Tintenherz in its original German) is the first of a trilogy, followed by Inkspell and Inkdeath (Tintenblut and Tintentod) that chronicles the adventures of a young girl, Meggie, and her various relatives and friends.
The reason I’m going to break protocol and NOT review the second two books is that when I was reading them I had the distinct feeling that Funke had planned for Inkheart to be stand-alone, but after she’d finished she decided to add on to the story. I have several reasons to suspect this, but first let me give a short synopsis of the first book so we’re both on the same page…er…so to speak.
Inkheart opens with Meggie traveling around Europe with her father, whom she calls Mo because it makes her sound like a hippie child. Her father is a mild-mannered bookbinder who nevertheless has a tragic past and a powerful secret. This secret is not so much a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read the book, since we’re tipped off in the dust jacket blurb: Mo is a “Silvertongue” which is a person who can read aloud so fluently that the things in the book are transported to our world. Unfortunately whatever “magic” this is caused by has rules, and something from our world goes into the book.
The story is written from Meggie’s point of view, and so she and the reader both slowly come to discover the tragic past that comes along with this powerful secret. When Meggie was little her father accidentally read out two characters from the book Inkheart and the Random Magic Russian Roulette picks Meggie’s mother to go into the book. The two characters that are read into reality are Dustfinger, a shifty and selfish fire-eater, and Capricorn, one of the side-villains in the novel. While Capricorn sees his chance to get Main Villain Status in this world, going around destroying copies of Inkheart so no one can ever read him back into it, kidnapping other Silvertongues to read out treasures and slaves from other books, and generally having a field day, Dustfinger thinks only of getting back…for some reason. So as Meggie comes to realize, Mo continues traveling not because he’s a nomadic spirit, but because he’s on the run from these two characters who want him to use his Silvertongue-ness for their own purposes.
Whew. I’m going to leave the synopsis at that. Because this book is heavy. Not only long, but it has so many references to other books that you would soon be confused—if you aren’t already—by my trying to explain it.
Alright, so as promised let me just give you my reasons why I think this was stand-alone.
First: I loved the first book, but Inkspell immediately changed in tone and seemed to alter the characters’ personalities and motivations so drastically it was almost as if Funke was writing a different series altogether.
Second: If Funke had always meant for this to be a trilogy, I think she would have developed one Big Bad character to be the villain throughout the series, which instead she split between Capricorn and the Adderhead…and frankly I was never afraid of the Adderhead because of his goofy name and ineffectual evilness.
Third: The theme of Inkheart is books. Their physical forms, the stories they contain, their characters, the “relationship” between the reader and the writing, writing books and storytelling, and so on. Inkspell and Inkdeath transport some of the Real World characters (such as Meggie and her family) into Inkheart where the theme is much more about fate and determinism.
Maybe these reasons are way off the mark, and Cornelia Funke always intended for this to be a trilogy. Maybe my objections are just my personal opinion. Well, here is another opinion of mine: at least read the first book. Especially if you are a book-lover. And if you’re brave, you might try reading it out loud.
RECOMMENDED READING AGE: 12+
PARENTAL NOTES: This book was originally written in German, and German children’s books are a bit less strict including swear words such as the D-word.
AVAILABILITY: Get it in hardcover either at abebooks or Amazon. If you disagree with my review and want the whole trilogy, far be it from me to keep you from getting this nice box set. And when I say “get it in hardcover,” I’m not just being my normal hardcover-hardcore-booksnob self (although that does come into play). Books this thick are simply not capable of standing up to wear and tear in paperback form.
ADAPTATIONS: Although it makes some drastic departures from the book, the adaptation starring Brendan Fraser is pretty good. I particularly appreciate the portrayal of my favorite character, the horned marten Gwin as well as Paul Bettany's portrayal of Dustfinger who is my second favorite character--probably on account of him getting to carry around a marten in his satchel. If anything this film is worth watching to finally find out what Andy Serkis looks like when not covered in CGI. I think the moviemakers might have agreed with me that Inkheart is a standalone, though, since there are no adaptations planned (that I know of, anyway) for the two sequels.