This has been a hard review for me to write because I'm so torn about this book. Or, rather, The Neverending Story feels torn to me - because it was like reading two books, the first part of which I absolutely loved, while the second part gave me mixed feelings. Interestingly, it's the first half of the book that the movie is based on - while the sequel, The Neverending Story II, is based on the latter half of the book. Perhaps my experiences with the movies shaped my reading, but there was a cut-off point midway through the book that felt like a good place to end it. Unfortunately, it just kept going, taking on a far different tone that really did make it feel like a different book. At that stage, the title The Neverending Story felt quite fitting - and not in a good way.
But let's go back to the beginning - which, as I said, I adored. It tells the story that every '80s or '90s kid will be familiar with - Bastian Balthazar Bux is a bullied boy (alliteration FTW!) who takes refuge in an attic with a magical book that follows the young warrior Atreyu as he battles monsters and rescues dragons on his quest to save Fantastica (not Fantasia, as it is in the movies) from the Nothing. It's a wonderful story in itself and also in the way it's written as a homage to stories. The asides that showcase Bastian's thoughts and actions as he reads will be recognisable to any reader. It's a book about the enjoyment of books and the importance of stories, which is just lovely.
But that story reaches its resolution halfway through the book. We're then taken on an entirely different journey, as Bastian enters Fantastica himself and is revered as a saviour. The magic he's given there, and the actions he takes, cause him to literally lose himself, as he forgets everything but his first name and must somehow still find a way back to "what he truly wants" (to love). I think Ende was trying to balance out the first half of the book here and send the message that it's important to use stories not just to escape, but also to enrich reality, so you don't lose yourself or what really matters along the way.
That's all well and good, but the problem for me was that I just didn't enjoy the story all that much. Bastian goes from being someone the reader can sympathise with to, well, a complete turd. As soon as he enters Fantastica things don't feel right; after spending hundreds of pages anxiously following Atreyu and Falcor's journey, they're nowhere in sight and he doesn't give them a second thought for quite some time. He's no longer a reader, too wrapped up in his own adventures to worry about their fate. Unfortunately, I was still a reader, and I wanted to know what had happened to them, dammit.
It's downhill from there for Bastian, and for me as a reader. There were some lovely moments and many new fantastic, whimsical characters and settings along the way, but with such a horrid main character I found my interest in his adventures waning and I was impatient for the whole thing to be wrapped up.
Overall, I liked the book, but I didn't adore it the way I thought I would. If I was to rate it as two separate books, as it felt, I'd give the first half 5/5 and the second 3/5. I guess that averages out to....
I just had to post this. Oh, the
I'll be revisiting the movie for the first time in nearly 20 years. Let's see how time has treated it...