I’ve been reading Cornelia Funke for years now, and there’s something about her work that always appeals to me. The Thief Lord is one of my favorite books, and her best work, I think; but I’ve also enjoyed Dragon Rider and Inkheart, although I think the Inkworld trilogy would have been better as one book (and yes, I still haven’t read my copy of Inkdeath).

I’ve been meaning to read Cornelia Funke’s latest book, Reckless since last year, but like I said, I’m pacing myself in tackling the new releases of my favorite authors — most are already on my shelves, still sealed, but I’m planning on getting the lot of them finished throughout the year (in particular: Shades of Grey, Heroes of the Valley, Inkdeath, The Ring of Solomon and The Last Dragonslayer).

Continue reading “Reckless”

Nothing like the magic of reading the book

(the review I wrote, published today in Manila Bulletin, Students and Campuses section)

The film adaptation of Cornelia Funke’s fantasy bestseller Inkheart hits the big screen this weekend, after almost two years of giddy anticipation for the book’s fans.

Produced by New Line Cinema, the outfit that brought to life J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and packing an all-star cast led by Brendan Fraser (Mortimer “Mo” Folchart), Paul Bettany (Dustfinger), Helen Mirren (Elinor Loredan), Andy Serkis (Capricorn), Jim Broadbent (Fenoglio), Sienna Guillory (Resa), and newcomer Eliza Bennett (Meggie Folchart), the theatrical release of Inkheart promised to be a feast for fantasy lovers.

A book about a book
Inkheart is the first book in the Ink Trilogy, a series of fantasy novels by the famous children’s book writer, Cornelia Funke, often tagged as Germany’s answer to J.K. Rowling. Funke has written well-loved fantasy stories such as Dragon Rider (1996), which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 78 weeks, and the Dickensian The Thief Lord (2000), which immediately cornered the #2 spot on the New York Times bestseller list for 19 weeks.

First published in Funke’s native German (originally entitled Tintenherz), Inkheart was published in 2003 by Scholastic (translated by Anthea Bell), and went on to gain worldwide readership, critical accolades, and bestseller status, with the sequels Inkspell (2005) and Inkdeath (2008) following suit.

Inkheart revolves around an obscure book, also entitled “Inkheart,” a medieval tale that becomes entwined with the lives of the Folchart family.

Meggie Folchart is a bookbinder’s daughter, and has spent all twelve years of her life surrounded by books. One thing puzzles, her however: as much as her father shared her love for books and reading, he has never read her a story. One fateful night, a mysterious stranger named Dustfinger and his horned marten Gwin show up at their house, and Mo’s secrets begin to unravel.

Nine years ago, Mo read the book “Inkheart” to his wife Teresa and three-year old Meggie, and suddenly, the characters from the book turn up in front of them: the black-hearted Capricorn and his henchman Basta, with the fire-eater Dustfinger in tow. Mo discovers he has an unusual talent: he can read things in and out of books. Unfortunately, this talent came at a price – as the “Inkheart” characters jumped out from the pages of the book, Teresa disappeared into them.

Mo manages to ward off the villains and saves Dustfinger’s life, but he cannot read Teresa out of the book. Capricorn, however, needs Mo to carry out his dastardly plans, so Mo leads a nomadic lifestyle to escape from his clutches.

Soon after Dustfinger returns into the Folcharts’ lives, Capricorn soon catches up with them and keeps Meggie captive to get Mo to cooperate. The fate of the Folcharts lies with Meggie, and it’s up to her to defeat Capricorn.

Inkheart is a book lover’s fantasy, drawing on the power of the written word and teeming with a love for books and reading.

The chapters are marked by passages from well-loved books, including Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends; R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island; J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan; T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone; Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13; Roald Dahl’s The BFG; J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are; William Golding’s The Princess Bride; C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and many more.

Tall order
As much as the movie tried to capture the magic of Inkheart, hardcore fans of the book will be disappointed as it leaves out the richness of details that made the book an enchanting page-turner. The film does not sufficiently establish the infectious, and almost-fanatic celebration of the written word that was the cornerstone of the series, failing to bring it to a level beyond the run-of-the mill adventure flick.

Certain liberties were also taken in the screenplay that are glaringly different from the book, particularly in the final action and the resolution, which also makes it harder to reconcile the film with the next book in the series.

It is interesting to note that the character of Mo Folchart was modeled after Brendan Fraser. The Inkheart movie producers wanted a bigger star for the role, but Funke had her heart set on Fraser, as she always imagined him as Mo. Funke even dedicated Inkspell to him and sent him a signed copy. Fraser soon found himself bringing Mo to life in the trilogy’s audiobooks, and finally, in the film adaptation.

The hitch, however, is that Fraser fails to deliver. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the film, especially since his American accent is starkly different from his onscreen daughter’s (and the rest of the cast’s) crisp British tones.

Characterization was also lacking, as Fraser did not look bookish enough in playing a man who loves books. Neither did he embody the reverence of a book binder stroking the pages of old tomes in need of new dress, nor the hunger of a bereaved husband who has spent the past nine years in search of a copy of the obscure “Inkheart” in the hopes of reuniting his family. Fraser is too commercial, calling on the trademark treatment he has given roles in a long list of action-adventure starrers, unable to give the sensitivity required for Mo’s character.

