“An Inside Look at “The Neverending Story”
By Andrew Ronzino
If anyone really knows me, they know that one of my all time favorite books is “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende. I would like to a little…and by little I mean big…review of this amazing book. There will be a lot of spoilers within this review, so if you’ve never read the book, or plan on reading the book, maybe you don’t want to read this.
There are a few things that make this book so amazing, and I would like you to join me as we take a look at some of them. Let me first mention, what I think are, some awesome facts about the book itself:
1. “The Neverending Story” is a German novel written in 1979 by author Michael Ende. It was translated into English in 1983. The movie based on the novel was made in 1984 and was directed by Wolfgang Petersen.
2. The German title for the book is “Die Unendliche Geschichte”.
3. The book is not printed in black ink, but rather in red and green ink. The ink colors are there to help the reader figure out what “world” their in. Red ink if it’s in the “real world” of Bastian, and green ink if it’s the story that Bastian is reading in the book that he stole.
4. After the prologue, there are 26 chapters. Each of the chapter’s first word is in alphabetical order according to the chapter number (first chapter begins with the word “all”, the second chapter begins with the word “because”, and so on). The page before each new chapter had a beautiful drawing of images that corresponds with that chapter and a big fancy letter…the first letter in the chapter. So you have the alphabet as you go along too.
5. The second movie, “The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter”, was released in 1990 and directed by George T. Miller. This movie shows the events of the latter part of the book. But in the book, there’s an immediate transition, no time passes.
6. The third movie, “The NeverEnding Story III: Escape From Fantasia”, was released in 1994 and was directed by Peter McDonald. The only connection to the book that this piece of crap has are names and places.
7. The band “Atreyu” got their name from the character of Atreyu.
8. Another fun fact, but not about the book, is that that original Auryn prop used from the movie is owned by Steven Spielberg.
The Plot of the Book:
For those of you who think they may want to read the book, I’ll give the basic plot. Mind you…there are story spoilers in this so if you want to read it you may want to stop now…be warned:
The book opens up when a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux runs into Carl Conrad Coreandre Old Books, a bookshop, to escape from bullies. While there, he finds a book called “The Neverending Story”, feeling drawn to the book, he steals it and brings it his school’s attic, thinking that would be a good place to read it.
The book is about a terrible Nothing that is sweeping across the land of Fantastica (Fantasia in the movie). As is so happens, the Childlike Empress, the ruler of all Fantastica has fallen ill. People think that the Nothing and the strange illness of the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes (as the Childlike Empress is called) are connected. So, they call out for Atreyu, a young boy warrior to seek a cure for the Empress and a way to stop the Nothing, as he is the only one who can. He is endowed with a medallion known as AURYN, the symbol of the Childlike Empress. On his quest his faces may trials, and meets a lot of people, including Falkor, a white luckdragon. When he finally finds out what will cure the Empress, which is a new name given to her by a human child. He thinks he’s failed, because they only exist beyond the borders of Fantastica, which has no boundaries.
During all of this, Bastian keeps thinking something is up with the book; it’s very real. He’s becoming engrossed in the story…to the point where he gets scared by something and Atreyu hears his screams…which Bastian thinks is impossible.
Atreyu visits the Empress at her home in the Ivory Tower, up in the Magnolia Pavilion, to tell her that he has failed. The Nothing is getting closer to enveloping the Tower itself. She tells him that he brought the one who would give her a new name, but he is refusing to do so, because he doesn’t believe. Finally, the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes takes drastic action that, in a way, forces Bastian to believe it’s all real and yell out her new name. And he does by yelling “Moon Child”.
He then enters the world of Fantastica, but it was ravaged by the Nothing. Nothing was left. But Moon Child (the Empress) gives Bastian AURYN, and told to follow the instructions on the back, which says “Do What You Wish”. So he begins to wish Fantastica back to life. He changes things, makes things better changes himself. But the longer he remains and the more wishes he makes, he loses a part of his old life and memories. His mission is to get back to his world. But he can’t as he is forgetting about it. Bastian turns on his friend Atreyu, but later returns to his friendship, as he can help him back.
