The Neverending Story

{4/5} “Of course, I’ve worked up a few theories over the years. At first I thought the sphinxes’ judgment might be guided by certain physical characteristics… Then I toyed with numerical patterns… Since then I’ve come to the conclusion that the sphinxes’ decision is based on pure chance and that no principle whatever is involved. But my wife calls my conclusion scandalous, un-Fantastican, and absolutely unscientific.”

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, published in 1979

I liked the movie The Neverending Story as a kid but not so much as an adult, so I approached this book with some trepidation. But I decided to give it a try since it’s on the list.

The movie follows the first half of the book fairly closely — in the first few chapters the only differences I noted are Bastian’s physical appearance and Atreyu’s talking horse. After that there are, of course, some scenes in the book that were cut out for the movie.

For some reason, I liked the book better than the movie. It’s certainly well written — which is thanks to two people, Michael Ende (the author) and Ralph Manheim (the translator from German). Perhaps it’s because the book is more nuanced. Or maybe this type of story just makes more sense as a book than as a movie.

This book is like The Princess Bride in that there are two levels to it: there’s a book within the book, and then there are the people reading that book.

Bastian has stolen a book called The Neverending Story and he spends all day reading it in the school attic. In the book the Nothing is spreading over the land of Fantastica, erasing everything in its path. At the same time the Childlike Empress, the centre of all life in Fantastica, is dying. Atreyu was selected by the Childlike Empress to go on a quest to find out who can give her a name.

On Atreyu’s journey he meets a lot of characters. Although these characters only get a few pages each, they are memorable. There’s Morla the Aged One, a giant tortoise who’s lived so long she doesn’t care about anything. And Uyulala, who speaks by singing and only understands what others say if they rhyme. I especially liked the gnome characters of Urgl and Engywook. Urgl heals Atreyu after being stung by the Many. And Engywook gives Atreyu information about the three magic gates he has to go through to get to Uyulala in the Southern Oracle. They are a couple, and each think that their area of expertise is more important.

In Fantastica anything can happen, which is not my favourite type of story. In this case it does make sense that anything can happen — Fantastica is basically the land of imagination. I prefer fantasy where there are some rules or constraints — not necessarily explicitly stated but at least felt. So while it’s not my favourite book ever, I’m glad I read it.

Spoiler alert

In the second half of the book, which isn’t in the movie, Bastian goes to Fantastica himself and has adventures there. On the whole this part didn’t seem as memorable — that could be just because I remember the first half from the movie — but there are certainly some interesting parts.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 at 10:12 pm and is filed under Reviews of books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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