Study Guide

Inkheart Setting

By Cornelia Funke

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The World of Inkheart and… the World of Inkheart

Bear with us as we get a little meta here. We're gonna deal with the world of Inkheart (the book we're Shmooping, which looks a lot like our own world plus some magic) and the world of Inkheart (the book inside the book we're Shmooping, which is super fantasy-land). Are you with us so far?

The Real-ish World

The world Meggie and Mo live in is a lot like our world. They live in continental Europe, so it's just a day's drive to go see Meggie's mom's aunt Elinor, who "lives beside a lake in the north of Italy" (2.10). This world has burglar alarms, cell phones, cars—all the stuff we're used to.

Elinor's property is behind a gate "with sharp ashen-gray spikes" (4.1), which obviously doesn't look very inviting. Her house is quite large, with more windows than Meggie can easily count, though during the few days Meggie spends with Elinor, she becomes familiar with the various rooms, from the kitchen and bedrooms to the grand library.

Ready for something totally different? Fenoglio also lives in Italy, but instead of having a secluded mansion, he occupies a small village, which contains "little more than a square, a few dozen houses, and a church" (24.4). Fenoglio's small house is located on a street that's "so narrow that Mo could have touched both sides at once if he stretched out his arms" (24.21). It's a humble place, but since Fenoglio seems family-oriented rather than fame-oriented, it seems like a good fit for him.

And now for something even more different: Capricorn's village. Meggie senses something sinister as they get close to Capricorn's turf. During the drive, Elinor's been telling stories about the various ruined castles and stuff that they pass, but as they draw near Capricorn's village, even Elinor falls silent:

Several times the beam of the headlights fell on ruined houses, but Elinor didn't know stories about any of then. No princes had lived in those wretched hovels, no red-robed bishops, only farmers and laborers whose stories no one had written down, and now they were lost, buried under wild time and fast-growing spurge. (13.21)

That's a little foreboding, isn't it? The language used to describe the scenery as the gang gets closer to Capricorn's village is pretty dark—wretched, lost, and buried don't exactly make this sound like a great spot for a vacation. And once they arrive, they find that things aren't much better within the village:

Meggie saw old houses of gray, rough-hewn stone, with a pale church tower rising above the rooftops. Many of the houses looked empty as they passed, going down alleys so narrow that Meggie felt they could close in on her. Some of the houses had no roofs, others were little more than a couple of walls partly fallen in. It was dark in Capricorn's village. (13.87)

Considering the fact that pretty much none of the village's inhabitants actually want to live here, it's not surprising that the place isn't cared for at all. Capricorn's filled the place up with people who can't leave, and done nothing to nicen it up for them in the least.

We also get glimpses of a resort town on the coast that Elinor, Mo, Meggie, Dustfinger, and Farid escape to, which is the total opposite of Capricorn's village. The town's big enough to have a major bank and a fancy hotel, so everyone holes up for a couple of days to chill and recover. It's a big enough town to have multiple squares too, where people walk after dusk.

The point here is that just like in our world, the world of Inkheart (the book by Cornelia Funke, not the book inside the book) is pretty diverse. There are big houses and small houses, book-lovers and villains, tiny towns and bustling resorts.

Inside Fenoglio's Inkheart

While we never journey inside Fenoglio's Inkheart as readers of Funke's Inkheart (say that five times fast), we get to hear about what it's like in there. According to Mo, there are fairies, trolls, goblins, and men made out of glass in that world. He thinks his wife, Meggie's mom, would enjoy the supernatural critters, though she wouldn't like how much evil is in the world. Hey, Mo—we don't think anyone in their right mind would like how much evil that's tucked in there.

Dustfinger is also enamored of the world, and all he really wants is to be sent home. He knows all about the fairies there, and fire—his BFF—is more responsive in his old world too. (Be sure to check out Dustfinger's write up in the "Characters" section and the discussion of fire in the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section for more on this.) In other words, Dustfinger really struggles in the world outside the bookworld he was born into.

But to listen to Capricorn describe the world within Fenoglio's Inkheart, you'd think it was a totally different place. He says:

All those troublesome creatures, those fluttering fairies with their twittering voices, the swarming, scrabbling, stupid beasts everywhere, the smell of fur and dung…Talking trees, whispering pools—was there anything in that world that didn't have the power of speech! And then those endless muddy toads to the nearest town, if it could be called a town—that pack of well-born, finely dressed princes in their castles, those stinking peasants, so poor there was nothing to be gotten out of them, and the vagabonds and beggars with vermin dropping from their hair—oh, how sick I was of them all. (17.47)

What's it actually like there? We're guessing it's a middle ground: some good, some bad, some weird. Just like everywhere else, really.

Other Worlds Made of Words

There are also references to the worlds of other stories, and what lies therein. We know that Farid came from the world of The Arabian Nights, which is populated by thieves and djinn and ghosts and all kinds of vengeful spirits; and Tinker Bell comes out of Peter Pan, a whimsical world. If you think about it this way, the worlds contained within Inkheart (the novel we're Shmooping) are practically infinite.

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