Author: Cornelia Funke
Director: Iain Softley
Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire
Starring: Brendan Frazier, Eliza Bennett
I loved the premise of Inkheart from the moment I first saw the previews and the idea of bringing to life the characters who inhabit the pages of our favorite stories. The pages of Funke’s book didn’t disappoint either-it’s filled with quips, quotes and anecdotes that any book lover can relate to. And Softley’s film version is true to the book inspiring even the most reluctant reader to explore the world of words.
In the “real” world, there are people with special powers, known as readers, who can read characters and other elements of the story out of the book and into the real world. Luckily, what those readers bring out of the storybooks brings excitement and danger to the story: Capricorn, the enemy of all, and his henchmen, led by Basta, and Dustfinger – who is just confused and wants to go home.
Straight to the Point
Funke spends the first 100+ pages of her book introducing Mo (Frazier), Meggie’s obsessed father; Meggie (Bennett), the precocious 12-year old; Dustfinger the fire-juggler who longs to go home; and Elinor, a crotchety old woman who loves books more than any living person. We learn about how the family worships books: Mo works as a book binder and Elinor’s entire home is devoted to her book collection. Dustfinger first appears at the old farmhouse where Mo and Meggie make their home – a mysterious figure in the rain, who Mo invites in. He calles Mo “Silvertongue” and tells him that Capricorn would like to see him. The mismatched trio travels together to Elinor’s mansion, from where Mo is kidnapped by Capricorn’s men. Elinor, Dustfinger, and Meggie must track him down – where they all end up in Capricorn’s village.
Of course, Softley doesn’t have the equivalent of 100 pages of time on screen to introduce the characters and bring us to the heart of the action. Instead, Meggie and Mo run into Dustfinger in a village on their way to Elinor’s. When Silvertongue lies and says he doesn’t have a copy of the book Inkheart (from which Dustfinger, Basta and Capricorn are read) and thus can’t read Dustfinger home, we think he disappears. When he reappears at Elinor’s mansion, he isn’t alone: Capricorn’s men have come with him, and before they take the whole family, they destroy Elinor’s library.
While this change saves precious filming time, you lose a great deal of the history between Dustfinger and Silvertounge. In the book, Dustfinger feels like an old friend; in the film version, he’s another nemesis with whom Meggie, Mo and Elinor must contend. They also cut Meggie’s book box, replacing it with her mother’s copy of The Wizard of Oz that Elinor gives her.
We’re Off to See the Wizard
The Wizard of Oz plays a major role in the on-screen version of Inkheart, although it is never mentioned in the book. We’re first introduced to the book when Elinor gives the copy to Meggie which Dustfinger later saves from a bonfire of books. Because Meggie smuggles the book with them to Capricorn’s village, Mo can use the book to bring a tornado to Capricorn’s village, providing the perfect cover for an escape. Of course, the flying monkeys that are seen in the cells are also from the Wizard of Oz. And when Meggie discovers her skills in the film, she reads Toto out of the book when she’s staying at Fenoglio’s.
Whether the changes were made in an attempt to Americanize the story; to avoid copyright problems; or just to create additional action [is debatable, but forgivable]. Funke uses a wider range of stories from which to bring out characters. Meggie learns of her skill while she and Fenoglio are being held captive by Capricorn: she discovers books under the mattress and while reading aloud, TInkerbell appears. In order to prove her skill, she also reads a tin soldier from a Hans Christen Anderson fairytale. The wider variety of books that Funke uses encourages the reader to expand their horizons, while Softley’s version has familiar and comforting scenes for most American viewers.
Of course, the story couldn’t be complete if the only people that were read out of books were from years before the action; and Mo can’t be the only person with the skill. First we meet Darius, a new reader that Capricorn has found. Darius reads an army of henchmen from Inkheart for Capricorn’s evil doings. However, because of Darius’s unfortunate stutter, the people appear with unsightly tattoos and physical flaws (the flattened facial features of Flatnose, Resa’s missing voice). He also proves to be unreliable for Capricorn’s other motive: to read treasure from books. In the movie, Capricorn’s cells are filled with magical creatures that Darius has read for him: a unicorn, the ticking crocodile from Peter Pan and flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. (The book doesn’t show us who else is in the cells.)
Neither Mo nor Meggie have the trouble that Darius does, as whatever they read out of books appears flawlessly. None of the readers can control what comes out of the story, and in Funke’s version, the readers don’t use their power for personal gain. Mo won’t even read outloud without force or coercion – his only goal in reading aloud is to now read back out his wife, who disappeared on the night that Basta, Capricorn and Dustfinger appeared. Little does he know that Darius already read her out, and she’s now the mute maid that works for Capricorn.
Capricorn needs a good reader to complete his final evil deed: to read The Shadow out of Inkheart so that he can use the power to wreak havoc on the world. Since Mo has escaped his grasp, Capricorn can use Meggie’s skills to complete his evil plot. But in the end, reading is what must save the story, since reading is what created it. Fenoglio, the original author of Inkheart, comes up with the idea of re-writing The Shadow, so that rather than bending to Capricorn’s will, the Shadow would attack Capricorn and then disappear back into the story. Funke’s version has Meggie hide a new page up her sleeve (literally), written so that the Shadow turns into all the people (or fairies, etc) that he’s destroyed. Again, lending to the excitement of the big screen, Meggie herself must re-write the ending (on her arm) to protect those she loves.
Do the changes to the story reduce its appeal or detract from Funke’s vision? Definitely not. Rather, they bring the excitement needed for the big screen while staying true to the basic story and premise that Funke has laid out. There are several opportunities for increased depth and discussion in both stories (like what happens to people who are read into the books, and what happens to the books from which characters are read?), but Funke has written two more books in the series that may address these questions, and which may be brought to life on the silver screen.