Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, February 7, 2011

"The Neverending Story" by Michael Ende

I finally finished reading The Neverending Story to the kids last week. This book is not meant to be read a few pages at a time. When read in such small chunks it does seem endless, and not in a good way.

Although it took us far too long to read, the book has an interesting ingredient which is probably the fond dream of many readers: a boy who is reading a book becomes a part of the story. Bastian Balthazar Bux has hidden himself away from the world with a stolen book whose title is none other than The Neverending Story. As he reads about the hero Atreyu riding the white luckdragon Falkor in a desperate attempt to save Fantastica from The Nothing that is devouring the country, Bastian comes across oblique references to himself that slowly become more direct and more frequent until he suddenly finds he has left our own world and is a part of the story in Fantastica.

I like this description of the story as "Arabian Nights meets Aesop's Fables meets Grimm's Fairy Tales." The Neverending Story has the same feeling of fantasy and wonder threaded through with morality tales that you'd imagine from such a mix. Also, though it is not a series of stories like those three collections, it does seem to lack cohesion, especially in the second half of the book as Bastian rebuilds Fantastica on wishes and whims.

Most people who love this book refer to the nostalgia it evokes, since they read it as a child. I, too, read it when I was a child. My copy was given to me for my 12th birthday. (Of course I never would have remembered that, but I have proof.) Unfortunately, it was given to me by someone I'd rather forget, so I don't have quite the same feeling of sweet reminiscence as you may have when you reread The Neverending Story.

See? Proof.
Notice how He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wrote that "this story is not just for reading it through, but also for thinking about." I was kind of insulted by that, even at age twelve. Just because I didn't want to tell him my thoughts on books didn't mean I wasn't thinking about the books I read. Of course, I suppose I can understand how he came to that conclusion.

Even worse, Blur called me a rat. Apparently, to Germans, the term "reading rat" is as innocuous as "bookworm" is to us Americans (and really, cultural context aside, I'd say it's a toss-up as to whether I'd rather be called a worm or a rat). I bet if anyone else had dubbed me The Reading Rat I would have worn the badge with pride in the knowledge that it fit me well. Though I might have preferred a nickname like The Reading Mouse, even if that doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I can't help but wonder how much more I might have liked The Neverending Story if it had been given to me by someone I cared for and remember with affection. It's similar to disliking a name because it reminds you of an awful person: not the name's fault, but undeniable all the same. Do you have any books where your own personal experience, unrelated to the story itself, left you with a less-than-good feeling about it?


mummazappa said...

I can't really think of a book like that, but there are alot of songs I can't listen to because they make me think of people I'd rather not think about. Once a german lady called me a 'weasel' by which she meant cheeky and playful. Sometimes these things just get lost in translation! About TNES, I read it as a kid and remember loving the first half and then getting a bit confused by all the re-building stuff, deserts and jungles etc. I feel like I should re-read it now as an adult and see what it's like.

Kristi said...

I've never read the book, but I watched the movie several times as a young child. It both fascinated and terrified me.

Did your kids enjoy the book?

And I wouldn't want to be called a reading rat either. That's just weird.

Kathy said...

Zap--Songs! Yes!! I totally have songs that have been completely ruined for me. Ugh. Anyway--if you do re-read TNES I have a feeling you might find it just the same as you remember--I like the first half much better than the second. In fact, if you've seen the movie, it ends before the second half, and throws in an extra revenge-on-the-bullies scene that isn't in the book!

Kristi--I think my kids enjoyed the book well enough, but it wasn't a definite must-read. For them I think it was more of a "the more we can get her to read, the later we can stay up!!" kind of thing. And I'm sure their experience suffered for how long it was dragged out, too.

I love your "that's just weird" comment. That sounds exactly like something I would have said. :)

Amy said...

Too bad the person who gave you the book ended up kind of ruining it for you. I do know what you mean though, maybe it would be better for people not t write an inscription in books to avoid the risk of this!
My childrens' school staged a massive play of this book a few years ago, which took forever as well (about 3 hours) - and totally turned me off ever wanting to read it!

Kathy said...

Wow, Amy, I can't even imagine what an ambitious undertaking that school play must have been!

Amanda said...

I am sorry "he who must not be named" ruined the book for you. I think he meant to write a sincere note but I do feel a bit of condescension in it.
I have fond memories of this one from childhood. Maybe I don't want to re-read it as an adult. But then again I would like Ean to read it, so I might.

Rachel said...

I used to love this book when I was a kid. Then when I was a teenager, I lent my copy to my current "what was I thinking" boyfriend. He never gave it back. I asked for it a few times but he never gave it to me. Then we broke up and it was a "cut your losses and run" kinda break up ahahaha I really miss the book though...

Kathy said...

Mandy--if you have fond memories of the book, maybe you will enjoy revisiting it! I think it often happens that nostalgia takes over and allows you to enjoy something that another adult, coming to it for the first time (or, like me, coming to it with bad feelings!) wouldn't.

Rachel--I love the story you have attached to the book. Too funny! I hope you end up with another copy of this book some day.