When he finally makes it home, it’s the next day and the book is gone. He goes back to Coreandre’s shop to tell him that the book he stole was gone…but he tells Bastian that he never owned a book like that. But he believes Bastian’s story about the amazing book.
Differences Between the Book and the Movie:
There were some major differences made in the movie than in the book, and I would like to point them out:
1. Bastian Balthazar Bux: In the movie, Bastian is a skinny boy, but in the book, he’s a fat boy. Almost everything else about him is the same in both renditions of the story.
2. Atreyu: In the book, Atreyu has green skin, because he comes from a tribe called the Greenskins, who hunts the purple buffalo. He is a warrior, though still a boy, and has a pure heart. In the movie, he is still a warrior and all that, however, he looks like a normal boy with normal colored skin. I do remember my first time watching the movie and the first time they show Atreyu thinking to myself, “Is that a boy or a girl? I can’t tell.” He does look a little girlish at first.
3. Artax: In the book, Artax (Atreyu’s horse) can talk, and he dies when he sinks into the muck in the Swamps of Sadness on the Great Quest to find the cure for the Empress. A deep depression overtakes him and it weighs him down until he sinks all the way into the swamp. In the movie, he’s a normal, non-talking horse. He does die in the Swamps of Sadness like in the movie, only it’s a lot more heartbreaking in the book because he can talk.
4. The Childlike Empress: In the book, The Childlike Empress is also known as The Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes. She has golden eyes, and is about ten-years-old looking (she is, in fact, ageless). She is the very center of Fantastica. When Bastian gives her a new name, he names her Moon Child. In the movie, she looks like a normal little girl…but she looks like she’s about seven-years-old. Also, in the movie, you barely understand what Bastian yells out when he names her, which he says that it’s his mother’s name. The book makes no mention to the name he calls being his mother’s name.
5. Falkor: In the book, Falkor is a white luckdragon, resembling that of a Chinese dragon, with the head of a lion. He has big ruby red eyes and winks a lot. They do not possess great strength or magical abilities like most dragons, but they can fly, and breath blue fire. They are also extremely lucky. In the movie, he resembles a big dog, with a wannabe dragon-like body. He does have ruby eyes and winks a lot…but for some reason…it’s not as cool as the Falkor of the book. Also, in the movie, they show Falkor save Atreyu’s life from Gmork, the werewolf, who is trying to kill him, as he is in league with the Nothing. But in the book, Atreyu saves Falkor’s life from Ygramul, the Many (a shapshifter that usually take the shape of a spider).
6. Fantastica: In the book, the land of the Childlike Empress, the land of the Neverending Story is called Fantastica. The land is made up of amazing places and landscapes, and it is endless as it has no boundaries. Fantastica is a representation of the dreams and fantasies of the real world, our world. In the movie, the land is called Fantasia (which, for some odd reason, I like better), it is said to have no boundaries, but it’s never explained that is a representation of the dreams and fantasies of the real world.
7. AURYN: In the book, the Auryn is spelled out AURYN with all capital letters, and never has the word “the” in front of it. It looks like two snakes, one like and one dark, biting each other’s tails to form an oval. People revere AURYN, because it is the emblem of the Childlike Empress. Anyone who wore AURYN was acting on orders of the Empress, acting in her name as if she, herself, were there. AURYN gave the barer great power, but Atreyu is warned never to use the power, because the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes, herself, never uses it’s power. Also, some people don’t want to speak it’s name, so a lot of the time AURYN is referred to as “The Gem” or “The Glory”. In the movie, it’s called “the Auryn”, and is the same as in the book, for the most part, he is told that whoever bares the Auryn speaks for the Empress. It looks like two snakes, one silver and one gold, tangled up in an infinity knot (again, I strangely like the look of this AURYN better than the one described and showed on the cover of the book).
