The Neverending Story by Michael Ende is another book that I've been intending to read for years. I picked up a used copy a few months back, and decided that it was a perfect book to take on my recent vacation. The paperback edition that I have is nice and dense, and thus excellent for travel.
The Neverending Story is about a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux. Bastian is a bit of a loser, the kind of boy other kids pick on because he's whiny, and he's not very good at sports, and he's somewhat pudgy. He lives with his father, who has been very distant ever since the death of Bastian's mother. What Bastian does have going for him, however, is his love for books. I was completely won over by The Neverending Story on page 10, when Bastian steals a book called "The Neverending Story." The description goes like this:
"... In short, there are as many different passions as their are people. Bastian Balthazar Bux's passion was books.
If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger —
If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early —
If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless —
If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next." (He steals the oh-so-enticing book.)
The next part of the book describes Bastian, huddled in an attic at his school, reading his stolen book. Glimpses of Bastian in the attic are interspersed with chapters of The Neverending Story, an epic adventure of a boy named Atreyu, sent on a quest to find out what is destroying his home, Fantastica. Soon reality starts to blur, however, as Bastian finds himself and his responses appearing within the book. And after that, things really get interesting.
I couldn't put this book down. The adventures are exciting, the characters are well-developed and unique, and the linkages between Fantastica and the real world are fascinating. The Neverending Story is a bit like Peter Pan, in this latter point. Does what we believe in make a difference, in some alternate fantasy world? Is it possible to leave our mundane world, and visit a land of epic quests? Do people who love stories, and have the ability to tell stories, make a positive difference in the world?
Here's how much I liked this book. I was reading it while on a Caribbean vacation, with close friends and the love of my life. My friends would call to me to go to the beach, or our for drinks, or to watch the sunset. My response would be: "yes, just a minute, I just have to finish this chapter." Enough said. If you love books, you should read The Neverending Story. If you enjoy fantasy at all (Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, J. M. Barrie), you should read The Neverending Story. If you like poetry, and careful use of language, again, you should read The Neverending Story. You won't be disappointed.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.