Meggie lives a quiet life alone with her father, a book-binder. But her father has a deep secret — he posseses an extraordinary magical power. One day a mysterious stranger arrives who seems linked to her father's past. Who is this sinister character and what does he want?
Suddenly Meggie is involved in a breathless game of escape and intrigue as her father's life is put in danger. Will she be able to save him in time?
One night as Meggie is up late trying to read, a stranger appears outside of her window, standing in the rain. The man, who bares the odd name of Dustfinger is revealed to have a connection with Meggie's father Mo. Mo invites the stranger into his work shop where the two have a mysterious conversation about a book, a man named Capricorn, and a plan to evade his wrath. When Dustfinger finally leaves and Meggie questions her father about Capricorn he gives her nothing but the cryptic answer that he is "No one you want to meet." She is left alone in her room with a fear of this evil man creeping up all around her.
Ch. 2: Secrets
If you take a book with you on a journey an odd thing happens: The book begins to collect your memories. And forever you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. __ Yes, books are like flypaper - memories cling to the printed pages better than anything else.
The next morning Meggie is awakened by Mo rummaging through her closet and packing up her things. He tells her that they must go, under the pretense of another job he has as a bookbinder. Packing up and leaving is not unusual for Meggie, but this time is different. As she gets her things ready she can't seem to shake the eery feeling of the night before and when they pull out of the drive, in the beat up old van, she has the odd sense that she may never return to their decrepit farm house again. She feels that they will drive further and further away, in flight from something that has no name. However, they don't get far before finding the mysterious Dustfinger waiting for them at the end of the drive.
Ch. 3: Going South
If you were to see a cat eating a young bird I expect you'd cry. Or try to help the bird. Capricorn would feed the bird to the cat on purpose, just to watch it being torn apart, and the little creature screeching and struggling would be like sweet honey to him
Meggie's heart thuds inside her chest as Mo leaves the car to speak with Dustfinger. As the two men talk Meggie realizes it is all but inevitable; Dustfinger is coming with them to evade Capricorn, whoever he may be. Suddenly the conversation shifts to Meggie's knowledge of the evil that is hunting them, and when Dustfinger insists that Mo explain, Meggie sees her chance to get some answers. Meggie hops out of the car with the threat that she will not leave until Mo tells her about Capricorn. In the end, however, it is Dustfinger who explains who the terrible man pursuing them is and Meggie can't keep her pulse from quickening at the knowledge of the awful things he has done. Finally, when they are long down the road, Dustfinger snoring in the back seat, Meggie asks Mo what a man like that could possibly want with him. His answer is simple: A book.
How many? Do you think I count them like buttons or peas? A very, very great many. There are probably more books in every single room of this house then you will ever read - and some of them are so valuable that if you dared touch them I wouldn't hesitate to shoot you.
— Elinor answering Meggie's question of how many books she has.
Meggie awakes in the passengers seat of the parked van to find Mo and Dustfinger standing outside of a menacing iron gate. The gate, she is told, leads to the home of Elinor, her great-aunt who supposedly needs Mo's help with a book, and who Meggie isn't much looking forward to meeting. Her apprehensions are only confirmed when they meet Elinor at her door steep. She is a brash woman with a sour disposition and dislike for children. However, there is one upside to the meeting, which Meggie discovers when she passes through the front door. Elinor's house is a labyrinth of books. Meggie is enthralled with Elinor's collection, but there is only one book that she can't get off her mind.
After dinner Meggie finds herself following Mo to see if she can catch a glimpse of it. Meggie ducks behind a chest to wait for Mo until she sees him return with a book wrapped in brown paper, the book. She fallows him through more halls of lined books until he disappears into the library. She stands outside of the door, heart thudding, wondering what to do, until she hears Elinor's distinct foot steps coming her way. Quickly she ducks into the nearest room, and finds, to her horror, that it is Elinor's room that she has stumbled into. Ducking out again she can not think what to do. Suddenly, she feels one firm hand on shoulder and another over her mouth. It turns out only to be Dustfinger, however, and he quickly releases her to question her about the book. When Meggie insists she knows nothing, Dustfinger decides that, due to her apparent innocence, she should be the one to question Mo. Meggie opens her mouth to protest but is cut short as Dustfinger shoves her, against her will, into the library.
Ch. 5: Only a Picture
Wearily, Meggie took out a book and tried to make herself a nest in its familiar words, but it was no good. Again and again the thought of that other book blurred the words, again and again Meggie saw the big initial letters before her - large colorful letters surrounded by figures whose story she didn't know because the book hadn't had time to tell it to her.
— Meggie Folchart's thought coming back to Inkheart from time to time.
