Flashback Fridays: You went the way of wishes, and that is never straight. You went the long way around, but that was your way . . .

A book is a powerful thing.  The stories they tell take us on many journeys through many lifetimes.  But what if you found a special book, a book that somehow promised more . . . and you took it. And you dared to start reading.  What would happen when you not only lived the story but became part of it?  Luck Dragons and young heroes and a childlike empress in need of a name . . . and they’re all looking to you.

Do you remember:

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim (Dutton, c1979)

Bastian is a small, overweight boy who suffers from being bullied, and finds himself shut out by his own father who deals with pain in his own way.  Bastian retreats from the world as much as he can, and when he encounters the mysterious book called The Neverending Story it calls to him powerfully.  He steals away with the book and begins to read it.  But as he was warned, this isn’t an ordinary story.  From the moment Bastian opens the book he becomes intertwined into the pages of Fantastica . . . until ultimately he will provide the key to save them all.

Most of you probably know the movie from the 1980s:

It’s the way I first became familiar with the story line.  The movie captured me (though the scene where Atreyu loses his horse made me very upset).   I don’t think it’s a bad movie.  But it hardly begins to capture the parts of the book that it covers. I found the book a few years later and read it and discovered that the movie only covers half the book.  There’s a lot more to the story than the bit with the wishing sand grain at the end of the movie.  Bastian’s personal transformation is just underway.  He will immerse himself in fantasy and wishes, he will lose himself . . . and ultimately find himself again.   Got to admit, while the kid in me loved the ending of endless wishes to wish upon, as I grew older the ending seemed incomplete . . . perhaps too pat.  Learning that there was indeed more to the story and that Bastian’s wishing was not the problem-solving experience for his life,  He has to struggle through.

The movie also doesn’t quite give the childlike empress the credit she deserves.  See, Bastian turns pretty cowardly about doing what he needs to do. (Naming the empress).  So the empress goes to the Old Man of Wandering Mountain, who is writing the very book that Bastian (and the reader) is reading.  She pretty much forces Bastian to confront the fact that he is undeniably part of the story and he can’t bow out now.

What I didn’t know for many years is that this is an import from Germany.  Michael Ende was a German author, and this story is much more widely known  overseas than it has ever been here.   In fact  Michael Ende was one of the most popular and famous German authors of the 20th century.  He’s written over 30 books, many of them for children.   Only three have ever made it to the States as far as I’m aware.  The Neverending Story is still in print (you’ll find it on library shelves and in bookstores occasionally).   The Night of Wishes (1989) is out of print and hard to find.

On the plus side,  Momo (first published in German in 1973) is finally available for English readers.

Published in August 2013, this new translation of a beloved German children’s fantasy is worth a look.  Hard to say if it will appeal to children as much as it might have years ago. (And I have some issues with the cover), but I hope that it’ll garner a bit more interest in Michael Ende’s work.  Working in a slightly later frame of reference than Tolkien, Ende takes aim at the forces of modernization and consumerism that he saw as soulless and empty, destroying time and killing imagination and love.

A quote or two for you:

“All that matters in life,” the grey man went on, “is to climb the ladder of success, amount to something, own things. When a person climbs higher than the rest, amounts to more, owns more things, everything else comes automatically: friendship, love, respect, et cetera…”

“Isn’t there anyone who loves you?” Momo whispered.” 



“When your turn comes to jump into the Nothing, you too will be a nameless servant of power, with no will of your own. Who knows what use they will make of you? Maybe you’ll help them persuade people to buy things they don’t need, or hate things they know nothing about, or hold beliefs that make them easy to handle, or doubt the truths that might save them. Yes, you little Fantastican, big things will be done in the human world with your help, wars started, empires founded…” ” The human world is full of weak-minded people, who think they’re as clever as can be and are convinced that it’s terribly important to persuade even the children that Fantastica doesn’t exist. Maybe they will be able to make good use of you.” 
The Neverending Story


One last quote, this one because it’s a comment Michael Ende made about being a writer for children:

“One may enter the literary parlor via just about any door, be it the prison door, the madhouse door, or the brothel door. There is but one door one may not enter it through, which is the child room door. The critics will never forgive you such. The great Rudyard Kipling is one of a number of people to have suffered from this. I keep wondering to myself what this peculiar contempt towards anything related to childhood is all about.” 
― Michael Ende

I’d like to see more of Ende’s books become available in the States  and translated for English reading audiences.  Will it happen?  Only time will tell.  But if you’ve only seen the movie and never actually read the book, I do recommend you find a copy and read it!  It’s a worthwhile experience!

Did you read this book or see the movie?  Comments welcome!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on August 30, 2013, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great reading! I think I need to read it again.

  1. Pingback: My 400th Post: What Brought Me This Far: 100 Books in my Blood | Views From the Tesseract

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