The Griffin’s Feather by Cornelia Funke: Fantastic creatures and a globe-trotting quest
See also Dragon Rider
Overall rating: 8/10
Quality of writing: 9/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): minimal
Age level: 10 and up
After having defeated the malevolent dragon Nettlebrand in the previous book (Dragon Rider), the silver dragon Firedrake and his young rider Ben have parted ways, Firedrake to oversee the growing colony of dragons at the Rim of Heaven in the Himalayas, Ben to help his friend and adopted father Barnabas Greenbloom at a sanctuary for endangered fantastical creatures in Norway. However, when Baranabas discovers the last known clutch of Pegasus eggs—whose mother has died, and will therefore not hatch unless treated with the rare sun feather of a griffin—Ben must set out to find the sun feather and save the last three existing Pegasus eggs. Complicating matters is the fact that griffins and dragons are mortal enemies, meaning that Firedrake cannot accompany Ben, since the last known encounter between a dragon and a griffin resulted in the death of the dragon. With less than ten days before the Pegasus foals will either suffocate or hatch, Ben must travel across the world to the home of the mysterious and ruthless griffins in Indonesia, enlisting the help of both humans and magical creatures to accomplish his goal in time.
The plot of this book centers mainly around Ben’s mission to find the griffins, to persuade them to give him a sun feather (despite their reputation for violence, greed, and cruelty), and to return with the feather to the fantastic creature sanctuary MIMAMEIDR—all before the Pegasus foals grow too large to survive within their eggshells. Based on this, the primary conflict in the first portion of the book is man vs. nature (time), with Ben, Barnabas Greenbloom, and their magical-creature allies hurrying to accomplish their goals in time. However, once they reach the griffins, a second conflict emerges between them and the tyrannical griffin leader Kraa, establishing a definite antagonist for the second section of the book. Difficulties also arise between the protagonists over Ben’s decision to lie to Firedrake about going to the griffins (in order to keep him from coming and endangering himself), and overall, the plot in this book is quite well-varied for being geared towards a younger age range. (I would note, however, that no definite antagonist appears until almost halfway through the book.)
On the other hand, this book is fairly light on plot twists, and the plot’s overall structure is rather straightforward. Furthermore, the climax seemed a bit lacking in terms of foreshadowing, and the plot twist that ultimately allows Ben to procure a sun feather seemed a bit deus ex machina-esque. These weren’t huge concerns, but they’re nevertheless worth noting, earning the book an 8/10 on plot.
The (quite numerous) characters in this book vary quite a bit. As protagonists go, Ben is a fairly blank character without a ton of development beyond his relationship with Firedrake (as opposed to the previous book), and likewise, Barnabas Greenbloom is a bit one-sided with regard to his focus on preserving fantastical creatures and keeping his family safe. On the other hand, some of the magical creatures themselves are excellently-written characters—the dialogue between the grumpy brownie Sorrel and the troll Hothbrodd (who has a tendency to insult enemies in Norwegian) is certainly amusing, and the brave though scholarly and fastidious homunculus Twigleg is perhaps one of my favorite sidekick characters in children’s literature. Furthermore, Funke also incorporates a surprising amount of characterization for the griffins (whom the protagonists at first assume to be entirely evil) through the griffin Shrii, a gentler example of his species who has rebelled against the cruel Kraa and allies with Ben. Through Shrii, Funke demonstrates that the griffins are not as irredeemably evil as the protagonists had assumed. In conclusion, the characters in this book span a wide spectrum of development and complexity, but are on the whole done well for this book’s age range.
This book’s style and diction are relatively simple, and its dialogue is on the whole quite easy to understand. Furthermore, its length is manageable (393 pages in my edition) and the chapters are relatively short. The only potentially concerning element in my mind is the large number of characters, places, and fantastic creatures, whose names can be difficult to keep straight and who often only appear once or twice in the case of minor characters. Fortunately, the list of main protagonists is fairly short (although still on the larger side, as children’s books go), and the primary characters are not too difficult to remember. Furthermore, Funke also adds a very helpful list of places, creatures, and characters at the end of the book, which should aid any readers who find themselves forgetting precisely who a character is. Overall, this book is not overly difficult, and should not pose any problems for the large majority of readers. (2.5/10)
Quality of writing
Funke’s quality of writing is excellent for its age range, as in the previous book—her diction is clear and easy to follow, and her characters are engaging and sympathetic, even for older readers. Furthermore, her imagination in adapting and combining folklore and legend with her own ideas is commendable, producing a wide variety of fantastic creatures in the story, ranging from intriguing, to amusing, to awe-inspiring. This and other factors combine to form a cohesive fictional world which is generally quite enjoyable to read about.
The story also incorporates distinct themes of environmentalism and protection of the natural world (even more so than in the previous book), mainly through Barnabas Greenbloom and his efforts to protect endangered magical creatures around the world. However, Funke handles this tastefully, and the book doesn’t feel particularly “preachy” despite its inclusion. (9/10)
This book has nearly no concerning content, including no problematic language or sexual content. (The troll Hothbrodd does frequently insult enemies, but only in Norwegian.) There are a few fight scenes, but the fighting isn’t so much the focus of these (for example, the battle might be a distraction so that another character can sneak past), and the violence is quite limited and age-appropriate. I personally would not consider these scenes problematic, but as always, readers and parents of readers should exercise their own judgement. On the whole, this book has no major issues to be concerned about.
Based on this book’s readable style of writing and lack of any major concerning content, I recommend it for readers 10 and up. As I mentioned before, the only major difficulty issue is the rather large cast of characters, which could potentially confuse some readers, but Funke deals with this quite well by including a comprehensive list of names at the back of the book.