It was only last month, after a conversation with my book club, that The Neverending Story movie is an adaptation of a young adult novel. And two weeks after that, I saw a copy of Michael Ende's novel at a used book store. I opened it two days ago and finished it within 6 hours straight. I think it's the best young adult novel I've read this year.
The novel The Neverending Story is richer and more wonderful than the movie, whose plot involved only half of the book. Come to think of it, the novel is actually two books in one, each having the capacity to be a stand-alone work.
In the first half of the novel, we meet Bastian Balthazar Bux, who steals a book from a used book store entitled The Neverending Story. He reads about the imperiled world of Fantastica, a magical place which is being destroyed into nothingness. He reads about how the Childlike Empress chooses a young man named Atreyu to look for the person who can give her a new name and thus restore Fantastica in all its wondrous glory. Little by little, Bastian finds himself playing a more pivotal role in the story, knowing eventually that he is the chosen one who can give the Childlike Empress a new name.
The first half of the novel is truly magical. It's an adventure story featuring Atreyu and his journey throughout most of Fantastica and meeting strange and mysterious creatures along the way. Ende's description of these adventures are so rich in detail that it singlehandedly beats the imagery in the movie.
The second half is more of a coming-of-age story. Bastian is now in Fantastica and is recognized as its savior. He has also been given a new appearance. No longer do we see the fat, clumsy and geeky kid, for Bastian now looks like a handsome and strong nobleman. His storytelling gift also finds a place in this magical realm, with each of his spontaneous stories becoming real. Whatever he wishes, it comes true. But this gift comes at a price: for whenever he makes a wish, he loses a piece of his memory of his life in the human world. It becomes up to Atreyu and the luckdragon, Falkor, to show him this consequence.
While the second half of the book does not feature the same adventurous theme as the first, it is definitely the book's heart. Bastian realizes that, despite having been given a different appearance, he must come to terms with who he really is. The way Ende writes this realization is very touching and never condescending to his readers.
The Neverending Story is a very beautiful book in all aspects. Aside from the deftness of Ende's writing, the book opens each chapter with a full-page illustration. The artwork features the first letter of the word of each chapter and other illustrations about the chapter. And it took me until the second half of the book to realize that the order of the letters of the first word of each chapter follows the alphabet! Just look at two of the chapter openers below.
Ende's novel is one big adventure story filled with memorable characters. I was surprised to note how fast paced the novel is, considering that it was written more than 30 years ago. It's truly enjoyable indeed.
Read this book if:
- You like young adult fiction.
- You enjoyed The Neverending Story movie.
- You can say "Bastian Balthazar Bux" 10 times fast without stammering.