The Neverending Story is probably best known to the general public through Wolfgang Peterson’s movie, whereas the original novel by Michael Ende is less well known. Despite the horrid sequels and the even worse television series that Michael Ende desperately tried to prevent in the last years of his life, Wolfgang Peterson’s first attempt at bringing the book to the big screen was successful and popular. However, fans of the book will know that it only records the first part of the story — though Peterson compensates by telling us in the final segment of the film “Bastian had many more adventures before finally returning to the ordinary world. But that’s another story…”
Since it’s likely that you’ve seen the movie but not read the book, I highly recommend that you track down the original story — the movie stands on its own, but the book takes Bastian on a deeper and more dangerous journey into Fantastica and the inner regions of the soul, both adding detail into the movie’s progression, and continuing into a larger and more fascinating adventure. Usually I always suggest reading books before watching any movies that they are based on, but in the case of The Neverending Story I make an exception — it is much better to scratch the surface of Ende’s imagination in Peterson’s very good interpretation of the book’s first half, and then immerse yourself in the deeper book-within-a-book that Ende wrote, filled with adventure, intrigue, possibilities, mystery, thought-provoking ideas, beloved characters and probing into the depths of the human psyche.
Bastian Balthazar Bux is a rather tubby, unpopular victim of bullying at the school, with a deceased mother and a grieving father. His one consolation in life is books, his absolute passion. This love of stories and the magic they bring is the reason why he runs off with “The Neverending Story”, the large volume he finds in Mr Coreander’s old book store. Hiding himself in the attic of his school, he is soon intoxicated by the story that unfolds: a young warrior named Atreyu is chosen to seek out a cure for the deathly ill Child-like Empress, the ruler of the realm of Fantastica. In a quest filled with danger, and joined by the joyful luck-dragon Falkor, Atreyu must also avoid the growing threat of the mysterious “Nothing” — a force that is slowly eating up his world. What the Nothing truly is, what the elusive cure for the Empress is, as well as the nature of Fantastica and Bastian’s role to play in its fate are mysteries gradually unfolded as he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the story. As it progresses, he finds himself wondering — could this particular story be real?
The Neverending Story is a work of true children’s literature, and anyone who loves books for their own sakes and appreciates the importance of imagination is sure to find this a favourite. It is filled to the brim with memorable characters — Falkor, Atreyu, Engywook, Grograman, Yikka, and my personal favourite, the sinister, elusive Gmork, and touches on some of the most primitive questions of the human mind: life and death, hope and despair, existence and oblivion, the corruption of power, the basic needs of humanity… I could go on. In terms of sheer imagination and stark visual beauty, Ende rides to the top of the list along with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and other authors of this calibre.
If there is one issue that brings fault, it is that the original manuscript was written in German — therefore the rhyming verses that are prevalent in the text feel rather disjointed, with the translator struggling to convey the content of the German version (which would have been more fluid and rhythmic) whilst forcing rhyme into the English.
But this is irrelevant in the bigger picture, for this is a must read, just as Peterson’s film is a must-watch. It is nothing less than a tragedy that money-hungry producers were allowed to exploit Ende’s book into the appallingly bad sequels and series, and I do my best to pretend that they don’t exist. But here, fans of Peterson’s movie, or those that have never heard of The Neverending Story before, will be well rewarded if they read Ende’s book — the width and length that your imagination will expand after reading makes it well worth the effort.