Michael Ende - The Neverending Story

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Almost as Good as the Movies...

Jul 3, 2006 (Updated Jul 3, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fun fantasy theme, interesting characters and adventurous plot

Cons:Poor minor character development, slow-paced second half

The Bottom Line: Like good children's stories? Check out this book!


Although I have grown up watching all of the Neverending Story movies, I had never read the book until this past week. To be perfectly honest, this is because I didn’t know there was a book. I’m embarrassed by this now, because I have learned there is a well-known and well-loved children’s fantasy story by Michael Endes upon which the first two movies are based. While I really enjoyed reading this story as an adult, it does have a few minor flaws which prevent me from giving a perfect rating.

Plot Information
This story was originally written in German but Ralph Manheim translated the book in 1984. The star of the story is Bastian Balthazar Bux, an unpopular child who is regularly picked on by his schoolmates. One day he ducks into a book store and steals The Neverending Story. As he starts to read about the adventures of the inhabitants of the mystical land of Fantastica, he finds himself drawn more and more into the story. Fantastica, as it turns out, is in great danger. An evil force is endangering the Childlike Empress, and Atreyu the warrior must go on a quest to save her and the rest of the world as Bastian follows along through the book.

For those who are familiar with the movies, the first half of the story very closely parallels The Neverending Story. The second half isn’t as close to the movie sequel, partly because Bastian never leaves the book or the land of Fantastica in between the two halves. There is, however, a distinction between the two parts of the book, although it isn’t clearly marked. Bastian spends the first portion of the story as an outside observer and the second half in the land of Fantastica.

What I Liked
This is a great example of a high-quality children’s fantasy book. Readers who enjoy literature like the Oz books, Chronicles of Narnia, or The Hobbit will really enjoy this story. The characters are quite imaginative, and Endes describes them in very descriptive imagery. My favorite is, of course, the lovable Falcor the Luck Dragon. The story takes its two heroes, Bastian and Atreyu, through some really interesting adventures. I particularly enjoy the suspenseful portions that require the boys to figure out a puzzle or complete a task. Some portions that didn’t make it to the movie are a lot of fun, such as the “House of Change” Bastian spends a lot of time in with the eccentric Dame Eyola.

The character of Bastian is very well developed throughout the book. We really get a sense of his misfit status in school and the extent to which this has effected his self-esteem. His desire to become a hero is a frequent subject. However, I think Endes does a great job in representing realistic reasons behind this – Bastian wants to be a hero to impress people and gain fame and praise, not to be perfectly noble. This is probably a more accurate portrayal of the average young, unpopular boy than the almost too-good-to-be-true version of the young boy portrayed in the films. At times the character is unlikable, but when one reflects on all the background information given about his deceased mother and absentee father, his emotions make sense.

What I Didn’t Like
Endes brings a huge number of characters to the table, but few of them are really developed. Atreyu, Falcor, Bastian, and the Childlike-Empress are the only characters who consistently appear throughout. Most other Fantastical creatures appear with vivid description only to drop out a chapter or two later. I got the feeling Endes had a good deal of fun introducing new characters and describing their physical appearance, but didn’t really care to keep them around because then he could introduce new ones.

My other complaint has to do with the pacing in the second half of the book. The first half moves along very speedily and has clear direction in its plot. At around the halfway point, however, the plot slows down greatly and becomes much more reflective. While some of the concepts introduced are interesting, this is intended as a children’s book and I think many kids will not “get” the second half. I found myself getting a little bored in some sections.

Overall…
This is a fun, classic fantasy children’s book. The first half is especially strong, and its just too bad the second half doesn’t keep up the entertaining pace. Despite a couple of imperfections, though, I still strongly recommend this book to anyone who typically enjoys stories in this genre. Fantasy stories of this quiality don't come along often enough!

I will say, though, that while some may disagree, I still love the movies better.


Recommend this product? Yes

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