My sixth grade teacher showed the movie “The Neverending Story” to the class one day, and ever since I’ve maintained a personal fondness for it (and for the soundtrack too).
Many years later, my mother found this story in book format. At first I didn’t want any part of it; I thought the book could never be as good as the movie, but my mother kept on insisting, so I finally broke down and read it. Let me just say that this was the beginning of my love for [German author] Michael Ende’s writings (who sadly passed away in 1995).
Not only was the book much better, it was longer, too. The first movie barely covered the first half of the book, and even though there were two other movies made, an attempt at a cartoon, and a TV series for younger children, they did not do the story justice.
It’s interesting to note that Michael Ende hated the movie. He unknowingly lost film rights when he signed a contract for the book, and so he didn’t have any say with how they produced it. After seeing how different the book truly is, I understand Ende’s criticism, but had it not been for the movie, I’d have never known about the book. So I ‘m happy with both.
A chubby boy (unlike in the movie)—named Bastian—wanders into a small antique bookstore where he meets the mysterious owner. Bastian sees a book called “The Neverending Story,” which the man insists is not for sale (and not for him), but a strong yearning to read forces Bastian’s hand and he takes the book home.
Bastian reads of the adventures of Atreyu (also incorrectly depicted in the movie as he has green skin), who searches to find an answer to this “Nothing” that is destroying the land of Fantastica (Fantasia in the movie). During his quest, Atreyu meets many interesting characters and eventually finds the answer to their problem has to do with a human child, who needs to give the Childlike Empress a new name. To his astonishment, Bastian finds that this child is actually him, but he realizes this too late and the world of Fantastica dies.
Bastian, now physically removed from the real word, becomes a part of a new Fantastica. His duty is to make wishes, and in doing so he forms this new world (including turning himself from a chubby little boy into a studly hero, nice!). However, the power starts to go to his head and he finds himself up against his friend, Atreyu, who tries to keep Bastian from taking the crown of the Emperor.
After a long and hard road, Bastian starts to see his folly and realizes that every time he makes a new wish an old memory from his real life disappears. In an attempt to save himself, he quests to find a way to return to the human world.
This is one of my favorite stories of all-time. I have read it more times than I can remember, and plan to read it several more; I get something new out of it at each reading, not to mention I love being reminded of the many things that I truly enjoyed—particularly the Desert of Colors. Also, the story is full of symbolism regarding the human condition, and it offers great opportunities for thought and reflection.
Things to consider:
I would say that this book is good for girls and boys starting around the age of eight. Of course, it’s also great for a much older audience too, as Ende said, “[my books are] for any child between 80 and 8 years”. I would warn that there are moments which may be considered too scary for younger children—including elements of sadness (like when Atreyu lost his horse to the swamps of sadness).
Opportunities for discussion:
Where to start . . . Well, to name a few: you need to keep a balance between the real world and the creative world; do not get so caught up in life that your need for imagination and creative becomes lost, but don’t become so obsessed over it that you disconnect from real life. Though some people may be proud, flashy, and showy, they are likely blind to who they really are inside, which is what matters most. When man is put into a place where he becomes a god of his own world, he learns how vast every little decision is in the scheme of life and creation, thus it makes us understand how unlike God we can ever be. Life and death are not something to play around with. We need to grow and progress who we are. Beauty on the outside does not reflect beauty on the inside, and vice versa. And I will end with, don’t forget who you are or where you came from, in other words, do not let yourself become prideful and arrogant.