Author Cornelia Funke still believes in magic of fairy tales

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As a child growing up in northwestern Germany, Cornelia Funke lay in bed at night listening to a scratchy recording of six fairy tales that scared her.

"I didn't like them and I listened to them constantly," recalled the author, adding that the stories were bizarre and cruel.

Now, she writes fantastic stories that feature dark, moody characters who are a bit unpredictable.

Cornelia Funke

Where: Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, Oakland.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $10; 412-622-8866; www.pittsburghlectures.org.

Ms. Funke (pronounced Foonk-Ah) speaks at 2 p.m. Sunday in Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland as part of the Black and White and Read All Over series of Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. Her appearance will be followed by refreshments and a book signing.

Often called the J.K. Rowling of Germany, Ms. Funke became internationally known in 2002 when her book, "The Thief Lord," was translated into English and published in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The main character in her latest book is Jacob Reckless and the title is "Reckless."

"He stumbled into my life about four years ago. He's quite pushy as a hero," the author said during a telephone interview this week.

"He gets very jealous when you try to sit in the garden," said Ms. Funke, who likes to grow herbs and recently planted an apricot tree outside her Los Angeles home.

"I never had such a pest of a hero. I told a British friend, 'I just felt he kicked my knee because I talked with you for too long.' "

About five years ago, the writer moved to California and the distance from her homeland made her more aware of her German roots.

In the past year, she has read fairy tales set in Russia, Spain and France to see how different cultures tell familiar stories and how different landscapes affect the mise-en-scene.

"In Russia, you have Pushkin telling fairy tales in poetry," she said.

Wherever she travels, Ms. Funke visits old bookstores to search for old versions of fairy tales.

"The Grimm brothers changed the fairy tales when they collected them. They made sure that the hero always comes back home and lives the way they want him to live. They made the women much more timid."

In older versions of "Little Red Riding Hood," the girl saves herself.

"In the newer versions, she needs the hunter to save her," Ms. Funke said.

Last year, she attended a dinner with all of the people who publish her books.

"We had people from more than 40 countries sitting and talking," she said.

She dismisses the misconceptions that "children don't read anymore" and that "children don't want to hear stories anymore."

"The magic of storytelling is still so strong. We just have to understand that children may tell them in different ways now."

As an example, she cited youngsters who make videos for YouTube.

In Wales, a little girl told her, "Cornelia, you do it every time I get bored. You take me somewhere else!"

Besides her passion for writing, Ms. Funke believes in philanthropy. She was employed as a social worker in Germany for three years before becoming a writer and illustrator. She supports charities that help families in exile and children who are born with cleft palates.

"I feel I have to give back to them and be their protector. I think it's my responsibility to use my name, my money, to support children all over the world," she said.

The author is concerned that today's children don't have enough regular contact with the outdoors, including plants and wildlife.

"I don't want to face a world where children will not be able to see a forest or a wild animal unless they see it on a computer screen."


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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