Tag Archives: Inkheart

Book Review Saturday – ‘Ghost Knight’

Cornelia Funke is not, for me, an ‘auto-buy’ author, despite the fact that she is a writer I deeply admire. There’s something slightly standoffish in her style, I think: something which gets between me and the words, like a film. I don’t know if this is something other readers experience with Funke, or if it’s just something which troubles me alone, but it sometimes stops me enjoying her writing as much as I should.

Image: worcesternews.co.uk

Image: worcesternews.co.uk

‘Ghost Knight’ is one of Funke’s more recent books – my lovely hardcover edition, a gift from my husband, dates from 2012 – and it is packed with charm. It features beautiful black and white illustrations, like these:

Image: goodreads.com Artist: Andrea Offermann, 2012

Image: goodreads.com
Artist: Andrea Offermann, 2012

 

Image: thehistorygirls.blogspot.com Artist: Andrea Offerman, 2012

Image: thehistorygirls.blogspot.com
Artist: Andrea Offermann, 2012

and there are ghosts, details from medieval history, architecture, tombs, effigies, spooky old cathedrals, graveyards, grandmothers who use their crutches as weapons, love and sacrifice, treasured friendship and adventure… but, I feel, it fell foul of the old ‘Funke film’ thing again. It was a wonderful story, but told at a distance. I didn’t feel emotionally involved with anyone or anything in it, and that was a shame.

Having said this, I really enjoyed the story, and I loved the character of Ella Littlejohn – I was not at all surprised to learn that Funke drew this character straight from life, as she leaps off the page – and I enjoyed reading about William Longespee, the titular ‘ghost knight’, about whom I knew nothing before opening this book. The story opens at a pivotal moment in the life of Jon Whitcroft, who is sent away to a boarding school in Salisbury after a breakdown in his relationship with his mother. Angry and feeling rejected, he resolves to hate his new life, and his bruised feelings are very much in evidence as he makes the train journey, alone, to a place in which he knows nobody. Very soon after arriving, though, Jon has a strange and disturbing vision – three gruesome ghosts, all on horseback, who clatter into the courtyard beneath his window at night, making it very clear he is their prey…

One of the only people who believes his crazy story about bloodthirsty ghosts is Ella Littlejohn, a fellow pupil at Jon’s school. She is used to the weirder side of life, as her grandmother Zelda is a witch who lives in a house full of toads. Ella gives Jon the idea to go into Salisbury Cathedral and beg for help at the tomb of William Longespee, whose ghost – it’s rumoured – appears to aid the innocent when they are in grave danger. Legend has it that Longespee has something dark on his soul which needs to be expunged, and by continuing to do good deeds even after his death, he may be able to repay his debts and find peace.

Figuring he has nothing to lose, Jon follows Ella’s advice.

Author Cornelia Funke at the tomb of the real William Longespee, in Salisbury Cathedral. Image: salisburyjournal.co.uk

Author Cornelia Funke at the tomb of the real William Longespee, in Salisbury Cathedral.
Image: salisburyjournal.co.uk

Longespee is indeed raised, and he agrees to come to Jon’s aid. But why are ghosts hunting Jon in the first place? And what is the truth behind the horrible accusations being made by yet another ghost, that of a young chorister who fell to his death from a window a century before? Can it be true that there is more to Longespee’s damnation than he is willing to admit?

For a gut-wrenching moment during this story, I began to wonder if the children would have any role in the action at all. We see them being saved through the actions of adults, several times, and I did worry that they’d be excluded from a central place in the drama. However, the ultimate resolution hangs on Jon, and his courage, and that was enough to keep me satisfied. One of the stranger aspects of the narration – and, perhaps, the cause of the ‘Funke film’ that keeps me separated from the heart of the story so often in her work, this book included – is the fact that Jon narrates this story at several years’ remove from the events described in it. He makes several wistful, ‘in the old long ago’ type remarks when he introduces us to a new person, or a new thing, and it did throw me out of the narrative world a little. I can’t see any reason for choosing to narrate the story this way: it would have worked better if it hadn’t been done like this, I think, because it removes a bit of the tension. Despite this, the world is beautifully evoked and delicately described, and the ghosts – particularly the ones hunting Jon – are properly scary.

Jon is supposed to be eleven years old during this book, but at times I really felt as though the narrative voice belonged more properly to an older teenager. This, of course, may be as a result of the fact that it is the adult Jon who narrates the book, which again makes me wonder why Ms. Funke chose to write it this way. His voice sounds old and world-weary at times (which makes sense, somewhat, when you get to the end of the book, but which is simply confusing at the start), and there are also hints of romance, which I usually feel are unnecessary in a children’s book – certainly one aimed at the 8+ market, as this one is. One thing I must say about ‘Ghost Knight,’ however, is this: the subplots, and the little details, and the stories-that-aren’t-quite-told, such as the tale surrounding the ghost of the mason’s apprentice, are absolutely fascinating. I yearned to know more about the bit-characters in this book, and that has to be a mark of good, solid writing. Despite its strange framing, and slightly ill-fitting narrative voice, then, I would recommend ‘Ghost Knight,’ and I would be fascinated to know what a younger reader would make of it.

I think I should go and dust off my old copy of ‘Inkheart’ and give it another go, too… perhaps I can have a ‘Funke-delic’ weekend.

