The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Nothing is devouring Fantastica bit by bit and The Childlike Empress tasks Atreyu with stopping it. Meanwhile, holed up in his school's attic, Bastian Balthazar Bux reads a purlorned book and soon finds himself pulled into... The Neverending Story!
Not too long ago, I bought my wife tickets to see the rerelease of The Dark Crystal in the theater and we got to talking about fantasy movies from the 1980s, which lead to rewatching The Neverending Story. Days after that, I found this book in the used bookstore I always go to and decided to give it a read.
If you've ever seen the movie, the first 45% of the book is 99% of the movie, with the standard book to movie tweaks, expunged parts, etc. Fantastica was changed to Fantastia for the movie. Some of the creatures look different. Atreyu is green, Falkor looks more like a lion than a dog, and so on. Entire scenes are omitted and dialogue is shuffled around to other characters to make up the difference. I kept telling my wife "Most of the movie has happened. What the hell is going to be in the second half?"
Well, the ending of the movie provides the hint. Once Bastian saves Fantastica, it's his responsibility to help rebuild it. Shit starts sliding downhill immediately after. Without going into it too much, absolute power corrupts absolutely and Bastian does what a lot of insecure people would do with godlike powers: abuses the shit out of it and becomes a raging dickhead. We all should have seen it coming. He stole a book in the first chapter! A book! He goes from being a relateable bookworm to an A-1 shitheel. After a bloody battle at the Ivory Tower, I wondered if Bastian could ever be redeemed.
Sure enough, he could. The last 80 pages were about Bastian seeing the error of his ways and using what little wishes he had left to leave Fantastica and generally grow the fuck up. The reunion with his father was pretty sweet and his conversation with Coreander puts a bow on everything.
Now that I've had time to digest thing, the book seems to partly be about coping with loss. Bastian and his father coping with his mother's death, and later, Bastian coping with losing everything the Childlike Empress gave him. It's also about taking responsibility for your actions and not being a chickenshit all the time. Bastian Balthazar Bux at the end of the book is almost totally different from the one at the beginning.
I wound up enjoying the book quite a bit but, like Falkor's depiction, the movie and the book are totally different animals. The movie captured the adventurous bits without all the morals in the second half. Michael Ende definitely crafted something special here. I wonder how much was lost in translation, though. I had my doubts about the second half but it was all worth it in the end, if a little sappy. Four out of five stars.
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