Monday 16 July 2018

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

I have a vague recollection of seeing the 1984 movie version of The NeverEnding Story in my late teens. It was a bit too juvenile for my sophisticated, desperate-to-be-grown-up self at that time, so other than a shaggy white flying dragon and a boy clinging to its neck, I remember nothing. And felt no need to know any more.

Until a copy of the book fell into my hands recently & I decided to add it to my #20booksofsummer (winter) list as a bit of light relief.

Die unendliche Geschichte was published in German in 1979 by Michael Ende, a prolific and very successful children's writer. He was born in 1929 in Bavaria to a surrealist painter and a physiotherapist. In 1935 the young family moved to Munich to live in an artistic community. But in 1936, his father's work was declared 'degenerate' by the Nazi's forcing him to work in secret.

The young Ende experienced bombings and compulsory membership in the Hitler Youth before being drafted into the Volksturm in 1945. However, the story goes that he tore up his papers and joined a Bavarian resistance movement for the remainder of the war instead.

After the war, he dabbled in poetry, acting and play writing. His first novel, Jim Knopf was published in 1960. However 1960's Germany was not a good time to be writing escapist literature. Post-war Germans were all about political commitment and realism; feeling undervalued he moved to Italy to live. It was here that he wrote The Neverending Story.

He went on to write 30 books before his death in 1995. Ende was a human rights activist, anti-rearmament and a campaigner for peace.

His influences included Rudolf Steiner, Rainer Maria Rilke and a life-long fascination with Japan.

The Neverending Story is a fantastical fairy tale, full of imaginative wish fulfilment. Each chapter begins with a letter of the alphabet, which must have a been a challenge for the translator, Ralph Manheim. The first half of the book sees motherless, unloved Bastian Balthazar Bux reading a story about another land in grave danger of disappearing into Nothingness. The protagonist appears to be a young warrior/hero called Atreyu with his faithful horse Artax and a luckdragon named Falkor. The story appears to be a lesson on imagination, the nature of lies, power and purpose.

This is where the movie ends.

Ende felt that this adaptation's content deviated so far from the spirit of his book that he requested that production either be halted or the film's title be changed; when the producers did neither, he sued them and subsequently lost the case. Ende called the film a "gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic" (Ein "gigantisches Melodram aus Kitsch, Kommerz, Plüsch und Plastik").The film only adapts the first half of the book, and consequently does not convey the message of the title as it was portrayed in the novel. (Wikipedia)

I can see why Ende was upset. At this point the story did not feel 'neverending'. It was a tremendous fantasy about courage and truth, but it wasn't until the story moved onto Bastian's entry into the fantasy world that the cyclical nature of the story became apparent. Suddenly the tone shifted from imagination to creation. Pure escapism and wish fulfilment surrounded Bastian as he gradually learnt to be careful what you wish for. Bastian transformed himself from a dumpy, unloved, fearful boy into a strong, handsome, brave protagonist. It took him the rest of the story to realise that the real meaning of a well-lived life is love, memory and being true to yourself.

The Neverending Story is a classic quest story that will delight fantasy-loving readers of any age.

Book 11 of #20BooksofSummer (winter)


  1. I love both the book and the movie :) but I did not realize about Ende's youth! That is fascinating.

    (I do object to the name Bastian Balthazar Bux. Come on, man.)

    1. I made the assumption that the next 'reader' would have had an AAA name - the older man was Carl Conrad Coreander. And then there was the alphabet thing happening at the beginning of each chapter...

      I loved some of the names of places like the Swamp of Sadness.

  2. I read The Neverending Story when it first came out and - even though I usually don't care for fantasy - really liked it. I knew they would not be able to make it into a decent film so decided never to watch it. However, my nephew came to visit and they brought the video for him (yes, I'm THAT old, LOL), so we watched it. It was even worse than I imagined. I wrote about it in my blogpost Can a movie ever be better than the book? and still declare it the worst adaptation ever.

    I loved your review. Thanks

    1. The whole book/movie discussion is one I love to get into!
      But I've seen so few new movies in recent years, that my examples are pretty dated.


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