Though Michael Ende intended for his book to be a children’s novel, The Neverending Story is far from being a story just for children to enjoy. If anything, older readers may find even more enjoyment in Ende’s fairy tale than children for Ende’s words speak truth that everyone should live by throughout their entire lives: that everyone’s life is a never-ending story.
A young awkward boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux loves to escape into the fantasy world of books to avoid the bullying of the real world. After stealing a book from an old bookkeeper, he realizes there is more to the book than first imagined. The Neverending Story tells the tale of a morbidly amazing adventure that Bastian soon finds he is actually a character of. The not-so imaginary world of Fantastica within the story is in danger and it is up to Bastian to save it. Can Bastian overcome his doubts and become the hero he never dreamed he could be?
Ende grabs the reader’s attention from page one with a backwards phrase. Before a reader even begins reading the story, he or she is trying to discover what the backwards line says, usually taking the book to a mirror rather than continuing to read the first full paragraph (where it states what the line says). This short introduction is both fun and intriguing for the reader and makes the reader want to read more. Shortly after, readers both young and old are introduced to a very realistic character: an awkward ten year old boy who is bullied for being shy and overweight. His only escape from the cruel gibes of his peers is in books, a common trait for those who have been the victim of bullying. For younger readers, Bastian could be a character many relate to while for older readers, Bastian could be a character they once were in grade school. The reality of this character is gripping, for instead of a character the readers wish they could be, they are introduced to a character that they may already be or were in the past.
On the more unrealistic side, the other characters Ende introduces to the reader are wonderfully creative. Mythological creatures readers have grown up with like unicorns, dragons, and sphinxes are all creatures who dwell in Fantastica; however, Ende created even more creatures to reside in this fantasy land that are beyond anyone’s imagination. Giant rock people who eat rocks and ride equally large stone bicycles. Small dwarf-like creatures that live underground and cry every day because they are so hideous. An oracle that no one ever sees because she is sound and who only ever speaks in rhyme. These are but a mere handful of the many creatures Ende created for his story. Another fun fact about these creatures is whenever Atreyu or Bastian meet these creatures, Ende will go on a side story about the creature, but will always end the story with, “but that is a story for another time.” This line is repeated dozens of times throughout the book’s entirety and it is perhaps one of the greatest lines within the book. The reader never hears these stories and this brilliance on Ende’s part really shows how everything and everyone has a story to tell.
Though this is considered a children’s fairy tale, it is also the perfect example of a “Hero’s Journey” story. The hero’s journey is a set of steps that any hero from any piece of literature, film, etc. endures from before he or she ever becomes a hero to after the final battle. The Neverending Story actually has two heroes: Bastian Balthazar Bux and Atreyu. Atreyu is the young hero of The Neverending Story Bastian is reading and is sent on a journey to find the one who will save Fantastica and Bastian is the young hero chosen from the real world to save Fantastica. Both go on equally grueling journeys, but they aid each other to the end. Before Bastian arrives in Fantastica, he is inspired by Atreyu’s courage when he is feeling low, “’Atreyu wouldn’t give up just because things were getting a little rough. What I’ve started I must finish. I’ve gone too far to turn back. Regardless of what may happen, I have to go forward.’ He felt very lonely, yet there was a kind of pride in his loneliness. He was proud of standing firm in the face of temptation” (Ende 72-73).
The Neverending Story is a rare story readers will not want to reach the ending of. Ende’s creations envelope the readers in a fantastical embrace that they will not want to be released from. Not only is Ende’s story one to be enjoyed, it is one to teach and learn from. The world has many terrible things that plague and haunt people every day: temptation, doubt, lies, fear, pride, longing to be someone other than oneself. These traits along with many others can cause people to lose sight of the good in the world. On Atreyu’s journey to find Bastian, he stumbles across a werewolf that tells him, “’When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts’” (Ende 152). But if one can fight manipulation, one will gain the courage and hope it takes to see the good in life and to live the life one is meant to live, to carry on with one’s own never-ending story. Bastian meets a woman towards the end of his adventure named Dame Eyola and she gives him one of the best pieces of advice anyone, young or old, can take away from any book, “’Nothing is lost,’ she said. ‘Everything is transformed’” (Ende 410). If there is a problem, find a solution. If something has been lost, find it. If one wishes to change, change. To live is to change and The Neverending Story may just change how readers view their own lives.