Study Guide

Inkheart Literature and Writing

By Cornelia Funke

Literature and Writing

The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages. (1.2)

Meggie sleeps with a book under her pillow most nights, which is a little strange and uncomfortable-sounding. But her father, Mo, understands her habit and asks whether she also hears the book whispering its story to her. Is this a metaphor? Is it real? Can books actually whisper? Either way, it's a good clue that we've landed in a family of bookworms.

Mo had helped her with the binding, of course. He had bound all her homemade books in brightly patterned paper, and he had given her a stamp for the others so that she could print her name and the head of a unicorn on the title page, sometimes in black ink and sometimes in red, depending on how she felt. But Mo had never read aloud to her from her books. Not once. (2.24)

In this passage we learn that Mo is a bookbinder, and a good one at that (he has access to colored and patterned paper, and he has a stamp with different color inks that he's taught Meggie to use). After all, you have to be pretty decent at a skill in order to teach it to someone. But for all his love of books, he never reads out loud to Meggie. Never. This is a pretty big clue that something's off in Meggie and Mo's world.

"What on earth have you packed in here? Bricks?" asked Mo as he carried Meggie's book box out of the house.

"You're the one who says books have to be heavy because the whole world's inside them," said Meggie, making him laugh for the first time that morning. (2.38-39)

Mo has taught Meggie well: she values books enough to bring them along with her on trips, and she also knows that they're packed with knowledge. Surely there are some awesome books out there that aren't heavy, but in general we like the idea that books get a free pass for weight because they contain so much of the world (seriously, try to help a bookworm friend move—you'll quickly realize how just how heavy boxes of books can be).

"All books are in safe hands with me," replied Elinor, sounding cross. "You know that. 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)

Elinor doesn't just love books, she really loves books. She goes out of her way to maintain an ideal environment for them (no sunlight, very little dust, no oils from human fingers), and she even goes so far as to consider them her children. So it sure seems like leaving a book you'd want protected with her would be a good idea.

His thoughts couldn't be read on his brow in the same way as she could read Mo's. Dustfinger's face was a closed book, and Meggie had the feeling that if anyone tried reading it he would rap their knuckles. (5.43)

Books are so important in this book that characters are compared to them. In this case, Meggie thinks of Mo's face as an open book, or something she can easily read and interpret. But Dustfinger's face is different: it's like a closed book, giving no clues to what lies inside. If your face was like a book, what would it reveal? Are some people's faces maybe more like TVs or smartphones in terms of what they reveal?

"And as for this book," said Capricorn, looking at Inkheart with as much dislike as if it had bitten his pale fingers, "this extremely tedious, stupid, and extraordinarily long-winded book, I can assure you I have no intention of ever again letting myself be spellbound by its story." (17.47)

So Capricorn's not a fan of the book he came from. We get that. He finds its magical characters like fairies and trolls dumb and annoying, and he finds its people boring. It seems like that's all a matter of perspective, though—we know that Meggie's mom enjoyed being read to from Inkheart, and that Dustfinger longs to be back inside its pages. Maybe a lot of books are multifaceted enough that some people will get something out of them and enjoy them even while others think they're just meh.

"Oh, Basta can't write," replied Capricorn calmly. "None of my men can either read or write. I've forbidden them to learn. But I got one of my maidservants to teach me how to read. And when there's something to be written the reader does it." (17.84)

Capricorn keeps his men illiterate, which sounds like a great idea… to him, anyway. But the fact that Capricorn decided that it was worth teaching himself to read tells us that he recognizes the power of the written word, and he wants to keep this power away from his men in order to have an edge over them. It sounds very Capricorn-esque when we put it that way: more power for him, less for others. Writing just happens to be an expression of this dynamic in this instance.

But Mo shook his head. "I don't believe he will have thought of Fenoglio. You know, it's a funny thing about writers. Most people don't stop to think of books being written by people much like themselves. They think that writers are all dead long ago—they don't expect to meet them in the street or out shopping. They know their stories but not their names, and certainly not their faces." (22.38)

Mo makes an interesting point here: a lot of people are used to thinking of books first, and their writers second, if at all. We wonder whether Cornelia Funke, who wrote Inkheart, was slyly poking fun at situations where her readers have encountered her in public but not realized it was her. Or maybe she's nostalgic for a time when that was true, back before star writers like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Neil Gaiman could go on tours to meet thousands of adoring fans.

"I'm only a kind of book doctor […]. That's a very different trade. A famous writer once wrote, 'An author can be seen as three things: a storyteller, a teacher, or a magician—but the magician, the enchanter, is in the ascendant.' I always thought he was right about that." (59.5)

Mo shares his thoughts on the difference between taking care of books and writing them. When it comes to caring for books, he's a pro—he can lengthen their lives, give them new covers, and so on—but he doesn't think of himself as an author at all. Maybe there's magic in the way Mo relates to stories and writing, since his voice can bring forth characters and objects from the pages of books, but he hasn't got an author's magic.

For Meggie had a plan: She wanted to learn to make up stories like Fenoglio. She wanted to learn to fish for words so that she could read aloud to her mother without worrying about who might come out of the stories and look at her with homesick eyes. So Meggie decided words would be her trade. (59.27)

People become writers for different reasons, and Meggie's reason seems particularly legit: she wants to be able to relate to her family by reading aloud to them as a show of love. But given the gift she inherited from her dad, that's a big no-no unless she's reading things like super-abstract poetry. So she decides to become a writer so that she can fashion her own stories, and make them safe to read aloud. It's a nice goal, and we wish her luck, because (if you haven't figured this out already), writing is hard work.

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