So, English language books being somewhat scarce in my part of Japan, I have not been reading a lot lately. My selection has been entirely dependent on what books I stumble across in local bookstores. My most recent discovery: The Neverending Story. I watched the movie as a child, but honestly can’t remember more than a few images, so I won’t be making any comparisons between the two.
The story begins with a fat little boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux going into a bookstore and, for reasons he does not fully understand, stealing a book. He decides that he must run away forever since he is now a thief, and comes up with the brilliant idea of hiding in the attic of his school. The school he was supposed to be going to in the first place. The first section of the story is about him gradually being sucked into the world of the book.
The world described in The Neverending Story (also the name of the book Bastian is reading) is called Fantastica. Fantastica is in a state of crisis because the Childlike Empress, who is essentially the center of the universe, has fallen ill. None of the doctors can figure out what’s wrong with her or how to cure it, and Fantastica is being swallowed up piece by piece by the Nothingness. As such, a boy named Atreyu is called upon to go on a quest and find the cause of the Empress’s sickness. If she can be cured, Fantastica will be saved; if not, the entire world will be destroyed. As Bastian reads about Atreyu’s quest, he becomes more and more immersed in the story until he is called upon to become a part of it. UPCOMING SPOILER ALERT: Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to hear about it. However, the “spoiler” I’ll be discussing is only the resolution of the first part of the book, so it doesn’t give away all that much.
Bastian enters the story and the first conflict of the book (the Childlike Empress’s illness) is resolved. This happens maybe halfway through the book, and the rest is devoted to Bastian’s journey through Fantastica. The guiding principle laid down by the Childlike Empress is: Do What You Wish. Bastian travels from one wish to the next, seeing various things and gradually becoming a different person. For a long time I didn’t really see where the author was going with all of this, but eventually the next conflict is introduced: how will Bastian get home, and why should he even want to?
I thought that the plot of the book was fairly solid, and the world the author described was very original. Some of it was a bit silly, but that seems perfectly reasonable for a book intended for children and young adults. The descriptions were very evocative. One thing that I found a bit irritating, though, was the author’s style. To me, his writing style seemed a bit pretentious. “Precious” might be a good word for it. It sounded like he was trying to write it in an old-timey, fairy tale sort of fashion, essentially screaming at the reader, “This is a classic work of fantasy!” It got on my nerves. However, I was interested enough in the story to keep reading, so it couldn’t have been that horrible.
The characters were interesting, though not necessarily likeable. At the beginning of the book I mostly felt bad for Bastian, and by the end I was pretty sick of him. I was more or less indifferent to the Childlike Empress. Atreyu was a fairly static character, but at least he seemed like a decent person. And I rather liked Falkor the luck dragon. All in all, I would recommend reading this book if it comes your way, or if you’d like to know how it compares to the movie. I’d be interested to rewatch the movie now that I’ve entirely forgotten how it went.