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Inkheart (2003)

by Cornelia Funke

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Inkworld (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
16,037492275 (3.92)676
Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can "read" fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.
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» See also 676 mentions

English (460)  German (9)  Dutch (8)  Spanish (5)  French (3)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Russian (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (490)
Showing 1-5 of 460 (next | show all)
Welp, I guess it was inevitable that, in rereading a bunch of classics from my childhood, I'd find one that just didn't hold up for me. I absolutely adored this book when I first read it--its physical beauty (I had the hardback), its fun characters, its enchanting premise, its literary references--but only three images really stuck with me over the years: Dustfinger performing his juggling and fire-eating acts for tourists; Meggie, on the top bunk bed in a small room, reading Tinker Bell out of Peter Pan; and Meggie reading to Capricorn in an open outdoor space at the finale (I remembered no details of what that space was like or what she actually read).

Don't get me wrong! The story is still fun, the writing still beautiful (such lovely similes!), the secondary characters lively, the central premise charming...but it just didn't feel as amazing as it did the first time I read it. Maybe it was a victim of nostalgia: I expected to be as awed as I was the first time, but just wasn't.

It takes a long time--almost a third of the book--for Meggie to learn her dad's secret: that when he reads, his wonderful voice summons forth people and objects from the pages of the book in his hands. That's something that readers already know from the jacket description, and I ended up feeling impatient for Meggie to learn the secret and start being more proactive...which she never really is. Much of the plot happens around her and she's only an active agent in it twice, once at the beginning (when she plans to run away to find her father) and once at the end, when she's just fulfilling someone else's plan. I'm not saying she needs to be a kick-butt heroine who does everything herself despite being twelve years old--I actually kind of liked how the adults around her were both whimsical but also, generally, rounded characters aware of their responsibilities--but it would have been nice to see Meggie take a little bit more initiative.

Still, Funke's strengths are present and many: she creates a big cast of characters and gives them all striking personalities so that we can tell them apart; many of the side characters are nuanced, with sometimes contradictory desires and emotions (which, honestly, made me a lot more interested in some of them than in Mo and Meggie, who were pretty static throughout--I'd have read a whole book about Aunt Eleanor or Basta, for instance); her writing is brimming with colorful imagery, even if the translation from German seems a bit choppy in places; and the story's pace never flags, even if it is a little bit slower than you'd expect from an adventure.

Now, with the review done first, here's a plot summary for my forgetful brain (so I remember more than three things next time):

12-year-old Meggie lives constantly on the move with her father, Mo, who is a book binder. They are both voracious readers, though Mo prefers to make up elaborate stories rather than read them aloud. Book obsession runs in the family, so when a young man shows up one dark and stormy night and warns Mo that someone named Capricorn is coming for him, Mo takes up the offer of his long-lost wife's aunt to come fix up some of the books in her sprawling collection. Eleanor doesn't trust Dustfinger, who demonstrates for Meggie his talent as a juggler and (potentially book-endangering) fire-eater, or Meggie, who she assumes is a book-disrespecting child, but she'll take them in for the time being if it gives her a chance to read the mysterious and rare book,Inkheart, that Mo asks her to hide among her collection.

But before Eleanor or Meggie can sneak in a read, men dressed in black break into Eleanor's house and steal away Mo and the book disguised as Inkheart. Dustfinger knew these men, and at Meggie's insistence Eleanor reluctantly agrees to let him lead them after Mo, hoping they can trade him for the book. Alas, they are betrayed and captured, and Mo can no longer hide his secrets from Meggie. He tells her about his magical voice and explains that, one night when she was three, he read the high fantasy novel Inkheart aloud to her mother and accidentally read Dustfinger and Capricorn, the book's terrible villain, out of the page. Unfortunately, when Mo reads something out of a book, something always goes the other way as well, and in this case Meggie's mother was a victim of the swap. Dustfinger has been homesick ever since, but Capricorn has made the most of the new world. Now Capricorn wants Mo to read him riches...and his most terrifying minion.

Meggie, Mo, Eleanor, Dustfinger, and Farid (accidentally pulled out of One Thousand and One Nights) escape the crumbling town in the Italian hills that Capricorn and his men have tried to make resemble their home in Inkheart. Unfortunately, they've lost their copy of the book, which Mo can't bear, as it feels as if he's lost any chance of regaining his wife. With Meggie in tow, he tracks down Inkheart's author, Fenoglio, and trades his skills as a bookbinder for Fenoglio's help with a mysterious plan. This gets delayed a bit when Eleanor calls in hysterics--Capricorn has taken revenge on her by burning favorite books, and Mo needs to pick her up at the airport.

While he's gone, in swoop Capricorn's men, whisking off Meggie and Fenoglio (though, in amusing twist, they don't actually believe he's the author of Inkheart because they can't imagine that an author would still be alive) as bait for Mo. Of course he and Eleanor go after Meggie, joining up with Dustfinger and Farid, who are already on site in the village hoping to reclaim that last copy of Inkheart. Meanwhile, Meggie confirms that she can also read things in and out of books, Capricorn finds out and is delighted, and Fenoglio puts Mo's plan into action: rewriting the end of Inkheart in a way that will hopefully get everyone out of the mess.

