*Since this is somewhat analytical, there will be spoilers*
So this is one of those books that was just sitting on my tbr for ever and ever- it was thanks to a recommendation from the lovely Zezee that I finally took the plunge and picked it up. And I’m so glad I did!! Because this book was just *wow*.
I’ve mentioned before that I LOVE books about reading- and this is pretty much as good as it gets. It is “the book of books!” And that is no overstatement. Right from the word go- I knew this was going to be a book I related to so much.
“If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless.
If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.”
Part of what makes this so clever is how it toys with the notion of reading. Reading is in many ways about finding the truth- hence the conflict between truth and lies in the story. The author elevates these messages with religious undertones, such as using the godlike all-knowing Childlike Empress. At the start of the story she sends Atreyu on a mission, all the while knowing the outcome, because the lessons of the story can only be learnt through the journey. In many ways, it is a parable of the quest for truth.
“Only the right name gives beings and things their reality. A wrong name makes everything unreal. That’s what lies do.”
More than that, even, the story shows how books can illuminate the real world. The book therefore takes us on an emotional journey of self-discovery. Through Atreyu’s journey, the book illustrates how a story can relate to the reader. I adored the interactive element of the story and Bastian’s own relationship with its messages. So much of it had a dual meaning, relating back to Bastian’s own struggle in reality, such as the Swamps of Sadness being a visual metaphor for his father’s struggle with depression.
“The Nothing is spreading,” groaned the first. “It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing.”
Through symbols such as these, the interplay of reader with the story is enhanced. In a move that felt reminiscent of Barthes’ “Death of the Author”, Bastian’s interpretation becomes central to the plot of the Neverending Story that he reads, until eventually he is sucked into the story. Here the book plays with the structure, bringing the beginning into the middle of the story, so that there can be a greater exploration of what it is to affect a story and be affected in turn. The message is clear: we rewrite stories with our own experiences and are rewritten by stories as we allow them to change us.
“You must live your story.”
However, the book also explores the danger of getting lost in the story and the need to rejoin reality. The danger being that if you forget reality, you will not be able to bring back the lessons you have learnt. Bastian comes very close to making this grave error- and nearly forgets to return so that he can save his father (from himself) in the real world. Here the theme of the story going on after it’s finished is most evident. In this way the book is truly never ending because you take the messages into the real world and live them. That is how “every real story is a neverending story”. In fact, so much of the story is how it is never ending, because there is a sense that the book and the world of Fantastica go on even after you turn the last page.
“But that is another story and shall be told another time.”
Rating: 5/5 bananas
Have you read the Neverending Story? Are you going to? And what is your favourite book about reading? Let me know in the comments!