© Cornelia Funke.
Just finished the third and final book of the Inkheart trilogy, the first two being INKHEART and INKSPELL respectively, and it’s a fine series and a great read. It also represents an interesting clash of literary ideas and techniques.
On the one hand, fantasy succeeds by convincing the reader that things they know can’t be real ARE real, at least while reading the book. Good writing (of any kind) achieves this by what Neil Gaiman might call telling convincing lies. A more traditional description would be “the willing suspension of disbelief.” We all love stories, and if a story is well told it can temporarily convince us of many things we know aren’t possible. We suspend our normal view of reality willingly.
And opposed to this is the concept of metafiction, in which the writer, through various techniques, keeps reminding the reader that he is reading a work of fiction. It’s a sort of mind game, where characters break the fourth wall and talk about knowing they’re in a work of fiction, or perhaps the author of the book appears in it and addresses the characters or the reader directly. While more popular now than ever in history, it’s not a new idea. In the Wikipedia entry on Metafiction, examples as early as “Don Quixote,” “The Canterbury Tales,” and “One Thousand and One Nights” are cited. Many mediums have used the techniques, including comics, with PROMETHEA being a good example.
All the Inkheart books, and especially INKDEATH are full of metafiction techniques. In the first book, Inkheart is also the title of a book within the book. Mo, one of the main characters, has the ability to bring characters from that book to life in “our” world when he reads about them out loud, causing much of the plot. Eventually the author of the book within the book is found and actually sent INTO his own book!
The second book, INKSPELL, takes place largely within that fictional fantasy world described in the book within the book. (See how hard this gets to describe?) Mo and his daughter Meggie both go there, and much of the time are commenting on how the fictional book compares to what they are experiencing. An added complication is that Fenoglio, the author, can still change the story if he writes something convincing and it is read by Mo or Meggie. And a further complication is that, back in “our” world, an immoral and vain man named Orpheus also has learned to change the story by writing and reading, and at the end of INKSPELL, he’s in the fictional fantasy world, too.
In INKDEATH, all the characters are locked in a struggle for control of the story, the fantasy world, and their own freedom, with fictional characters just as real and even more dangerous than the ones from “our” world. Mo, Meggie, their wife and mother, Orpheus, Fenoglio and others from our world are beset by evil characters and clever opponents from the fictional world all around them. Okay, I’m done trying to describe this, it’s just too difficult.
None of it would work if the characters and story weren’t so compelling and involving that we still care about them, fear for them, root for them (the good ones) and hate them (the evil ones) in the tradition of good fiction everywhere. And, somehow, Cornelia Funke has made it all convincing in this massive epic that never goes over the top and loses our willing suspension of disbelief, even though she constantly reminds us she’s making it all up.
I’ve probably made this sound more complicated than it seems when reading it. In fact, I urge you to give it a try. If you aren’t hooked by the first few chapters of the first book, INKHEART, I’d be very surprised. The entire series is highly recommended, and a delight. After reading each of the books, they stayed in my thoughts for a long time. Be interesting to see if the upcoming film of INKHEART captures any of the complexity and believability of the books.