Eliza Bennett makes a dismal Meggie — not bad, but not memorable either; and Andy Serkis is a tad too sleek and sinister for Capricorn, who is supposed to be a one-dimensional book villain that is wicked simply for the pleasure of being evil.

Saving the film are the stellar performances of the support cast, in particular Helen Mirren as the book-mad Elinor, perfectly capturing the batty but lovable old aunt; Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart who is fascinated at seeing his characters brought to life; and Paul Bettany as the distraught Dustfinger, the fire breather who wishes to return to his world and change his fate.

Ultimately, perhaps making a movie about the magic of reading books is an impossible task, as the principle is contradictory in itself. Nothing beats the experience of getting lost in book, oblivious to one’s surroundings, turning the pages one after the other as the adventure takes place in one’s imagination, enjoyed for the moment but remembered long after.


Reread Inkheart for the review, Book #17 for 2009.

While my favorite Cornelia Funke book is The Thief Lord, I’ve always found Inkheart fascinating. The book may be long-winded for a lot of readers — yep, much of the book is spent going in and out of Capricorn’s village — but the escapist in me relished it for the adventure it offered, the wonderful scenery, and the high it gave me every time books were being described :)

My rating: the book 4/5 stars; the movie 2/5 stars

My copy: hardcover mooched from the US

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

Dragon Rider is a fantasy novel featuring the quest of a dragon (Firedrake), a forest brownie (Sorrel), and a little boy (Ben), and the delightful assortment of characters they meet along the way. Firedrake, Ben, and Sorrel are off to the Himalayas to find the legendary Rim of Heaven, to seek a sanctuary for the colony of silver dragons that still exist in the world. The quest is thwarted by the evil Nettlebrand, an evil man-made golden dragon with an attitude problem and an army of spies, determined to destroy all silver dragons.

After reading Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, I wanted to read Dragon Rider to find out if that was a fluke or if I really liked her style.

The verdict…

Dragon Rider is a bit lighter than The Thief Lord, perhaps because of its whimsy. Even the villains have some sort of entertainment value, and the dragon lore isn’t as complicated as say, Anne McCaffrey’s or even Christopher Paolini’s.

The characters are lovable, if not well-rounded. I think Funke kept in mind that kids can’t be overburdened with too much lore The dragons are whimsical, and totally uncomplicated. They’re just nice creatures who live on moonlight and seek to co-exist peacefully and anonymously on the earth. Ben is the simple boy with a grand mission, Sorrel is the feisty sidekick, and they meet a delightful band of characters along the way.

I think I’d have to say though, that The Thief Lord’s translation (Cornelia Funke writes in German) was better. I think there was a bit (just a bit) of a disjointedness in Dragon Rider that makes me think there were some things lost in translation.

It’s really a light-hearted book, with talking animals, lovable characters, a romp around the world, and Funke’s specialty: good, old-fashioned triumph of good versus evil. Yeah, the sort that makes you think the world is a much better place. It’s really great for kids, and well, it’s also a good pick-me-up for more jaded adults.

Cornelia Funke is certainly one of the better contemporary children’s book writers around, and her works have a classical feel to it that I rarely find in other children’s books.

My copy: trade paperback upgraded into a hardcover, mooched from the US

My rating: 4/5 stars

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

The Thief Lord opens in a detective’s office in Venice, where the horrible Hartliebs are engaging the services of private detective Victor Getz to find their two runaway nephews Bo and Prosper. The Hartliebs want to adopt Bo and send Prosper off to boarding school, but the brothers do not want to be separated so they run off to Venice.

In Venice, Bo and Prosper hook up with a feisty runaway girl named hornet, the hulky Mosca, the mischievous spiky-haired pickpocket Riccio, and Scipio, the Thief Lord, who takes care of all of them inside an abandoned old theater.

The plot thickens when a crooked antique dealer enlists the gang for a special mission, and Victor Getz is hot on their heels.

I’ve never read Cornelia Funke before, but I’d have to say that The Thief Lord is one of the best children’s books I have read. Since Cornelia Funke is German, it’s translated into English by Oliver Latsch, but I think it was an excellent translation because nothing seems to be awkward or vague.

It’s such a charming book with such endearing characters you can’t help but like it. It’s very Dickensian, sort of like Oliver Twist, with a bit of magic thrown in, and a whole lot funnier.

The book brings out the sights and sounds of Venice, and the description is so vivid that you can actually imagine you’re right there with the characters.

As books go, it’s not pretentious or ambitious, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s got a very classic feel to it, like it makes you feel good just reading it. You know, the sort of book that makes you want to live, because there’s such goodness in the world (haha, now where did that come from?) Just a beautifully written and exciting feel-good story.

Saw the movie recently and it’s an excellent adaptation, with unknown actors and excellent Venice scenery!

My copy: trade paperback upgraded into a hardcover with dustjacket, bought at Books for Less

My rating: 5/5 stars