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Mo and Meggie are giant bookworms, but Elinor may have them beat. She has more books than they do, and more expensive ones too. What's the deal?
First, Elinor maybe didn't have the greatest childhood:
Her own father had been firmly convinced that books deserved more attention than children, and when he suddenly died she and her two sisters had barely noticed his absence. (8.14)
Wait a second… if her dad loved books more than his children, wouldn't you kind of expect Elinor to hate reading, or at least resent books a bit? You might, but instead Elinor retreats into books to deal with her unhappiness:
She had been right. The world was a terrible place, cruel, pitiless, dark as a bad dream. Not a good place to live in. Only in books could you find pity, comfort, happiness—and love. Books loved anyone who opened them, they gave you security and friendship and didn't ask anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly. (47.15)
We hate to give in to the stereotype of the lonely cat lady, but Elinor is basically like that, except she surrounds herself with books, not cats. Here's how she explains it to Mo:
They're my children, my inky children, and I look after them well. I keep the sunlight away from their pages, I dust them and protect them from hungry bookworms and grubby human fingers. (5.4)
Anytime someone refers to something that's not their child as, well, their child, they're making it crystal clear that they care a whole heckofalot about whatever it is they're referring to. In Elinor's case, that would be her books. So when Capricorn has his men burn all her books, he hits her where it hurts most:
Elinor wanted to scream, she wanted to curse, rage, cry out in fury, but not a sound came out of her mouth. All she could do was weep. (28.16)
Ouch and bummer.
It's not just that she loves books, either; she's in love with stories in general. As Elinor drives Meggie and Dustfinger toward Capricorn's village, she knows the stories behind pretty much every old landmark:
Elinor's cheeks glowed pink with excitement at the sight of some burnt-out old castle, and whenever she told tales of the warrior princes and greedy bishops who had once spread terror and death abroad in the very mountains through which they were now driving on modern paved roads, a romantic gleam lit her usually chilly pebble eyes. (13.7)
Stories—like children for other people—melt Elinor's heart a bit. And so though she puts up a bit of a cold front, we know she's got some warmth hidden inside. Phew.
Elinor's not exactly welcoming at first when Mo, Meggie, and Dustfinger show up on her doorstep. For one thing, she doesn't seem too fond of children:
Elinor muttered something suspicious and scrutinized Meggie as if she thought her capable of any kind of disgraceful conduct, whatever her father might say. "When you last brought her here at least we could put her in a playpen," she remarked coldly. "I don't suppose that would do now." Once again, she looked Meggie up and down as if she were being asked to admit a dangerous animal to the house. (4.32)
Gee, thanks for the warm welcome… not. Elinor's not into adult human company that much, either, which is why it's weird for her to realize that after her road trip with Meggie to find Mo, she misses people:
She had enjoyed being alone again, for that, after all, was what she was used to, yet the silence in her car had begun to trouble her, and she had gone into a cafe in a sleepy little town that didn't even have a bookshop, just to hear other human voices. (28.3)
Hm, what's gotten into Elinor? Maybe she's not as hermit-y as she makes herself out to be. Perhaps she's just told herself she doesn't like being around people to protect herself from further disappointment after her very disappointing childhood.
Part of how Elinor has kept people away over the years is by, as Mo says, having a "tongue as sharp as a paper knife" (4.40). Unfortunately though, this tongue doesn't always do Elinor good when there are villains with real knives involved. She talks a big talk, but when push comes to shove, Elinor's not the bravest lady out there—after one of the times Capricorn threatens her life, she confesses to Meggie:
My knees were like jelly, I was so scared. I don't know what's come over me. I feel like someone else, as if the old Elinor has driven home and left me here by myself. (19.8)
The thing about this fear that Elinor feels, though, is that it's another indicator that she's got some real goodness inside her. Unlike Capricorn who pretty much has ice in his veins, Elinor not only gets afraid, but admits as much to other people—so though she's got a sharp tongue, she's also got a soft heart.
Instead of a fairy godmother, picture Elinor like a fairy god-aunt: she's rich and helpful… when she's not being cranky.
As they drive up to her mansion, which is on a huge piece of wooded property, Mo confirms that she's got a bit of money, though he adds: "But she'll probably end up poor as a church mouse because she sends so much money on books" (4.10). She ain't broke yet, though, and Elinor and her money come in handy on their adventure, like when she pays for a hotel and food and rental car after they've all busted out of Capricorn's village.
She jokes about being old and fat, which actually works in her favor because Basta doesn't find where she's stashed her credit card when they're captured. As she says, "Men are never particularly keen to search fat old ladies. Which can be useful" (20.57). It certainly seems to be useful in this case, since it facilitates full bellies and clean beds to sleep in.
Elinor is older than Mo, though Meggie's not sure by how much. The rest of her appearance makes us think of a disorganized librarian type:
Her face reminded Meggie of a bulldog, but perhaps that was more her ferocious expression than its features. She wore a mouse-gray sweater and an ash-gray skirt, with a pearl necklace around her short neck […]. Elinor's hair was gray, too. She had pinned it up, but strands were hanging down everywhere as if she had done it impatiently and in a hurry. She didn't look as if she spent much time in front of a mirror. (4.25)
Hey, man—Elinor has more important stuff to do than worry about how she looks. Plus, who's she trying to get impress anyway? She prefers the company of books to people, after all.
By the end of the book though, Elinor has accepted that she likes to be around people at least some of the time, and so she opens her home to the refugees from Inkheart. Darius tags along, since he's suffered under Capricorn even though he's originally from our world, and Meggie, her mom, and Mo also start living with Elinor too. In other words, Elinor officially has a sizeable number of long-term houseguests—and she seems pretty pleased about this change too. Meggie sees:
[…] Elinor walking around among the trolls and fairies, looking happier than she had ever seen her. (57.41)
It looks like Elinor has finally found her groove, doesn't it? Her life is for sure going to include books, books, and more books, but it'll be enriched by human (and non-human) interactions as well.