I have to admit, I read this book from a very biased point of view. Without a doubt, The Neverending Story is the best children’s book ever written, and quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. It’s been my favorite since 4th grade, and reading it again now didn’t change that. Few books have made me cry as much or think as deeply as this one.
It tells the story of a fat, mediocre boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux. He gets beat up and made fun of at school, he doesn’t do well in his classes, and he doesn’t feel good about himself at all. Ever since his mother died, his father has been depressed and focused all his attentions on his work as a dentist, and hasn’t really spent much time with Bastian. But of all the depressing things in Bastian’s life, he has one thing going for him: he loves to read and to tell stories. He spends most of his time by himself making up stories and imagining different worlds.
One day, as he is running away from the school bullies, he stumbles into a used bookstore and finds a book called THE NEVERENDING STORY. As soon as he sees it, he feels this overwhelming desire to read it–after all, the worst part of reading a story is the ending, when you have to say goodbye to all the characters and places in the story that you’ve come to love. But since Bastian is afraid of the grumpy bookstore owner, he decides to run off with it. Feeling like a fugitive, he locks himself in the attic of his school and sits down to read the book.
The book is about a wonderful place called Fantastica, full of all sorts of magical creatures and fantastic places. But there is a problem–Fantastica is in danger. These patches of nothingness are popping up all over the country and are slowly growing larger. Everything that falls into them ceases to exist, and everything that gets close to them has the color sucked out of it. At the same time, the Childlike Empress–the benevolent ruler of Fantastica who is the source of everyone’s life and power–is dying. Something needs to be done to save the Empress, and she chooses a young man named Atreyu from a distant tribe of hunters to go on the quest to find the cure for her.
As Bastian reads of Atreyu’s quest, he realizes the the book he is reading is not an ordinary book, and that Fantastica is not just an imaginary world. The human world and Fantastica are intimately connected and mutually dependent on each other for their welfare, and as Fantastica suffers and dies, the human world suffers and dies as well. What’s more, Bastian comes to the frightening realization that from the moment he picked up the book, his fate became tied with the fate of the people in Fantastica, and he himself became a character within it. They need him to save the Empress by giving her a new name, and he cannot run away from that, because his story has become part of the story of the book.
After he enters Fantastica and saves the Empress by giving her a new name, the story becomes especially interesting. The Childlike Empress gives Bastian AURYN, the magical amulet containing the image of a white snake and a black snake biting each others’ tails and forming a holy circle, she tells him that Fantastica will be rebuilt by his wishes, all of which will come true when he wears the amulet. However, he doesn’t know it, but for every wish he makes, he loses one of his memories of his previous life. If he loses all his memories before finding a way back home, he will be stranded in Fantastica with no knowledge of who he is or what is his purpose, with no way of ever going back. However, wishes cannot be easily controlled, and many wishes are completely subconscious. The only thing that can save him is finding out what is truly important to him in the real world–but as he explores deeper and deeper in the wonderful world of Fantastica, it becomes harder for him to even remember that he had a life outside of Fantastica. Ultimately, it is his friends and loved ones in both worlds who save him–and who he himself saves by returning.
The Neverending Story is, in many ways, a beautiful metaphor for stories and fiction itself. The text itself is short and very easy to read, but the meaning behind the text is incredibly deep and far reaching. Bastian’s journey is, in some ways, like the journey that writers of fiction take. The things that tie the two worlds are the things that make fiction important to us as human beings, and Bastian’s ultimate discovery at the end of the book is the most important thing that fiction can give us. It is truly a neverending story in that it shows us, through metaphors, what every good story gives us.
This was why I loved the story so much as a kid–that it was a metaphor for my own experiences reading books. And the metaphor rings true, then as well as now. Even though I’m no longer a child, I cried as I read this book. I don’t even know exactly why. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten so emotional if I hadn’t read this book as a child, but the meaning was still clearly there. And, in a surreal and beautiful way, it was powerful. There are definitely images from this story that will stay with me throughout my life.
The Neverending Story has definitely been one of the most influential books in my life. At a very young age, it fed the desire within me to become a writer by showing me the importance of stories and creative writing. And it also encouraged me by showing me what a good story looks and feels like. A good story is a powerful vehicle for truth, both consciously and subconsciously, through metaphor. And by that standard, The Neverending Story is one of the truest books that I know. I would recommend it to any child, young or old, growing or grown.