Saturday, September 24, 2016

Inkheart: A Reminder Not to Judge Books by their Cover

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As you may recall from another post, I unintentionally read three different versions of Taken recently. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was the second one I read, but the first "reverse Taken" that I'd ever encountered.

Oh, so the dad gets kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in this too? I thought this was a young adult book!
I think this is actually a children's book, and yes the dad gets kidnapped in the beginning. Luckily, neither he or his daughter are sexually molested. The father's kidnapping at the beginning of the book and the daughter's desire to run off and find him are actually the furthest Inkheart makes it into the Taken plotline. In reality, the plot is equal parts "be careful what you wish for," "don't judge a book by its cover," and missed opportunities. I felt the "don't judge a book by its cover" part most keenly since based on the cover and description on the back, I was expecting a more exciting, magical adventure with our little girl protagonist. Based on the description, our 12-year-old heroine— Meggie— is thrust into a book-like adventure where only she "can rewrite the story" and ultimately give it a happy ending. Based on the cover, I expected that adventure to include at least one minotaur, one unicorn, and a troop of flying monkeys. There were no minotaurs, unicorns, or flying monkeys. There was barely even any adventure. Instead, we had a series of kidnappings: first the dad, then the girl, then they escape, then Meggie gets kidnapped again, etc.

That sounds frustrating.
It really was! The sad part is that Cornelia Funke set up some legitimately good hooks at the beginning of the story, which were then resolved in a lackluster sort of way. For the first 300 or so pages, I was convinced that the story would get better! "Wait until I get to the part where they reveal this, and that, and the other thing!"

The way things start out is that 12-year-old bibliophile Meggie wakes up in the middle of the night to see that there is a strange man standing outside of her home. In a fit of panic, she rushes to inform her equally bibliophilic father so that he might send the stranger away. Her father is actually acquainted with the man: Dustfinger the fire-eater, who has searched for them in order to warn them that someone is on their trail. Meggie's father, Mo, possesses a certain book that our story's villain desires, and they must keep it from him at all costs... Thus, our beginning hooks: What could Capricorn, our villain, want from our book-binding papa (Mo)? What's so special about this book he wants? Why is Dustfinger warning them? Is he ally, or foe?

Who the hell names their kid "Capricorn," or "Dustfinger?"
Authors, of course. You see, Dustfinger and Capricorn do not belong in Meggie's world. They are actually characters from a book titled Inkheart, written by some guy in Italy (inside of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart).

It's just a book... No harm ever came from reading a book.
Meggie's father possesses a strange power: whenever he reads a book out loud, something ends up popping out of the book. Sometimes, it may be a bird, or a gold coin. However, for everything that comes out of the book, something else must go into it (presumably to maintain some sort of balance). In the instance of Inkheart, various characters— including Dustfinger, Capricorn, and several of Capricorn's henchmen— make it into Meggie's world, and her mother disappeared into the world of the book. Now, nine years after their appearance in Meggie's world, Capricorn has gathered and destroyed all copies of the story he came from. He needs only the one Mo owns to bring forward more of his evil cronies...

You wrote a book in a book that was better than the book you wrote...
Oooh... Book-ception!
It really did take approximately half of the book to get that all set up, and by then there had already been a kidnapping or two in progress. After that, it all went downhill. Unfortunately, the characters just weren't compelling. For example, as a reader I was told that Dustfinger was really an affable character in his book! However, in the actual book that I was reading, he was pathetic. He was desperately unhappy to be out of his story and wanted nothing more than to return home. Dustfinger gives Mo and Meggie up to Capricorn thinking that somehow— despite all of Mo's previous attempts to read him back— being under Capricorn's scrutiny will force Mo to control his power and send Dustfinger home! Meanwhile, Capricorn was repeatedly described as being a terrifying villain in his own book, with dead eyes devoid of pity. To encounter him in the book I read was to read about a man who wanted gold, and weapons to frighten people with. Color me unimpressed with his goals to be the douchiest douche-nozzle that ever douched. Capricorn is the sort of character one would call the police about, because they can handle him. He didn't have any particularly special powers, so I don't understand why the cops in the book were such pushovers that they didn't just go out and do their jobs.

Their families were being threatened?
Boo-fucking-hoo. You know what would help? Arresting the bad guys! The worst part, though, is that Inkheart spent a lot of time telling me how great Inkheart was. If the story these awful characters came from was so great, how come I'm not reading that instead?! Overall, the writing wasn't bad, though things did get tedious toward the end. I could have done without the repeated kidnappings, for example. Mo and Meggie's curse/ability to read characters out of their stories was an intriguing concept that got me to start the book, but only sheer determination on my part could make me finish it. Funke missed so many opportunities to make this a better story. I think she got lost in the cleverness of having a great book tucked away in a mediocre one.

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