Image: mustsayno.com

Image: mustsayno.com

May you find time to read this weekend, and may the words you choose reward your effort.

 

Good Idea Bad Idea

If, having read the title of today’s blog post, you’re now thinking of the Animaniacs, all I can do is apologise. Or, I suppose, say ‘you’re welcome’, depending on your opinion of the aforementioned ‘lovable’ creatures. If you have no idea who or what the Animaniacs are, don’t worry. It shouldn’t impede your enjoyment of the post.

Anyway. On with the show!

Image: mysobersunday.wordpress.com

Image: mysobersunday.wordpress.com

So, me blogging about ideas is nothing new – have a look here if you’d like a blast from the past – but today I’d like to think about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ideas, in the hope it’ll save someone, somewhere, a bit of time and energy.

Of course, I have to start out by saying it’s important to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas. I’m also now having second thoughts about whether it’s helpful to classify ideas into ‘good’ or ‘bad’; in essence, all ideas are ‘good’ ideas. Perhaps it’s better to describe them as ‘mobile’ or ‘stationary’ ideas, in other words ones you can do something with, and ones you cannot. For example, at the weekend I walked into a bookshop – not exactly unexpected – and was immediately struck by something weird. My attention was dragged away from the books, if you can imagine such a thing, by low, throbbing, strange-sounding music which sounded like a chant. I found it very soporific and quite bewitching, and immediately an idea began to slither into my mind. Just as I was about to grab my phone to start tapping notes into it, I realised a couple of things.

First, I realised that this idea I was having was a bad (or, perhaps, ‘stationary’) one. It was an idea which wasn’t going to go anywhere and wouldn’t ever become the basis for a strong story, and because of this, I put my phone away and let it fade. I also realised that the reason I knew this – that the idea wasn’t a usable one, I mean – was because it was based on a movie I’d seen, years ago. As I kept thinking about it, scenes from the movie actually started playing inside my head. I had forgotten the movie when I’d first heard the music in the bookshop, and the primal power of the idea behind it had grabbed my brain. When I’d thought about it, however, the truth became apparent – this idea wouldn’t work not because it was a ‘bad’ idea necessarily, but because it was a ‘stationary’ one; it had been used before, and not by me. I still remember the sensation of walking into the shop and feeling like I was walking into a spell because the music was so strange and enticing (it turned out to be Leonard Cohen, fact fans, just being played at such a low volume that I didn’t recognise it for several long minutes); that sensation, that feeling, may well end up being used in a story of mine. But the main idea – a boy being bewitched in a strange old bookshop and being sucked into a story and/or a story coming to life – is, I realised, somewhat of a cross between ‘The Never-Ending Story’ and ‘Inkheart.’ Unless something else occurs to me, something completely new and unique which I can weave into this basic idea, then this particular story seed is going to remain dormant.

I mean, come on. How would I ever top this? Image: sufirangga.blogspot.com

I mean, come on. How would I ever top this?
Image: sufirangga.blogspot.com

It’s important, I think, when you feel the rush of inspiration wash over you, not to always go with the first idea that comes to you. Chances are, you see, that the ‘idea’ is not your own. Our brains are filled with all the things we love, all the time – all our favourite books, movies and TV shows, the stories which have shaped our lives. They are at our fingerprints as readily as our memories are, and you mightn’t even realise that this is true until you start trying to map and keep track of your own ideas. If you don’t encourage your brain to have second and third and fourth thoughts about the inspirational things you encounter every day, you may run the risk of repeating ideas that have already been had, either by you or (more likely) someone else. There is so much newness and wonder out there, so many ideas ready to be discovered, that it would be a shame to use and re-use the same bunch time and time again.

It’s important to say, too (particularly in light of yesterday’s blog post), that every idea a person has is going to vary slightly from any idea that has gone before. Everyone will sprinkle a little newness over any idea they have, and that’s wonderful. Sometimes, however, you’re going to have an idea and you’ll be really enthusiastic about it and you’ll have a whole story arc planned out – and then it’ll strike you. ‘Oh yeah,’ you’ll say to yourself, sadly. ‘That’s the plot of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, isn’t it? More or less?’ Then, you might have to take your story and chuck the whole thing out, and that would be a shame. Particularly if you’ve been working on it for a while and you have lots of words written.

Not that I know from personal experience, or anything. I’m just using my imagination here, trying to picture how it must feel to realise, too late, that an idea isn’t really yours. Of course.

'Oh, really? That sounds highly illogical to me.' Image: pipeschool.blogspot.com

‘Oh, really? That sounds highly illogical to me.’
Image: pipeschool.blogspot.com

If the idea of having an idea that’s inspired by another work of art doesn’t bother you too much – and perhaps it shouldn’t, really, because that’s what a culture is about, after all, works of art influencing and reflecting one another, to an extent – then think about this: if you always go with the first idea to strike you, then you might risk writing stories full of clichés and overused tropes. If it’s the first thing to strike you, chances are it’ll be the first thing to strike most people. And who wants to be just like everyone else?

One final caveat: this post is, like all my posts, based entirely on my own experience. I’d love to hear another take on this, particularly if you fancy telling me I’m talking a load of old rubbish. What are your thoughts about ideas, inspiration, and popular culture?