One of my favorite books (and series) is Inkheart, a delightful romp into a magical world where reading aloud can be amazing and dangerous at the same time!
Inkheart (2003) by Cornelia Funke belongs to the category of 21st century fantasy, specifically magic adventure fantasy. This is actually translated from the German language, and I was very excited to see a translated children’s book do so well in the states! I think there are many great translated works of children’s literature out there, but sadly, these books are often difficult to find.
Like many other works of fantasy published in the 20th century, this book clearly recognizes the existence of good and evil, and the characters attempt to prevent the villains (who escape from the world of the book [Inkheart]) from wreaking havoc on their own world. One character in particular, Dustfinger, makes choices that end up affecting those around him in powerful ways, and as a result, he feels regret and guilt. Power hungry adults attempt to control and dominate. In this way, the book treats many relevant themes and topics, and “comment[s] on human nature,” as Shelia Egoff points out in an article about children’s fantasy (1).
Egoff states, “The chief strength of the magic story lies in its contrast between the ordinary and the fabulous…” (9).
What I believe makes Inkheart especially powerful is the way it highlights the power of words, and of narrative.
Father and daughter, Meggie and Mo, both have the ability to bring to life characters and creatures from stories when reading the words aloud. This brings up the idea that individuals possess significant abilities, but sometimes these abilities can be used for good and bad, and not necessarily on purpose (as in the case of Mo’s reading). Meggie, a young person, is at the heart of the story, and it is her efforts that are extremely important in the book’s resolution. Though a child, she still has an important role. This example encourages individuals that their creative gifts are important to the world, but, like Meggie, working together with others is also crucial.
In another interesting article, Tamora Pierce also mentions the struggle to belong that young readers face, and this emerges with the characters of Dustfinger and Farid who have been pulled from the world of their storybook into Meggie and Mo’s world. Thus, they are foreigners in a strange land, and in both Inkheart and its sequel, this theme is explored. However, Meggie reaches out to Farid in compassion, again showing the importance and power of connecting with those around us.
In this way, Inkheart definitely grapples with relevant issues for both young and older readers. What’s also fascinating about this story is that it can function as a metaphor for the idea of the reader-response critical approach—a perspective that believes that meaning is only created when reader and text “meet.”
There’s so much to say about Inkheart–if you’ve read it, what was one of your favorite aspects of the story?