Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cornelia Funke is a Goddess

I'm a sucker for all stories that bend the boundaries of reality, and I've always felt there was something particularly intriguing about books that blur the line between this world of ours and the world of words. To literally crawl inside the world of a book! To truly, physically be there! What a concept! This is why I was so captivated by Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series and this is why I loved the Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke.

The first book of Cornelia Funke's series, Inkheart, has now been made into a movie with Brendan Fraiser, Paul Bettany & Helen Mirren. I thought the film was fairly faithful to the book, but lost some of its magic in the retelling. The basic premise is that there are Readers with voices so beautiful they have the power to read people in and out of books by speaking the words aloud. In the first book of the trilogy, one such Reader, a bookbinder named Mo, inadvertently reads a pack of villains out of a book called Inkheart, trapping his own wife between the pages in the process. He and his daughter, who has inherited his gift, must find a way to set the story to rights again, putting fiction and reality back into a proper balance. In the second book, Inkspell, Mo, his family, and the author of Inkheart, Fenoglio, are themselves read into the Inkworld, where they find themselves much more a part of this story - and in much less control of it - than they could have imagined. It is in the last book, Inkdeath, that the lines between fiction and reality become haziest. The writer is blocked, Mo is becoming more and more lost inside the character he was set to play, and the story seems to be writing itself in a new and unexpected direction.

Cornelia Funke weaves an ensemble of dynamic real characters into a plot rich with causal ripples. Her style is fluid, lyrical and wraps the story around you. But what prevents Inkdeath from being just another well-written fantasy trilogy is its quiet philosophy. When does a person become real? Once they shake your hand, can you never again think of them as merely words on a page? Once you have seen them breathing, laughing, and talking, can you take yourself out of the story again, knowing that if you do they will suffer from your absence? Even if there is a danger to you in the Inkworld, do you stay because its cares have become more real to you than those of your own world? Your own story? Can that translate to our world? Our stories? If people from foreign cultures were more to us than just a soundbite on the six o'clock news, would we care more about their stories? Would they be real to us?

The philosophic parallels are many, but Ms. Funke deftly prevents them from drowning the rich story. Our frustration at the writer, Fenoglio, who is too busy feeling sorry for himself to write a happily-ever-after, subtly parallels the all-too-human frustration with a God who has created this beautiful world and then left it to tumble into war and hardship. Because in the Inkworld, writers are gods, their wills creating worlds. And Cornelia Funke is a goddess without compare.


Vivant said...

Wow. Thanks to you this trilogy just moved to my "must read SOON" list! Inkheart has been on my must read list for a while, but I kept going down other paths.

Thanks for the nudge!

memi said...

I concur. I feel compelled to read this purely based on the eloquence of your description.

Wow. Beautifully done.

Andrew said...

Greetings, I stumbled on your blog through gooogle trying to find more information on Inkheart. Thanks for your beautifully structured review. I'm off to the library.