For those of you who have followed my reviews in the past, you may remember that Michael Ende is one of my favorite authors. However, let me warn you that this story is very unlike The Neverending Story and Momo.
It is really just a sequence of short stories; each sounding like a recap of a dream (as Ende writes, somewhere between awake and asleep).
The illustrations, though fascinating, make absolutely no sense in relation to most of the stories. However, it is interesting to point out that they were drawn by Edgar Karl Alfons Ende, Michael’s father, who was a Germany surrealism painter.
This is a very difficult book to get your hands on. Translated by J.Maxwell Brownjohn in 1986, it has since become very rare. You can find people selling used copies online ranging from $60 to $1000. Yes, I said one thousand. But do not forget the wonders of libraries. Check out http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/19886063 to see if you can get a copy in your area. That is how I found it.
Since it is impossible to provide a detailed overview without a super long blog summarizing all twenty nine different stories, I will briefly describe how it starts and how it ends.
We begin with Hor; a man who is unable to speak in anything other than a whisper. He lives in a house with endless rooms. The only windows are ones that open into the next room, which looks just the same as the former. He lives off a yellowish, slightly transparent substance that resides on the walls and columns.
Hor claims to have kept a faithful record (I assume he means, mentally) and then the following twenty eight stories unfold. When we come to the last story we find ourselves in a snow-covered plain. In the midst of the plain are the ruins of a wall. In the wall is a closed door. The peculiar thing is—other than a door appearing in a wall in the middle of nowhere—one can easily walk around to simply see the other side of the door. It is as if it only goes from one side of the wall to the other.
Two sentries keep guard to prevent anyone from entering or leaving. That is, until one day when a young man, accompanied by a Princess—by her bidding—ventures inside. His mission is to find and destroy her evil brother that lives within, and this brother’s name happens to be Hor.
Very interesting stories. Deep, insightful, sometimes confusing, yet wonderfully intriguing. I particular liked the story of the man being guided across a desert only to end up an old man when he finally meets his fiancé, who sets out to find her fiancé not knowing it is him. The twist was that he too saw an old woman greet him before his adventure, which obviously was the same woman. Yes, I know, it is strange, which is why I do not suggest this for the modern “only” reader. It is very esoteric in a sophisticated sort of way, if that makes sense. In other words, do not pick this up for light and easy reading. Pick it up to be fascinated and confounded. If you find dreams interesting, than this book is for you.
Things to consider:
This is probably not appropriate for a younger audience. Aside from the fact that most modern youth would be bored by the third page, there are some adult themes here: a few references to nudity, some to sexual situations, and some slightly crude. There are also several disturbing scenes such as the man with a doll-like face who devoured human viscera (intestines) from a bowl. But these things take on the creative form that makes sense for these dream-like tales. I would say later teens and older. Not specificity target towards men or women.
Opportunities for discussion:
Wow, where to begin. There are some strong Christian themes, but each tale has its own list of possible discussions. I will pick one that I like in particular: a little boy is stranded on a war stricken, seemingly deserted planet. He finds himself in an abandoned fairground and ends up sitting on a bench near a stage. Surprisingly, after an introduction asking the boy to use his imagination, a magician appears. The magician calls himself Ende. Ende is able come up with and perform marvels, but only if there is a boy—like the one here named Michael—to picture and imagine these feats. Obviously this story represents Michael Ende (the author) and his need to balance himself to produce creative stories. The discussion point here is to ask yourself or your elder teen, what is it in your life that you need balance in?