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I grew up in Germany and to me Michael Ende was always an amazing writer, much as I admire Terry Pratchett here in the UK. I more or less grew up with Michael Ende and from early childhood was aware of his writings. But he was not only a children’s writer, although he is known mainly for writing children’s books, the best known ones being The Neverending Story' and Momo'. This review is about the former, and most successful book.
The Neverending Story
Bastian Balthasar Bux is a timid boy who gets bullied by classmates and while trying to hide from his tormentors, he ends up in an antique book shop. His mother died and his father is trying to keep life as normal as possible under the circumstances. He sees a book that instantly draws him in, a book entitled ‘The Neverending Story’. Intrigued, Bastian steals the book from the book shop and hides out in the school’s attic and starts reading.
Bastian soon becomes emerged into the story of Fantastica (Fantasia) where the Childlike Empress is trying to save her land. The problem is, she is gravely ill and there is the ‘Nothing’ sweeping across the land, eating up the land bit by bit. The Empress sends out Atreyu, a 12 year old boy, to find a cure for her and stop the Nothing from devouring the land.
Atreyu travels Fantasia to find the saviour and meets a lot of challenges and makes new friends, including Falkur the friendly dragon. They set out to find the one person, a human child, who can save the Childlike Empress by giving her a new name, save Fantasia and defeat The Nothing.
Bastian is engrossed in the book, following the adventures of Atreyu when he realises that something is not quite right with the book. It seems to be constantly changing and every time he reacts to happenings in the story, something seems to change and it feels like he is becoming part of the story.
Will Atreyu find his way back to the Ivory Tower where the Childlike Empress lives and deliver the saviour? Who will this saviour be? Will Bastian hold the answer to the salvation of Fantasia? What will happen to Fantasia? What will become of Bastian? Will he own up to stealing the book?
So many questions but you have to read the book to find out.
There are a number of movies out covering some aspects of The Neverending Story, however I would advise reading the book. The first movie is barely covering the first half of the book and as is well known, Michael Ende did not agree with the script and sued, without success, the film company. I cannot blame him as the movie barely scratches the surface and cannot deliver on what is produced in a reader’s imagination when reading. The movie is just a very bad attempt at covering a book that is impossible to film. I will always prefer the book to the movie, in fact, I dislike the movie so much, I will not accept it as a faithful interpretation of the actual book.
The book is no mean feat to get through. It’s rather big for a children’s novel. A hardcover version will weigh you down. But it is certainly worth all 450 plus pages.
As the book switches between the real world (where Bastian grows up) and the land of Fantastica, two distinct styles in print have been used. These have varied from print run to print run. In most cases you will find that italics are used to depict the real world and normal print to show the action in the book. But what I always loved most, but is not always done in all prints, the two worlds are printed in different colours, red (real world) and green (Fantiastica). And the more Bastian interacts with the story, the more often you will find colour changes. The only person who appears who has not noticed he has become part of the story seems to be Bastian himself, until the Childlike Empress visits the Old Man of Wandering Mountain and asks him to read The Neverending Story out loud, now including the parts how Bastian obtained the book, and from now on you will find that the story continues more or less in the same colour/print font.
The book itself deals with a number of issues a lot of children, teenagers and even adults have to cope, losing a loved one and trying to get back to a normal life, loneliness, being bullied at school, feeling different from others and seeing the world not in black and white only.
Bastian is like a lot of children growing up now. He lost his mother, nowadays there are plenty of divorced parents, children who grow up without father. All this is not easy to come to terms with. And in the case of a bereavement, it seems that a lot of adults themselves are helpless when it comes to grief and dealing with it in front of their children.
Parents always want the best for their children, want them to grow up healthy and happy, but at the same time living in the real world and not some sort of dreamland. For some children it is not easy to live up to the parents’ expectations and this causes further conflict.
Bullying is not new, it has always happened and it will always happen. The apparently stronger ones will pick on the, what they perceive, weaker one in the group. But will the weakest in the group eventually stand up for him or herself and step up and become the hero that’s always slumbered inside them?
‘The Neverending Story’ is a story where the underdog comes out on top once he realises that he is the one who can not only change his own life but also the life of so many others. The moral undertone of the whole story, in particular in the second half will not go unnoticed but it will not overwhelm and distract from the enjoyment of the actual story.
To fully understand end enjoy ‘The Neverending Story’ I suggest you stay well clear of the movies and pick up the book and read this masterpiece for yourself and judge. No movie can come close to the imagination of Michael Ende and it would be a shame to add his name in the same breath as the rather silly movie adaptations.
Book recommended for readers of 10 years and older.
My German friends all raved about this book, but I still haven't gotten round to it. A wonderful encouragement to do so. I'm told the closest English equivalent is the Narnia stories, so anyone who enjoys those should love this. Lx