Meggie stands in the door frightened, mouth gaping open, but she soon realizes that Mo and Elinor have not noticed her. They are hunched over the book, taking about hiding it. Suddenly Elinor turns around, not bothering to hide her shock at Meggie's intrusion. Meggie, however, is not about to get kicked out, and bursts out with a string of accusations and questions, as she knows attack is the best form of defense. But Mo doesn't seem any more pliable or willing to give out answers then before. In the end it is Elinor who beckons Meggie closer, allowing her to see the book, trying to convince her it is quite ordinary. But as Meggie looks at the book in it's green linen jacket, flipping through the illustrated pages, she can't help but feeling that it is anything but ordinary. Finally, Meggie flips to a chapter with an illustration of a furry little animal. Meggie begins to read the words on the page out loud, but Elinor snaps the book shut in her face, and Mo takes her by the hand to lead her out. As she lies in bed that night, a book slowly slipping from her fingers, her eyes fluttering closed, she can think of only one thing: finding Dustfinger.
The next morning she locates him behind the house, juggling. She tells him that she saw Gwin in an illustration in the book, and wants to know if he tell her why. However, instead of offering answers, he only poses a question; why has Mo never read out loud to her? Meggie, realizing that he will not answer her question, goes to find Mo, who is working on Elinor's book. She asked him Dustfinger's question about why he never reads to her, but Mo doesn't give a strait answer. So she tries another question; would Capricorn kill for the book? Still, Mo evades her question. Meggie finally seeks answers from a more reliable source then people, a source that won't tell lies or avoid answers. She skims through Elinor's library and turns through countless pages of literature on animals. However, it seems even her inky friends are raising more questions then answers, because none of Elinor's clever books say a thing about horned martians.
Afterward, Meggie could never say what had distracted her from the whirling torches and showers of sparks, making her look up once more to the house and its windows. Perhaps you feel the presence of evil on your skin like sudden heat or cold...
— Description of how Meggie Folchart felt ill at ease and a sense of foreboding.
Despite the odd circumstances surrounding her, Meggie's afternoon passes in a rather ordinary way, with nothing to look forward to but Dustfinger's promise of a show that evening. At eleven p.m. Meggie slips out of the house and into the cool dark night to find the performer waiting for her. Dustfinger proves to be a master of his trade as he breaths fire like a dragon, lets it lick up and down his body without getting burned, and juggles lit torches. But suddenly Meggie's attention is pulled away from the flames and to the house and a cold fear bubbles up inside of her as she notices the light from the library door and the faint sound of men's voices.
Meggie bolts, feet pounding across the gravel drive, fear digging into her heart. She finds the front door wide open and enters the pitch black hall to see the library door ajar, strange voices echoing from it, and among them one familiar voice. Mo. Just as she is about to barge in Elinor's strong hands grasp Meggie and pull her into her room, locking the door behind him. Meggie try to escape her but to no avail. Though the thin walls she can her the men talking to Mo, asking him where the book is, threatening to hurt her if he doesn't tell them. To Meggie's horror Mo agrees to show them the book and go with them. She tries desperately to escape Elinor, wriggling and kicking and fighting as she hears their steeps eco further and further down the halls. Then silence. Suddenly, Elinor releases her and Meggie thunder into the hall screaming Mo's name. She runs in a panic, down the hall, out of the house, and all the way down the drive, limping and sobbing. Finally she reaches the menacing iron gate, but it is too late. Mo is gone.
Ch. 7: What the Night Hides
Dustfinger saw Meggie's slim figure standing there as if she would never move again. All her strength seemed to have forsaken her, as if the next gust of wind might blow her away.
— Dustfinger's thought on how Meggie Folchart was faring after her father was taken away.
Dustfinger stands outside as Mo is taken away by Capricorn's men. He can hear Meggie screaming after Mo. He sees her run down the drive, desprate for her father. He follows her, slinking though the night silently, slyly, like the fugitive that he is. He sees her sobbing next to the wide open gate and for a brief moment he feels a pang in his chest, a pain that could almost be mistaken for guilt. For a frightening second he wants to reach out to her, to comfort her and espalier why he had to betray her father. The feeling soon passes. Finally, Meggie begins to walk back to the house. She passes right by him, wiping the tears from her eyes. When she is gone, he slips away into the darkness.
Ch. 8: Alone
"While we are here on our own, do you think you could stop looking at me as if you wanted to poison me all the time? Could that be arranged?"
Elinor stands in the door way of the house as Meggie stumbles back, shaking and unhinged. She finds her niece in a state of desperation and has no idea how to comfort her, yet can relate to her grief as she recalls her unhappy childhood. Elinor tries to assure Meggie that there was nothing else they could have done, and that the police, who are on there way, will help them. Unfortunately, when the police do arrive they take Meggie and Elinor's story as a joke, offering no help to them. When they finally leave, Elinor walks Meggie to her room and, in a desperate attempt to offer some comfort to the child, makes the comment that Meggie's mother used to sleep there and that Meggie should read if she can't get to sleep. She leaves her niece feeling guilty, like she has said and done all the wrong things, and with a heavy conscience disappears into her own room.
