Friday, May 15, 2015

The Neverending Story (1979)

Michael Ende published The Neverending Story in German in 1979. Three years later, after great success in Europe, the book was published in the English language. By the strictest definition of the word, this book is a masterpiece of prose, the stort of literary fantasy that breaks its way across genres, entering the public consciousness.

The book sold so well that a film, The Neverending Story, premiered in 1984, and a series of films and television series have followed. (I did not bother watching the film, figuring that the Hollywoodization of the tale would make it unpalatable. Judging from YouTube clips, I was right. The entire cast feels whitewashed. The film ends at the halfway point in the book. Each sequel only goes further down the tubes.)

My particular copy of The Neverending Story is a hardback from 1983. When I was a senior in high school, I received this as a Christmas present from my sister Valerie. I recall asking for the most recent Pern novel at the time, but she thought that the quality of that book was low, so she bought me the Neverending Story instead. Even at the time, I already knew that this was a story that I would never have bought on my own. If not for my sister, I would not have read it. This is a book where I went in expecting to hate the story, only to be won over by the tale. In my particular copy, the sections in the real world are printed in red ink, while those in Fantastica are printed in green. I don't know whether this choice continued in further printings. My copy sold for $15 at the time, which made it a pricy book.

Each chapter begins with a letter of the alphabet, from A-Z, and a two color plate that illustrates something about the chapter, by Rosewitha Quadfleig. As the book was originally written in German, I have no idea how they solved the getting the book from one alphabet to the next. I presume that chapters either had to get split or combined.

The story involves the tale of two boys, a luck dragon named Falkor, and the Childlike Empress. One boy is Bastian, an ordinary enough chubby kid in our world who gets teased by his peers. When he swipes a copy of The Neverending Story, he reads the adventures of Atreyu, a boy in fantastica who seeks to restore the Childlike Empress to health. Nothing is slowly overtaking Fantastica, and if the Empress is not restored, then all of Fantastica will cease to be. Little does Bastian know that his destiny will cross with that of Atreyu.

When you sit down at read the tale, you'll understand why Hollywood ended the story in the middle. The first half of the book is all a setup for the second half of the book. The first half of the book is the adventure, but the second half, the harder half, is the lessons learned by Bastian. Some parts of the second half made it into the second film, but not the lessons.

Despite my delight with the book, I did not read it again. This was only the second time that I read the work, and this time, I understood it far better. It may sound like a children's book, but this is no children's book, a trait shared by all the best children's books.