Thoughts on Inkheart September 1, 2015Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books.
Tags: books, Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
(Spoiler Warning. Sorry.)
Even now after all these years, I’m still in Harry Potter withdrawal. I’ve been looking for other book series to help make up for the lack of new Potter, and I’ve also been listening to books on CD during my daily commute, so I recently picked up the recorded version of Inkheart. I’d heard some people say they really liked it, and I also remembered that it had been made into a movie fairly recently. It was read by Lynn Redgrave, that also looked promising. So I decided to give it a try, with at least reasonable optimism.
I was fairly disappointed. The book had a great basic premise, a person who can bring characters out of books to life just by reading aloud. Lots of potential there! However, the execution from there was pretty lackluster and uncreative for most of the book. It was also about twice as long as it needed to be for the amount of plot. (Lynn Redgrave did a terrific job with the narration, though, no complaints there!)
First, the book took waaay too long to get going. I felt that I had been listening for hours before we actually had an event that really got the plot moving along. Eventually we get around to the central conflict of the book – the main character’s dad had accidentally read several characters out of a book some years back (the eponymous Inkheart) and a couple of those were villains who are intent on taking both the dad and all existing copies of the book back to their secret HQ for nefarious purposes.
The book these villains are from is full of magic – fairies, goblins, etc. So what magic do these villains have? None! They are just plain-old gangsters and thugs. What’s their motivation? Money and power. Yawn. As many books as we have full of people dealing with real-world gangsters, why pull characters out of a magical book only to have them be as ordinary as this?
A lot of the rest of the book is taken up with our heroes finding the bad guys’ hideout, being captured and held there, escaping from it via a long cross-country trek, searching out help, and once more being captured and held there. This being caught and running away and being caught again occupied too much of the length of the book. (Sam and Frodo, get across the swamp already!) There were a few points where the author could have used characters from other books to bring some real interest into the story, but missed the chance. for instance the evil mastermind has ordered Dad to read treasure out of books for him, and he inadvertently reads a character out of 1001 Arabian Nights. Does he bring us Ali Baba, or Aladdin, or a genie, or a roc? No, he gets an ordinary kid, with nothing particularly interesting about him. Later, our protagonist Meggie (a 12-year-old girl, no surprise there) finds she can also bring characters out of books when she unexpectedly reads Tinkerbell out of Peter Pan. Now we’re getting somewhere, right? The power has finally brought us someone who can be helpful, right? Nope. At that point in the story Meggie is being held prisoner (again), and could have used some fairy dust and a few happy thoughts to fly right away from her captors. But no, one of the thugs grabs Tinkerbell and stuffs her in a jar for most of the rest of the story, taking her out of the action. Not until the final confrontation is the power to bring characters out of books used with any intent to help resolve any of their problems. If the entire book were as interesting as the ending, I would have liked it a lot better.
A few other weaknesses jumped out at me, like the character of Aunt Elinor. If someone was going to do something stupid, or have an emotional outburst, it was always her. Too predictable, there should have been some unexpected resourcefulness from her at the end, but there really wasn’t. And there was a lovely marten with horns that had been read out of Inkheart, and his special ability? None, he’s just a pet, sort of, and not a very tame one at that. As far as I can tell he doesn’t figure into the plot at all, he’s just set dressing.
I remember back when I was a kid that fairly often I would read an old book or see a TV special written as “children’s literature”, that supposedly had a magical story, but really the magic didn’t show up at all until right at the very end, and when it did it was totally underwhelming. A big build-up, and then pffft. I’d list some examples here for you, but those stories were so unmemorable that I can’t even recall any of their names. That’s what this book reminded me of. I’m debating whether to continue on and read any more of the series, to see if the author will really dive in an make more creative use of the “read characters out of books” idea. Has anybody read the rest of the series, and does it get better?