Michael Ende - The Neverending Story

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A World within a World...is either one real?

Jan 24, 2008 (Updated Nov 17, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent first half and ending, fantastic characters and detail, valid moral points.

Cons:Some simplistic writing, the second half is not quite as well written.

The Bottom Line: This is a classic fantasy novel, suitable for children and adults alike. Enjoy!


The Neverending Story is one of my all time favorite movies. It's not just that it was an '80s fantasy flick, but it was a movie that I grew up on. Here was a world where you could fly on the back of a friendly Luck Dragon, talk with aged gnomes, ride with a gigantic Rockbiter on his stone bike, and explore realms you never thought could possibly exist. When I found it on VHS and DVD a few years later, my heart was stirred once more. At a time in my life when I needed it, the magic came back. Just recently, I was at a local bookstore, and I found the unexpected: Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. I could not believe it! Here was a book that was impossible to find, by all accounts. There was no way that I was going to pass up the inspiration for one of my most treasured memories. It was almost as if it were by fate...

Plot: Bastion is a boy who lives more in the clouds than on the ground, preferring the freedom of his imagination to the confinement of real life. One day, he ducks into a bookstore to evade some bullies. He then comes across a book with an ornate cover, entitled The Neverending Story. He is mysteriously compelled to "borrow" it from the store, and once in the privacy of the school attic, begins to read. It tells the story of Fantastica, a magical land that is being slowly destroyed by an evil called the Nothing. All the inhabitants have sent messengers to the Childlike Empress, the benevolent ruler of Fantastica, entreating her for her aid. She is unfortunately ill, and her sickness is somehow linked with the Nothing. She cannot help her people, but she summons the one being in all the the world who might have a chance: Atreyu, a young boy from a tribe of warriors in the country. He is sent to find a cure for the Empress, which will in turn stop the Nothing. As he embarks on this vital journey, his story enthralls Bastion, to the point that reality and fiction become indistinguishable...

Review: Upon reading this, I was truly surprised at how different the book was from its film adaptation (Atreyu has green skin, for one thing, and his meeting with Falkor results in him saving the Luckdragon, not the other way around). The movie is still one of my favorites, but it was merely covering the first half of the book, which is far more complex in its entirety.

The inhabitants of Fantastica are described in vivid detail, be they minor or prominent. Ones such as the turtle-like Morla, the quartet of representatives (the bat-riding Nighthop, the will-o'-the-wisp in its orb of light, the gigantic Rockbiter, and the tiny snailracer), Uyulala (a vast chamber of disembodied voices) and Dame Eyola (a shape shifting plant with maternal instincts) all come across as three dimensional characters. Given that most of them have a limited presence in the book, this is a testament to the late Michael Ende's imaginative vision.

The fantasy format is also used to touch upon some very powerful themes that apply to real life: Loyalty, determination to finish what one has started, the horror that is the absence of all things, and the search for meaning in one's life. The latter two I appreciated especially, in that one seldom considers what would happen if we killed our imagination by refusing to believe any longer in the impossible and absurd. What price would we have to pay? Without any spark of creativity, how long would we live as a soulless society before dying from the sheer lack of motivation to breathe? As to purpose in life, Atreyu's journey results in him finding it for both himself and Bastion. The following question is then posed: Who has more power? Is it the creator, or the created? Does the creator empower the story he is making, or does the created dominate the creator with the power to inspire? The sheer genius in how Ende makes this point from a children's book is brilliant!

The writing itself starts off simplistically, and it seems that we are going to read a 300+ page novel written in the Elementary School format. Two things help to take care of this problem. First, you kind of adjust to the writing, as it is told from the viewpoint of a kid. Children usually don't have college-level intelligence, so it makes sense in that respect. Second, as the story gets more complex, so does the writing. Hence, the reader is rewarded for their persistence. This is especially true in the book's first half, as well as at the ending (I refer to the complexity, not the simplistic style).

The only real problem, however, comes from the second half of the book, involving the war with the evil sorceress Xayide. It's not that it is badly written, but once I finished the first half, I was floored. I wanted to see what happened next, and the answer was "a lot". Unfortunately, it seemed as if Ende sacrificed the inquisitive power he had previously wielded, instead telling a somewhat simpler story of absolute power corrupting absolutely. There are merits as well as a point to this portion of the book, but once I was exposed to the raw imagination of the first half, the second part was comparatively a letdown. The ending makes up for it, though, in that everything neatly comes full circle.

I can't say much more about this book, because reading it is a wondrous experience all in itself. What I will say is that the book will draw you in, and once you have completed the journey, your imagination will almost certainly be recharged. I know mine was. On a final note, this is the perfect example of a novel that is literally enjoyable for people of all ages. I do not have kids, but if I did, this is a story I would gladly sit down and read to them.


Recommend this product? Yes

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