The first fantasy novel I’ve ever read was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende and that set my idea of what a fantasy novel should be. I was nine years old and was ruined because that book set me expectations really high. The author had told me, since from the title, that the story would have no ending but then the pages had finished, the story had left me and I wanted more. I wanted more of the endless possibilities, of the limitless reign, of the countless characters. I wanted more riddles, more spells, more curses.
I wanted more.
I want more of the adventure, more of the unexpected hero (even if I had not understood why Atreyu should be considered an unlikely hero), more of the mysterious, wise and magical queen (or empress, like the Infant Empress), more of the flawed and really unexpected hero (like Bastian). I wanted more magic because my life had none, and the only magic I knew was all in my head. It was there for me when I read books, and when I imagined stories and realms in my mind. At first, I consumed all the fantasy novel I could find at the library – feeling less and less satisfied with every new one – then I started to move towards the second possibility: inventing stories myself.
You know, I had no other possibility, no real chances of salvation, for two reasons:
- the first one is simply that no fantasy book has the same structure and message as The Neverending Story. I’m going to say more about this point in a moment.
- the second is that the writer virus was already sleeping in my blood, waiting for the right protein to activate it.
I think that the passion for writing it’s something like a virus, like a curse withing you that activates at touching. You touch the right item and the charm has you. You can be a shy, lonely child searching refuge at the local library like Neal Gaiman says it was. You can be an unstoppable chap full of anger, who wants to make his headmaster see what he is really capable of despite his prediction about you like Terry Pratchett was. The seed of this curse is inside you, asleep, waiting for you to pierce your finger with the spindle in the last room of the last tower or ready to bite you when you brush your palm on a paperback copy of The Lurker in the Shadows that lies abandoned in a dusty attic, like it happened to a young Stephen King.
I well know I am no King, no Pratchett and no Gaiman. And I have also a mild version of the curse too. It is something that allows me long periods of not writing fiction. But, coming back to the real subject of this post, The Never Ending Story, I think this book is a magic item per se. Coming back to the reason I listed as the first cause of my insatiable thirst for more, let’s speak about the unique structure of the novel. You can read The Neverending Story on a superficial level, but if affects you in a deeper way. You can read it being aware of all its metaphors and still be affected on an even deeper level. It is a meta-book in the way that it simply declares its nature since its first pages – the book that you hold in your hands is an object in the novel as well – and in a more subtle way.
The book is split into two parts. In the first part – we all know the first part of the book, thanks to the unfaithful 1984 cinematic version directed by Wolfgang Petersen – Bastian, a shy, highly imaginative and lonely bookworm bullied by his classmates, steals a mysterious book from a grumpy bookseller and hides with his treasure in the school attic. We read with him (pay attention to this detail) the story of the Kingdom of Fantastica, doomed to be destroyed because of the illness of its ruler, the child Empress. We read together with Bastian that the only hope for Fantastica resides in the mission of a young hunter, Atreyu, who must find the Saviour, the only person able to save to save Fantastica by healing its Empress.
Together with Bastian, we follow Atreyu through perils and losses to the oracle of Uyulala where, apparently, the only thing that Atreyu can find is a mirror that does not show Atreyu’s reflection but an image of the attic where Bastian is hiding. Things start to get slippery. Bastian feels that the book, more than under his skin, is getting around him. Until the Empress in person makes a move, Bastian makes a choice and… the second part begins.
In the second part, we follow Bastian in his journey through Fantastica along a road made of wishes. Bastian now is the bearer of the same jewel that the Empress had given custody to Atreyu in the first part of the book. The jewel represents two snakes that form an oval, each one of them has the tail of the other one in its mouth. Do you start to see a pattern?
The Neverending Story is a meta-book in the way that it simply declares it since its first pages – the book that you hold in your hands is an object in the novel as well – and in a more subtle way. At the end of the book, you’ll feel as if you are another character in the story. You can deny it or accept it, nevertheless, you are.
So… no. I won’t tell you a thing about the plot of The Neverending Story. And no, this is not an objective review. I think no review can do justice of this book. The right thing to do is talking a little about the consequences of reading it, warning you of the danger and then leave you alone and unsupervised with the book while moving to another room to answer to a very long call.
Thank you for your precious time and excuse me, I really have to take this one…