8. The Ivory Tower: In the book, the Ivory Tower is a giant city built on an tower of ivory. It is the center of Fantastica, and home of the Childlike Empress. The closest comparison to the Ivory Tower I can give you is “Minas Tirith” from Lord of the Rings. The Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes lives in the uppermost section of the Ivory Tower called “The Magnolia Pavilion”. In the movie, the Tower is just a tall, cool looking, giant ivory colored flower, and the Empress lives at the top.
9. The Nothing: In the book, the Nothing is is exactly that…nothing. It is described as “a Nothingness that makes you feel like you’re going blind when you look at it”. It is showing up all over Fantastica enveloping anything it touches. If a person were to put his hand into the Nothing and draw it back out, he would no longer have a hand, no pain…just no hand. The Nothing draws people into it, people can be overcome by the Nothing and will run and jump into it. Also, Gmork explains to Atreyu the nature of the Nothing, and that if a Fantastican enters it, they become a “lie” in the human world. In the movie The Nothing is portrayed as billowing smoke and clouds that sucks everything into it. Nothing about people being sucked into it becomes a lie in the human world is mentioned.
10. The Three Gates: In the book, Atreyu must pass through three gates to get to the Southern Oracle, who knows how to cure the Childlike Empress. Each gate is meant to test you, and all three gates are required to get to the Southern Oracle. You can’t just walk around one gate and expect to find the next one, it won’t be there. You must walk through all three gates, the movie only contains two gates.
The First Gate: The first gate is the Great Riddle Gate, two sphinxes someone passes by. When the gaze of a sphinx is on you, you will be frozen on the spot until you solve all the riddle in the universe. The only thing that can withstand the gaze of a sphinx is another sphinx. The sphinxes of the Great Riddle Gate, however, will sometimes close their eyes to let someone pass though…however, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to who they let through, completely random. When Atreyu approaches the Great Riddle Gate, they shut their eyes and he is able to pass. In the movie, however, it’s in reverse. The sphinxes eyes are closes at all times, and they sometimes let people pass…but their gaze goes deep into a person’s soul and judges them. If they open their eyes as someone passes, they will be struck with energy and killed instantly. When Atreyu goes to pass, they begin to open their eyes and he runs for it, narrowly missing the killing blast.
The Second Gate: The second gate is the Magic Mirror Gate, which is the mirror that does not reflect one’s image, but rather their true nature. The only way through the gate is to “go through” their own nature. Many people could not pass through the gate, because their true nature frightened them so badly. When Atreyu reaches the gate, which is only about twenty paces away from the Great Riddle Gate, and it wasn’t there before, he saw a boy. This boy was sitting in a attic reading a book. He saw Bastian. With a smile he walks through the gate. In the movie, the Magic Mirror Gate is far away from the Great Riddle Gate, and is in a blizzard filled area. In that mirror, Atreyu sees his own reflection, but then sees Bastian’s overlapping his. And he walks through.
The Third Gate: The third gate is the No-Key Gate is a closed gate. There is no handle, no knob, no keyhole. The gate is made of Fantastician selenium, a mental that is completely indestructible. The only thing the metal with react to is a person’s will. They only way to get through the gate is to forget why they need to get through it in the first place, and not need to get through it at all, only then will the gate open. Atreyu is able to get into this state of mind as soon as he walks through the Magic Mirror Gate. He is able to pass and on to the Southern Oracle. This gate is not in the movie.
11. The Southern Oracle: In the book, the Southern Oracle is a invisible being called Uyulala who speaks only in song. The voice lives in a great pillared hall. When Atreyu reaches it, he no longer remembers who he is, what is name is, how he got there, or why he was there at all…but he was glad he was. The voice of the Southern Oracle sings to him, and he tries to talk back, but is told in song that he must sing for Uyulala is to understand him. After some singing to each other, Atreyu finds out that the Southern Oracle is sad and dying. After more singing about this, Uyulala sings:
“The Childlike Empress is sick,
And with her Fantastica will die.
