I’ve been quite eager to finally re-read Michael Ende‘s The Neverending Story. I remember being entranced with the book when I read it back in high school. Before I get into the details of the novel, I highly encourage you to check out the website dedicated to Mr. Ende and his works. He had quite an interesting life and was a popular children’s writer in Germany. He was the equivalent of J. K. Rowling, but without the huge franchise marketing of today.
Or the cleavage.
One of Ende’s writing exercises was to build a story around his father‘s surrealist paintings (which were condemned by the Nazi government). So go check out Edgar Ende’s website, too. His work is damned amazing and you can learn all about Edgar and Michael’s sweet and creative relationship.
The Neverending Story is a great read. I read the 1997 Dutton edition translated by Ralph Manheim.
I highly suggest that anyone go pick it up for some solid young adult literature. The book is very stylized. There are two color of ink: maroon for the ordinary world and green for Fantastica (that’s Fantasia). Each chapter also begins with an illuminated letter of the alphabet in succession. The presentation is purposeful as well as just plain beautiful.
Despite how good the book is, the film decided to end halfway through. That’s right, page 183 of 396 is where the film ends. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the novel continues telling Bastian’s story as he makes wishes in Fantastica. The catch is that with each wish he makes, Bastian loses some of his memories of the ordinary world. If he loses all of his memories then he is doomed to live in Fantastica for the rest of his days, an empty shell of a being. Pretty cool, right?
As cool as reading a fantasy book alone in a creepy school attic!
I’m not going to go into every tiny thing that’s different from the book, but there are a lot of characters and plot elements that get cut, which is a shame. The very first thing that’s different is Bastian. In the film he’s a nerdy boy at the mercy of bullies. In the book he’s a nerdy boy at the mercy of bullies and he’s chubby. The very first page describes him as “a fat little boy of ten or twelve.” This is such an important trait because it’s the main cause of Bastian’s insecurities. He gets teased by peers and teachers because he is weak and fat. All he wants is to be strong and fearless like the characters in his beloved books.
Once Bastian dives into reading there are a number of small aesthetic changes. The Ivory Tower is more like a mountain than a spire. It’s a bustling metropolis where the Childlike Empress (aka the Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes) lives in the Magnolia Pavilion. Cairon is actually a healer, not a herald like in the film. He’s also a centaur whose bottom half is a zebra. Cairon hurries to find Atreyu who gets cheated out of his coming of age ceremony to go on a quest for the Childlike Empress. And Atreyu has green skin.
Also, Artax can talk, which makes the Swamps of Sadness excessively more traumatic. Artax begs for Atreyu to leave so that his master does not have to watch him drown. Atreyu even offers AURYN to Artax, but the horse refuses to take it. It’s fucking miserable to read.
“I can’t make it. Go on alone. Don’t bother about me. I can’t stand
the sadness anymore. I want to die!” (pg. 52)
Speaking of miserable, the Nothing is extra terrifying. The rock chewer, Pyornkrachzark (you can’t escape dumb fantasy names here, either), explains:
“But then these chunks got bigger and bigger. If somebody put his foot into one of them by mistake, the foot–or hand–or whatever else he put in–would be gone too. It didn’t hurt–it was just that a part of whoever it was would be missing. Some would even fall in on purpose if they got too close to the Nothing. It has an irresistible attraction…” (pg. 19-20).
The film tries to capture the horror, but doesn’t quite convey the novel’s description. There are other instances where characters can’t stand to look at the missing places because it’s too horrifying to comprehend. Atreyu even encounters a horrific parade of people making their way to the Nothing to throw themselves in. It gives me the willies.
Kinda like this, but with fewer balloons.
But let’s return to Atreyu’s Quest. There’s some cool shit he gets to do that’s not in the film. Like Ygramul the Many. Ygramul is a sentient conglomeration of small stinging insects. Ygramul traps Falkor in its web, but gives Atreyu a way to get to the Southern Oracle. Lucky that Falkor overhears the tip, too. And when Atreyu ventures to the Southern Oracle, he has to speak in rhyme just because that’s the way things work in Fantastica.
What the book does suffer from are the typical fantasy tropes: silly names, excessive questing, and rooting for heroes who make dumb mistakes. The book also leaves itself open to sequels, implying that Bastian has even more adventures to explore. After reading The Neverending Story, I’d really like to read more of Michael Ende’s works. I hear that Momo is essential reading for German children. There’s just so much more in the book than in the film. And not just characters. There are some serious themes about self-image, lying, friendship, and rebirth that just couldn’t be fit into 94 minutes. Ende created a truly mesmerizing world in Fantastica and it deserves the opportunity to be fully experienced in writing and in the reader’s own imagination.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.