The Neverending Story (Die unendliche Geschichte) is a 1979 young adult fantasy novel by Michael Ende, translated from the original German by Ralph Manheim and illustrated by Roswitha Quadflieg. In our world, Bastian, a fat, unpleasant, unloved bookworm of a child, steals a book called The Neverending Story from a shop. This book chronicles the adventures of the child hero Atreyu, who embodies all the virtues that Bastian does not, as he attempts to save the world of Fantastica from total destruction. But their two worlds, as Bastian comes to discover, are connected.
By now, most people coming to The Neverending Story for the first time will already be familiar with the 1984 Wolfgang Petersen film. The movie covers the first half of the book, and The Neverending Story II is only loosely based on the second half.
Ende has created dozens of imaginative lands and creatures – perhaps too many, as the reader is taken through them all so quickly that few are able to make a lasting impact. This is probably The Neverending Story’s biggest flaw. There is material here for numerous books, but all packed together, it reads like a whirlwind, and often feels like the literary equivalent of looking out the window of a high-speed train, moving from one fantastic situation to another without a pause to soak in the scenery (or have a little character development).
Bastian is the only character who receives significant development (Atreyu has the monomyth pattern stamped all over him; he is a two-dimensional, archetypal hero to the core), and Ende does some surprising things with him. Bastian evolves from an unlikable child with low self-confidence to an arrogant bully to a villainous tyrant, and it’s a gutsy move on Ende’s part to take Bastian as far down that path as he does.
Ende touches lightly on a number of mature themes, including life and death, morality, love, belief, and desire. Again, though, one wishes he had spent a little more time developing them, which would have given the book a deeper and more lasting impact.
The book itself is artistically done and well-presented. The text is presented in two colors: one for scenes on Earth and one for scenes on Fantastica. The book is divided into twenty-six chapters, each with its own illustrated frontispiece featuring the first letter of that chapter’s text (they go from A to Z, in order) and that chapter’s events.
On the whole, The Neverending Story is an entertaining and highly imaginative fantasy that will appeal to fans of the genre of all ages, even if its brisk pace holds it back somewhat.