Literature and theatre

A Portrait of Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke is currently the most successful German author of books for young people. She was born in 1958 and has sold a million copies of her books for young people and children. She has been compared internationally with JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. In September 2003 her book "Tintenherz" was released.

This portrait shows the Hamburg authoress on a promotional tour for the book. The former illustrator explains how she became a writer and where she gets her ideas for her tales of fantasy.

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Author: Ralf Gierkes
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For a long time in Germany books for children and young people were not taken seriously. But recently with Cornelia Funke, who was born in 1958, German writing for children has once again been put within a critical perspective. Der Spiegel wrote of a sensational success and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called her the German JK Rowling, the writer of the Harry Potter series.

The fact is that today Cornelia Funke is the most productive and most imaginative writer of young people's books in Germany. Her 40 odd books have been translated into 20 languages. Her range covers everything from primers and books for children to novels for older readers. Her books have been given countless awards including international ones.

In much of her work, children play an emancipated role. They resist their intended roles as does the little Princess Isabella who would rather peel potatoes than dress in the fine clothes of an aristocrat.

Children are, for her, small people with their own qualities and imagination, not unformed adults. Strong and self assured girls often play the main role in many of Cornelia Funke's stories, not that young lads are discriminated against.

As a writer she enjoys turning role clichés in on themselves. Adults often come across as being more helpless and unformed than children. As, for example, in "Igraine Ohnefurcht". Both of the wizards who are Igraine's parents manage to turn themselves accidentally into pigs as they are try to conjure up a birthday present. Now they both need the help of their children in their fight against an evil knight. A typical situation. Often in Cornelia Funke's stories it is only by working together that the protagonists win through and survive their adventures.

With "Drachenreiter", "Thief Lord" and now "Inkheart" the writer is speaking not only to the 10 to 14 year olds. More and more grown ups are reading this Hamburg writer's books. She is the only one until now to sell a million of her children's and young people's books in German speaking Europe. She made her international breakthrough with "Thief Lord". The story takes place in wintry Venice and tells of the brothers Japser and Bo who have fled to the city of gondolas. They do not wanted to be separated and their Aunt Esther is only interested in giving a home to the small and cute Bo. By good luck the two boys have met a young girl Wespe, and her three friends. All four of them have made their home in an old abandoned cinema. Jasper and Bo find shelter there. In Britain 10,000 hardback copies of the book were sold out on its first day. The American publisher, Scholastic, put 75,000 copies of the book on sale, twice as many as the Harry Potter first issue.

By the time she was 28, Cornelia Funke, a trained illustrator, had no interest in continuing to draw pictures for other people's stories. She wanted to create her own tales of fantasy, dragons and fairies, that could meet the highest standards in graphics and content and would meet the needs of the present time.

One explanation for her success might be a guideline laid down by Astrid Lindgrens on what an author should not do. "Many of those who write for children are in fact looking over the children's heads at an imaginary adult reader. They are establishing an understanding with the grown ups and ignoring the child."

The international rights for English language version of "Thief Lord" were bought by the English publisher Barry Cunningham. Cunningham is no less than the discoverer of JK Rowling, who as the spiritual mother of Harry Potter gained world fame as a writer of young people's books.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2004
Related links German literature online

Portal for the Promotion of Contemporary German Literature