The Neverending Story

“You see, it’s called the House of Change not only because it changes itself but also because it changes anyone who lives in it.  And that was very important to the little boy, because up until then he had always wanted to be someone other than he was, but he didn’t want to change.”

As long as we’re on the childhood nostalgia trip, I think it’s time to pay homage to one of the best children’s books of all times: Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story.

I’m sure many of you know the story from childhood:  Bastian, a pale, chubby, and lonely child escapes from bullies by running into a bookstore.  There, he meets the owner, a curmudgeon who has been reading a book titled The Neverending Story. Without really knowing why, Bastian steals the book, ferrets it away to the attic of his school, and sits in the dust and the gloom for hours, entranced by the story.  Enter the epic adventure: luckdragons, quests, riddles and the Childlike Empress.  Bastian reads that a fearsome Nothing is spreading through the land of Fantastica, eating away great patches of the country and sucking inhabitants into the abyss. The hero Atreyu is summoned by the Empress on a quest: he is to discover the source of the Nothingness and save the Childlike Empress, and he must hurry, lest Fantastica disappear forever.

Atreyu wanders far, meeting unforgettable characters like Morla the Aged One, gnomes, oracles, and the beloved luckdragon, Falkor.  It soon becomes apparent that the only thing that can save Fantastica is a human child, who must cross worlds and use his memories and imagination to restore health to the country.  Here’s where Bastian comes in:  the awkward boy in the attic is must cross into the book and save Fantastica, and at the same time, battle insecurities of his own.

If you watched the movie a thousand times as a child, the book is so much better, and you’ll be immersed in a surprisingly moving story.  I read it one precious chapter a day, because I didn’t want it to be over too quickly.  I was surprised how emotional poor Bastian’s situation made me-I identified with him and his clumsy awkwardness and his desire to be something different. I think it’s something every child can relate to-after all, who doesn’t love the idea of endless wishes and books that you can enter?- and in the fashion of The Little Prince, is actually more meaningful to adult readers. Everyone can relate to it on some level.

This is really just a beautiful story.  Did I mention the illuminated pages?  Each chapter begins with a rich, detailed picture, in the illuminated style of old manuscripts.  Gorgeous! 

Ende, Michael. The Neverending Story. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Doubleday, 1983. 377 pp.

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