Ch. 9: A Poor Exchange
Mo loved chocolate. Even the mustiest old chocolate Santa Clause wan't safe from him. Meggie broke of a square of the bar and put it in her mouth, but it tasted of nothing. Nothing but sadness.
— Meggie thinking about her father.
Meggie doesn't sleep in her own bed that night. Instead she slips into Mo's room, surrounding herself with all the things that remind her of him, his half eaten chocolate bar, the picture of her mother that he sleeps with under his pillow, his tattered old sweeter. Meggie falls asleep with the sweeter balled up under her head, tears in her eyes, and a hollow feeling in her chest.
She wakes early, the beginnings of an idea swirling in her head. The sky is read, like blood, as she packs her bags, racing against the sun rise, unwilling to be caught sneaking out. It doesn't matter if no one will help her, she is going to find Mo. Meggie scrawls a hasty note onto a paper and sneaks to Elinor's room to leave it on he bedside table but what she sees when she gets there shatters all her plans. Elinor is holing Inkheart. Before Meggie can realize what she is doing she begins to yell at the top of her lungs, accusing Elinor of stealing the book and working with Capricorn. Her aunt, startled awake, simply listens to her niece until she is finished. She attempts to calm Meggie down, and though at first it doesn't work, she eventually stops her shrieking. Meggie insists that they go to the police again, but Elinor knows they will never take them seriously. At that moment the note falls from Elinor's table and she learns the shocking truth of Meggie's intent to go searching for Mo herself. However, instead of getting mad, Elinor makes a promise to Meggie that, after a few days time of waiting, they will go after him together.
Ch. 10: The Lions Den
Perhaps we can swap her for your father! I dare say Capricorn would do with another maidservant. I know she's no good at cooking, but perhaps she could do the laundry -- even if that's not something you learn from books.
Meggie sits outside on the bench, the same bench that she sat on while Dustfinger performed for her. His burnt torches still stinking out of the ground. She holds Inkheart, but can't bring herself to open it, afraid of what the pages might tell her. Just when she plucks up enough courage to crack open the cover she hears a voice, a familiar one. Dustfinger is back. She turns around, startled, and begins to question him. Where was he? Didn't they take him too? Where was Mo? Dustfinger takes his time before reviling that he has not been captured, that he has tried to follow them, and that he knows they've taken Mo to Capricorn's Village. Meggie pleads with Dustfinger to take her there as Elinor comes out of the house. She has more questions for him, which he ignores. He agrees to take Meggie, so long as Elinor stays behind. But Elinor won't have it, and insists that she goes as well. Dustfinger makes a sly joke about how they might be able ti swap her for Mo.
Ch. 13: Capricorn's Village Apparently, during those ten years, Capricorn finds himself another Silvertongue, however, this man, Darius stutters as he is scared of Basta and Capricorn, and ends up injuring everyone who he reads out. Capricorn finds himself henchmen in the real world, but makes Darius read out his mother, Mortola, and several of his henchmen and maids out of the Inkworld, including Resa, who had indeed lived as a maid.
Ch. 16: Once Upon a Time Mo reveals to have the ability to read both sentient beings and non-sentient objects in and out of stories, and ends up reading his wife Resa into the dangers of the Inkworld, and accidentally brings four characters out of the book, namely: Basta, Capricorn, Dustfinger and Dustfinger's horned marten, Gwin. Capricorn takes a liking to the real world, and ends up buying and/or stealing all the copies of Inkheart in the world. Capricorn, with his most loyal henchman Basta at his side, attempt a search for Mo, who flees with his three-year-old daughter Meggie.
Ch. 17: The Betrayer Betrayed Dustfinger brings Mo to Capricorn. Capricorn takes all the copies of Inkheart, including Mo's, and burns them, saying he never wants to return to that world, he, however, has one copy left and wants Mo to read out the Shadow, Capricorn's pet monster.
Ch. 53: The Right Words With the help of the Inkworld's creator Fenoglio, who Basta kidnapped, Meggie makes the Shadow despise its master, and Mo comes back, reading the final words that kills Capricorn. Fenoglio, however, was read into the Inkworld when the Shadow came out.
Shel Silverstein's poem, used in the English edition, was in fact also originally meant to be used for the German edition, however, because Cornelia Funke did not like the existing German translation and didn't think it impossible to transfer the lightness of the context into German, Paul Celan's poem was used in the German edition instead.