After finishing The Thief Lord, my daughter and I wanted to read more Cornelia Funke (pronounced “FOONK-ah”) so we picked up Igraine the Brave, a short novel that we listened to in audio format.
Igraine is a 12 year old girl who lives in a castle complete with a moat, drawbridge, stone lions and gargoyles, and lots of spiders (Igraine hates spiders). Her parents are famous magicians and her older brother is training with them. Igraine has no use for magic, though. She wants to be a knight. She gets her chance when her parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs just as the castle is under siege by enemy forces. The only way to turn her parents back into humans so they can protect the castle with their magic spells, is to make a potion that requires a few hairs from a red-headed giant. Igraine is the only person who can accomplish this. To do so, she must engage in all sorts of knightly behavior such as saving someone in distress, going on a dangerous quest, fighting a three-headed dragon, and being brave even when she’s afraid.
Igraine the Brave is a sweet story with a likeable young heroine. (How can you not like a little girl who wants so badly to be a knight that she even wears chain mail to breakfast?) She has allies in a funny talking cat, some silly sentient singing spellbooks, a gentle giant, an old Horsemaster from a neighboring castle, and a contemplative brooding knight who teaches Igraine about sword fighting and chivalry. The story moves quickly, is always amusing, has a feminist slant, and has something to say about bravery, fear, and honor. The story is simple and, because it’s light on tension, will probably be most appreciated by children 12 and younger.
Igraine the Brave was translated into English from German, Cornelia Funke’s native language, by Anthea Bell. I was surprised at how excellently the translation was done in order to keep the rhythm and rhyme of the several little songs in the book:
Slumber now like Sleeping Beauty
Forget your post, forget your duty.
Your eyelids droop, you fall asleep,
May your rest be sound and deep.
Wondrous dreams your mind shall cloud
Until you hear me laugh aloud.
Also, Igraine’s parents turned themselves into pigs by accidentally chanting “swine” instead of “shine” during a spell. The translation was very clever.
The print version of Igraine the Brave includes a dramatis personae with framed portraits of the characters drawn by Cornelia Funke. There are many other charming drawings throughout the text. Tali and I listened to the audio version which is 4.5 hours long, produced by Listening Library, and narrated by Xanthe Elbrick. She has a beautiful voice and gave the story exactly the right tone.