The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (1979) 445 p.
Most of us have seen the movie, but I don’t believe the book was ever published in Australia. I read a copy in my primary school library (must have slipped through the net) and then never ever saw a copy again, until I picked this one up in London.
Bastian Baltazhar Bux, a fat and bullied schoolchild (whom I visualised as Uter from the Simpsons, since the book is German) steals the Neverending Story from a bookstore and hides out in his school’s attic to read it. It tells a tale of how Fantastica, a fabulous land of magical creatures and marvels, is slowly being consumed by the Nothing: a growing black cancer that causes things to simply stop existing. Atreyu, a ten-year old warrior from a tribe of Native American analogues, is sent on a quest to discover the source of this terrible scourge. Along the way he’s lucky enough to make friends with FALKOR THE MOTHERFUCKING LUCKDRAGON, easily the most iconic and awesome creation of the series.
Reading along, Bastian is disturbed to find many apparent references to himself in the text, and (I doubt I’m giving anything away) eventually finds himself sucked into it. The second half of the book is considerably different from the first, with the Nothing defeated, and instead focuses on Bastian’s own struggles in Fantastica. Despite being more character-driven and thematically deeper (the battle for the Ivory Tower, pitting Bastian against Atreyu, is particularly good) I think the first half is more engrossing.
I recall loving The Neverending Story when I was in Year 5, and it’s definitely a great book for kids, but I don’t think it holds up well for a returning adult. This doesn’t mean it’s not a good book; I’ve just outgrown the target audience for it. It’s more a fairytale than a fantasy, full of bizarre people and places that display great imagination on Ende’s part, but which don’t fit together as a cohesive whole – a world of whimsy and imagination rather than a fully realised world. That’s exactly what it’s intended to be, of course – the value of imagination, stories and creation is a major theme of the book. As I said before, the best way to describe it is as a fairytale rather than a fantasy.
A good book, but one that I’d rather read to my hypothetical son than one that I’d read for myself.