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Reviewed by:
  • Reckless: Steinernes Fleisch, and: Reckless
  • Sandra Ballif Straubhaar (bio)
Reckless: Steinernes Fleisch. By Cornelia Funke. Hamburg: Cecilie Dressler Verlag, 2010. 349 pp.
Reckless. By Cornelia Funke. New York: Little, Brown, 2010. 394 pp.

While questing for treasures, the hero of the Grimm tale "The Golden Bird" (AT 550) enlists a fox helper, who turns out to be the enchanted brother of the princess who must be rescued. The analogous assistant in Asbjørnsen and Moe's "Lord Peter" (AT 545B) is a cat; this time she herself transforms into the human hero's true love at the story's end. Cornelia Funke's Reckless: Steinernes Fleisch—in which folktale tropes are subversively engaged to construct a postmodern narrative of siblings, parents, and young adult pair- bonding—features an incarnation of this animal-helper figure, perceived by many readers as the book's most sympathetic character, although she is not its titular protagonist. Fox, a shape-shifting vixen-girl, yearns to upgrade her faithful-sidekick status to something warmer but is thwarted on two fronts: not only by the urgency of the quest she participates in but also by the impatience and self-centeredness of the book's questing hero, Jacob Reckless.

Prior to the events of the novel, Jacob has been employed, like the hero of "The Golden Bird," as a hunter of magical treasures for the nobility. Now, however, he is engaged in a race against time, attempting to counter a curse that has befallen his brother, Will. (No, their first names are not a coincidence.) Both brothers were born into the world we know—twenty-first-century New York City—and have accessed the alternative-European landscape that is Fox's native land by the tradition-honored means of a magic mirror. Jacob has come to the perilous Mirrorworld many times and survived, but Will has made only one journey there, and it may result in something very like death for him. (Is this my fault? This is the persistent question haunting the four main characters: Jacob, Will, Fox, and Clara, Will's medical-student girlfriend, also from our world.)

Funke's novel plays its Märchen-motifs both straight (gingerbread houses and seven-league boots on the concrete level; young men who sally forth to "learn what fear is" on the thematic level) and crooked. Funke's greatest subversion of her folktale sources is the doubt that any of its characters will actually find what they are looking for. Jacob, specifically, came through the Mirror the first time in search of his missing father, John Reckless, an engineer: he may meet him in a sequel volume, but perhaps he won't.

The novel's many allusions are drawn from broader sources as well. There is a gruff pub owner who, like any Beowulf, displays on his taproom wall the severed arm of a slain ogre. Anthony Hope's Ruritania lurks in the names of secondary characters and in the alternative-Habsburg empire where the center of power lies. The cities of the Mirrorworld, with their Victorian fashions and steampunk technology, have their analogues in Terry Pratchett; the warfare, which is laying the landscape to waste, has a narrated nineteenth-century flavor. [End Page 397]

Many magical beings inhabit the Mirrorworld, but at the top rung of the power hierarchy (deities being distant or absent in this very contemporary European worldview) are the Fairies, modeled on those in the Grimms' tale of Briar Rose. These Fairies are capricious, and their spells are effectively irreversible. Power politics are complicated by the fact that the Fairies come in only one sex and must therefore find love partners among other species: humans, dwarfs, and the Others.

These Others, called "Goyl," embody a major secondary theme of the novel—namely, the clash of civilizations. Interestingly, Funke narrates several chapters from the Goyl point of view. Their name evokes "gargoyle"; accordingly, they are made of stone. Until recently the humans of the Mirrorworld have habitually slaughtered them, but now the cave-dwelling Goyl make war aboveground, and they have better soldiers than the human empire does. The Goyl are hardy, but daylight is painful to them: "The red moon is their...


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pp. 397-399
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