The Nothing will swallow this place,
It will perish and so will I.
We shall vanish into the Nowhere and Never,
As though we had never been.
The Empress needs a new name
To make her well again.”
“The Neverending Story”, pg. 100
Uyulala tells Atreyu that only a human child from the world where Fantastica is nothing more than words in a book is the only one who can give her a new name, and that he can be found beyond the boundaries of Fantastica. Soon the voice is silent. He falls asleep and wakes up remembering everything again. He sees the Nothing in the area, and runs off to finish his Great Quest. In the movie, the Southern Oracle is vastly different. They resemble sphinxes like that of the Great Riddle Gate, only blue…they speak to Atreyu and tell him that the Childlike Empress needs a new name from beyond the boundaries of Fantasia. After telling him this they begin to crumble, he runs away in fright.
12: The Second Movie: In the book, after Bastian gives the Childlike Empress her new name name of Moon Child, he enters Fantastica and is given AURYN to help him recreate the endless land. He then changes his own appearance to make him look like a prince and begins to lose himself. With every wish he makes he forgets a bit of home. A sorceress by the name of Xayide, in a way, seduces him and convinces him to invade the Ivory Tower with the power of his wishes to become Childlike Emperor. He soon completely forgets himself, but with the help of Atreyu, is able to find his way home, through AURYN itself. None of this appears in the movie, but rather in a second movie called “The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter”. It takes place years later, and is vastly different than the book. Too much to get into right now.
There are many other differences between the book and the movie, but I feel these are the major ones, the ones that really matter.
The Seven Ways the Book “Contains” Itself:
Now, the funny thing about The Neverending Story is that the book, in a way, is never ending. The book contains itself in ways I didn’t think possible. There are many tiers of complexity within the story that somehow has the book in it. I shall now show the ways the book does this. Mind you…this may contain more story spoilers, so if you plan on reading this fantastic novel, stop reading now:
1.The Physical Book: You, yourself, as the reader borrow or purchase a book called “The Neverending Story”. This is the copy that you, as the reader, hold in your hands and enjoy.
2.The Stolen Book: The story is about a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux who steals a book called “The Neverending Story” from a small bookshop.
3.The Life Within: The Childlike Empress tells Atreyu that the human child who can giver her a new name (Bastian) was unknowingly already apart of something called “The Neverending Story”.
4.The Old Man’s Book: In the stolen book that Bastian is reading, there is a book owned by the Old Man of Wandering Mountain called “The Neverending Story”.
5.The Endless Cycle: The Childlike Empress seeks the guidance of the Old Man of Wandering Mountain to see why Bastian, the boy reading the stolen book, won’t give her a new name. In their waiting they must endure an (what would be endless cycle) of reading his book, which is
about a book stolen by a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux stealing and reading a book. The Old Man’s book is called “The Neverending Story”.
6.The Same Book: So, as you can see, the Old Man’s book is the same book that you, the reader, are reading…and yet it is contained within the book you are reading called “The Neverending Story”.
7.The True Statement: Throughout the book, you will hear stories of other things (that kind of rabbit trail), but it always comes down to this phrase, and as it so happens to be the last line in the book as well, “But that’s another story and shall be told at another time.”. This one sentence that you see throughout the book makes the book’s title, “The Neverending Story” as true statement. The Neverending Story never truly ends…it just will tell the rest later, so to speak.
There you have it, the last one is a bit of a stretch, I admit, but I still count it. But no matter how you look at it, “The Neverending Story” is one of the most in depth children’s book I’ve ever read. I sometime wonder if kids would get it, then I think back to my own childhood; I understood it.In fact I think it’s only kids or adults who read it as a kid who can grasp the story without losing hold of it. In order to enjoy this book, you need to have an open imagination for pure dream. Which is what “The Neverending Story” is all about!
But that’s another story and shall be told at another time.