Here at the end, many characters get complicated:

> We learn that Dustfinger has kept secret the fact that Mo's wife is (imperfectly) back in our world, because he hopes she will forget Mo and choose him instead;
> Farid, who had followed Dustfinger out of a desire to learn how to manage fire, finds that Mo makes a far better mentor but still decides to follow Dustfinger;
> Basta, Capricorn's right-hand man, who loves his cruel knives but is incredibly superstitious and afraid of the fire that is his leader's calling-card, is heartbroken when his father figure throws him into disgrace;
> Mo, who has refused to read books for fear of harming others, saves Meggie from having to read the part of Fenoglio's rewrite that kills people;
> Eleanor, whose affection for Meggie and Mo has overridden her earliest distrust, opens her once carefully guarded house of books not only to her family but to fantastical refugees from Inkheart (her character arc reminded me a bit of Bilbo: a bit grumpy at first and fond of her comforts, but secretly up for an adventure, even if she complains the entire way);
> and, in an interesting contrast, Fenoglio the author turns against his creations but can't let go of the thrill of seeing the power of his written words.

Other characters are less complex, but still intriguing: Flatnose and Cockerel, two of Capricorn's brutal men; "the Magpie", Capricorn's mother and housekeeper, who's definitely a Slytherin; and Dustfinger, who's a sympathetic character and who doesn't physically hurt anyone, but whose selfish actions do cause harm; and Farid, whose ultimate choice of companion seems to go against good sense.

And Meggie? She decides she wants to be a writer. Kind of an anticlimax compared to everyone else.

Oh, and I guess I do have to say something about the romance. I was clipping along through the book, quite happy that 12-year-old Meggie wasn't being saddled with unnecessary romance when she was on the run for her life when...suddenly Farid apparently has a crush on her? And Fenoglio teases Meggie and she doesn't mind, even though she's in the middle of a life-and-death situation? This totally came out of left field and, of course, annoyed me. ( )
  books-n-pickles | Jun 12, 2022 |

Good translation. Good story. ( )
  Sandman-1961 | Apr 26, 2022 |
A good book, much better than the movie! I really like the thought and ideas that went into this story. ( )
  Bookslesstravelled | Apr 15, 2022 |
I'm sorry, It just wasn't very good. It was dull in some parts and i found myself wanting to skip just to the end (not saying if I did or not)
Not sure if I'll read book 2 ( )
  crazynerd | Mar 30, 2022 |
I got this book for my second-grader, and I think it was a little too old for her -- and probably too intense as well, the action in the final act kept going and going. She didn't finish, but I did, and I'll definitely keep it in mind for when she gets older. ( )
  leahsusan | Mar 26, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 460 (next | show all)
Such breathtaking things are going to happen, you cannot even imagine. SPECTACULAR!, FABULOUS! BREATHTAKING! If you've got to read a book it's got to be this one.
Inkheart is a book about books, a celebration of and a warning about books. The "Inkheart" of the title is a book. I don't think I've ever read anything that conveys so well the joys, terrors and pitfalls of reading. ...

When the villains are at last defeated and the denizens of the book tumble through into reality, it is quite disappointing to find them gaudy, small and trivial. Is Funke saying that, while books as books are wonderful, real life has a solid sort of grimness that renders make-believe flimsy? Or is she pleading with us to mix at least a little fantasy with our reality? I don't know. Inkheart leaves you asking such questions. And this is, to my mind, an important thing for a story to do.

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Cornelia Funkeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Auger, Marie-ClaudeTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Šućur Perišić, LjiljanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beneden, HannekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bertholet, AbTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bertuol, SonaliTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blanco, Rosa PilarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Borén, GunillaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Butterworth, IanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoogweg, PaulineCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jensen, LeyahCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kyrö, MarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawson, CarolCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magnaghi, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mountford, Karl J.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neumann, UteOvers.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parisi, Elizabeth B.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Redgrave, LynnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strecker, RainerSprechersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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If you are a dreamer, come in

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean Buyer,

If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin

Come in!

Come in!

Shel Silverstein
For Anna, who even put The Lord of The Rings aside for a while to read this book. Could anyone ask for more of a daughter?
And for Elinor, who lent me her name, although I didn't use it for an elf queen.
For Anna, who put 'The Lord Of The Rings' aside for this book. Could anyone ask more of a daughter? And for Elinor, who lent me her name, although i didn't use it for an elf queen.
First words
The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages.
Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.
Some books should be tasted some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.
Why do grown-ups think it's easier for children to bear secrets than the truth?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can "read" fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

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A young adult fantasy novel where a young girl and her father are able to bring a story's characters to life with equally good and bad results just by reading.
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