Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Shy, awkward Bastian is amazed to discover that he has become a character in the mysterious book he is reading and that he has an important mission to fulfill.
Thoughts: Translated by Ralph Manheim, this classic of children’s fantasy literature could not go unread on my bookshelves any longer. It is, in many ways, the high point of fairy tale fantasy with a reader avatar, containing both the story of Atreyu, the hero of the Fantastica as he tries to save the Childlike Empress from death, and Bastian, reader of Atreyu’s story and eventual reshaper of Fantastica. It’s a book that speaks to the heart of every avid reader, and to everyone who’s ever longer for even a moment within their favourite fantasy world, or indeed anyone who’s merely longed to bring about good change within this world.
Aside from placing a heavy emphasis on the powers of imagination, creativity, and love, The Neverending Story is rife with allegory. From the world beginning in darkness until Bastian essentially says, “Let there be light,” to the concept of the Childlike Empress having enormous power but choosing to do nothing with it and yet always being a part of everything, it’s easy to see Christian religious comparisons being drawn all over the place. But here’s the thing: it’s done well. It’s done subtly, and you’re not beating your head off a wall every time you see a new one. Which is, to be blunt about it, better than some books I could name that try to throw in religious allegory.
The message that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is one of the less cubtle messages of the story, especially in the last half. Bastian gets the power of AURYN and wishes, and in creating a new world, he loses bits of himself, all his memories of who he was before wishes he didn’t even know he wasn’t satisfied with changed him into something else. He reshaped himself, and an entire world, and by the end Fantastica has pulled a “be careful what you wish for” trick on him because the decisions he made in kindness and mercy turn out to have monumentally screwed some things up. Finding a balance between the status quo and change is never easy, but that’s exactly why having the power to do anything you wish is dangerous, especially when you lose all of what you were before.
I wasn’t very fond of Bastian, though. As a character, he was very flat. The only time he seemed to have personality at all was when he went mad with power, and even then the personality was stereotyped. He had no depth to him, but not even in the way where he’s meant to be an everyman, the kind of blank slate that everyone can, in some way, relate to. Even babies have more personality than this guy showed. I don’t know if that was the fault of the translation, the original author, or even if he was supposed to be this way, but he fell flat. I enjoyed reading about Falkor more, since he at least had definable, and less mercurial, personality traits.
But still, in spite of its faults, this was a book not to be passed over. I think just about everybody has seen the movie, but the book, as happens in most cases, far surpasses it. Pick this one up if you haven’t already, and treat yourself to a classic that won’t be dying for many years yet!