Study Guide

Dustfinger in Inkheart

By Cornelia Funke

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Roguely Rogue

When Dustfinger shows up on Meggie and Mo's doorstep in the rain, he's soaking wet so Meggie can't tell what color his shoulder-length hair is. But she can see that "The stubble around his narrow-lipped mouth was gingery […] Ginger hair sprouted on his cheeks, too, sparse as a boy's first beard but not long enough to hide three long, pale scars" (1.37). In other words, he's got a mysterious appearance to go with his mysterious (to Meggie, at least) past.

That Dustfinger looks mysterious is fitting given how sly he is. For instance, when he and Meggie are listening in on Mo and Elinor's conversation about the mysterious book that Mo's been hiding, Dustfinger propels Meggie into the middle of their conversation, saying, "so now you're going to go in there, the picture of innocence, and find out what the pair of them are planning to do with that book" (4.82). Knowing that Elinor and Mo will never give Dustfinger all the info he wants, he quickly maneuvers Meggie to do his dirty work for him. Sneaky.

If Dustfinger were a Dungeons and Dragons character, he'd definitely be a rogue, thief, or bard (or some combination of them all, like a multi-class character). He can pick locks, and he can steal things without people noticing, plus he manages to get Basta's knife away from him during a fight (49.57). All in all, he's a pretty nimble dude. Interestingly, though, Dustfinger considers himself a coward. This is because it's easier for him to develop a skill set that lets him run away and stay alive than stand his ground and fight… though you might chalk that up to having strong survival instincts instead.

Dustfinger does feel bad for betraying Mo, and then Meggie, to Capricorn. So when Basta and his men take Mo and the book away from Elinor's place, Dustfinger watches Meggie run after her father in the dark, and "his face turned hot with shame" (7.2). He may be calculated, but old Dusty's still got a heart beating in his chest.

He also feels bad for Elinor when her books are burned, though he doesn't want to reveal it: "suddenly something like sympathy did awake in him. Perhaps she was more like him than he'd thought: Her home, too, had consisted of paper and printer's ink. She probably felt as lost as he did in the real world" (35.22). See? He definitely has a conscience—it just doesn't come out to play that often.

Tamer of Flames

In his own world and ours, Dustfinger makes his living as an entertainer: a fire-eater and juggler, to be precise. When he puts on a show for Meggie, we see just how good he is at his job:

He made the fire climb high in the air, as if to set the stars alight. Then he lit a second torch and ran its flame over his bare arms. He looked as happy as a child playing with a pet animal. The fire licked his skin like something living, a darting, burning creature that he had befriended, a creature that caressed him and danced for him and drove the night away. He threw the torch high in the air where the fireball had just been blazing, caught it as it came down, lit more, juggled with three, four, five torches. Their fire whirled around him, danced with him but never hurt him: Dustfinger the tamer of flames, the man who breathed sparks, the friend of fire. (6.50)

Of course working with fire has its downsides, though, and Dustfinger does burn himself on occasion. And though he seems like a kid in a candy shop playing with fire in the above passage, fire is also what brought him to Capricorn's attention: "Yes, fire was his friend, but it was also the reason why Capricorn had summoned him back in that other life […] He still regretted teaching him so much, for Capricorn loved to give fire free rein" (31.9). Bummer, right? The thing Dustfinger likes to do for fun is the same thing that brought the super evil Capricorn into his life. Ugh.

In general, though, Dustfinger's good at what he does. His horned marten, Gwin, keeps him company on his adventures—which is good, because as we'll see below, Dustfinger is a lonely dude who is generally pretty unhappy with himself.

Loner and Lonely

Dustfinger is totally used to being a loner. As he tells Farid (when Farid insists on accompanying him on yet another dangerous mission): "If I want someone following me wherever I go I'll get myself a dog" (35.40). Ough.

You know how some people can have a love-hate relationship with themselves? Dustfinger has a hate-hate relationship with himself. He feels bad about pretty much everything he does and is. When he observes Meggie in the grip of a nightmare, he thinks, "What a softhearted fool he was!" (11.11); and then when he tries to convince himself to read Inkheart to find out what happens to him in the end, he just can't force himself to do it:

"Coward!" he whispered. "Oh, what a coward you are, Dustfinger!" He bit his lips until they hurt. "Come on!" he told himself. "This may be your last chance, you fool!" (11.13)

We're not self-help experts, but it sure seems like Dustfinger could stand to be a little kinder to himself.

He also has a thing for Meggie's mom, Resa, but once he figures out that she's not interested in him, he drops her like a hot potato. It's not as straightforward a decision as you might think, though:

What were they to him, Silvertongue and his daughter, the boy, the bookworm, and the woman who was another man's wife once more? She could have escaped with him, but she had stayed in the crypt with her daughter, so he had thrust her out of his heart as he always did with anyone who tried to stay there too long. (58.4)

Sounds like a defense mechanism to us, especially since this seems to be what Dustfinger always does when he develops feelings for someone. On the flip side, though, it's a reminder that Dustfinger isn't all bad. A worse character wouldn't have just let Resa go, and so here we also see Dustfinger respecting Resa and her family, which is pretty tight.

The way Mo describes it, at least part of Dustfinger's trouble comes from having a hard time adjusting to the world he's just been brought into:

He was thin as a stray cat and his eyes were dull. "Send me back," he begged, "send me back! This world will be the death of me. It's too fast, too crowded, too noisy. If I don't die of homesickness I shall starve to death. I don't know how to make a living. I don't know anything, I'm like a fish out of water," he said. And he refused to believe that I couldn't do it." (16.28)

It's got to be pretty tricky to not only be suddenly lucked from your home, but to then be dropped down in a completely strange land. And yet when confronted with his maker, Fenoglio, Dustfinger freaks out; he feels a "shiver" running down his spine (26.21). He doesn't like how Fenoglio looks at him, "as if he were a dog who had run away long ago and was now back, tail between his legs, perhaps with lice in his coat, but definitely his, the old man's dog" (26.24). Um… we don't like how Fenoglio looks at him either. So Dustfinger reacts like a cornered wild animal, pulling a knife in order to get away, and then escaping into the wilderness.

Dustfinger's loner instincts kick in throughout the book, like when Farid follows him, Dustfinger shouts: "Go away! … I don't want you!" (26.34-36). It's definitely pretty harsh at times, but at the end of the book, Dustfinger lets Farid follow him off into the sunset (metaphorically speaking, that is). Looks like Dustfinger's finally ready to accept a little company.

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