How many times have you longed to meet Harry Potter? To stand face-to-face with Robin Hood? To kick back and have a cup of coffee with Sherlock Holmes? What if you could have that chance? What it you could bring all three of them out . . . but with them would come Voldemort, Prince John, and Moriarty? Would you still do it?
You and I will never have to make that choice because we don’t have the ability to bring characters from books into life. We’re not magicians, wizards, sorcerers, or any other kind of powerful being that can bring characters to life. Mo, on the other hand, is such a person. He’s not a magician exactly, but he can read characters out of books. But don’t get too excited. It’s not as good as you think it is. Because he can’t choose who comes out of the books or even when they come out. If he read Harry Potter aloud, he wouldn’t know if Harry, Voldemort, Snape, Hermoine, Neville, or Dumbledore would come out, and maybe none of them would. On the other hand, maybe all of them. It’s really quite the conundrum, which is exactly how Capricorn came to be.
Mo read Capricorn and Dustfinger out of a high fantasy novel, and now they’re living in our world. Capricorn thinks Mo is a sorcerer, but he’s just a bookbinder with a gift he doesn’t fully understand. But that won’t stop Capricorn from hunting down him and his daughter Meggie and Meggie’s great-aunt Elinor at all costs.
While it takes a few chapters to get going and for the story to be explained, Inkheart develops into a compelling story about a girl in over her head with a father who can do incredible things. The story is told through Meggie’s eyes and emphasizes her close relationship with her father, and how she comes to love Elinor, despite the grouchy old woman’s tough exterior. Many positive character traits are embodied through Mo, who, despite the man’s less-than-ideal character, manages to still feel mercy and compassion for Dustfinger, who straddles the line between good and bad quite skillfully.
Capricorn, the book’s primary villain, is set up with masterful prose. He’s the evil man’s evil, with a heart as black as ink, who has little visible motivation beyond controlling a small village of his minions and gathering money and power in his own little world, where he rules like a god. Literally like a god. As in he has a church. With a shrine to him. It’s kind of creepy.
Cornelia Funke incorporates many high fantasy elements, but the context of the book is such that those elements come across as far more original than they actually are. It has a touch of Urban Fantasy, taking place in our modern world, while blending in elements more typical of high fantasy, such as fairies and magicians. It’s a clever fantasy story employing familial themes while remaining somewhat tethered to our world, a combination that makes it both fantastical and realistic.
The book is not perfect, however. It becomes a bit dry at times in its 500-plus pages and some plot elements make the story seem like its circulating rather than pushing forward. It also contains slightly more language than I expected it to, with it being marketed as a children’s book, containing a decent-sized handful of mild profanities. It’s not one that I would choose to read to my children until they were older, between the language and the casual assertion that “people made up the devil.” With that said, it has no crusade against religious elements and is perfectly fine for teenagers and adults in terms of content.
While the book has its imperfections, and could have done with a faster-paced story, Funke’s character development skills are quite impressive. Elinor is different from Dustfinger is different from Mo is different from Capricorn. Even in their dialogue their characters have clear differences, and each of these go through significant changes throughout the book. Elinor is softened, Dustfinger discovers bravery, Meggie knows her father better, and Mo learns more about himself.
But at the end of the day, characters and plot are just conduits, creating a medium through which to send a message. The book starts out as though to tell us that we shouldn’t be trusting people, given the inherent untrustworthy characteristics of Dustfinger in the early chapters and all of the trouble that trusting strangers gets them into throughout the story. By the end, however, it seems to be a very different message. Mo made a mistake, albeit unintentional, when he read the characters he did out of their books. But he and Meggie work together to find a solution, and it involves not just getting out of Capricorn’s grasp, but eventually in the righting of their wrongs. You may not have made the mistakes you did intentionally, but you should still have enough responsibility to right them, whether they were intentional or not. That’s responsibility, which is certainly a Christian concept.
While not a children’s book in the strictest sense of the word, it certainly contains good themes and concepts, and will not disappoint when it comes to entertainment value.