The Neverending Story

Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (the book, not the movie, which is a much slighter thing) was one of my high school favorites — I pretty much wanted to get to wear the Auryn amulet as badly as I wanted to learn to tesser, as a teen. I’d reread it a few times as an adult, but it’s been a while since my last reread.

I wouldn’t say the book is no longer a most excellent book. But it did seem for the first time that … maybe a little bit of the magic had gone out of it for me — I was more aware of it as a story written on paper, and less aware of it as a numinous tale I was immersed in, if that makes any sense. I have no idea whether this is an artifact of having read it so often or some change in me as a reader, but it was interesting to see.

Also interesting: Every other read, I’ve seen this book as very much about the importance of the world of story to our mundane real-world lives. This time I felt much more aware that the book is just as much about the importance of our real-world lives–to the world of story, and to us as human beings, as well. It isn’t just about wanting to get pulled into Fantastica/Phant√°sien so badly it hurts–it’s about the tricky balancing act between our world and the world of story, and about making room for them both. I liked realizing this very much, and was kind of amazed I saw it so much clearly on previous reads, since it’s not exactly hidden.

One thing that did disconcert me that I also never saw before: This is one of those books in which, although characters and their stories are spun out with glorious frequency and creativity (that’s part of the point), no character is female unless she absolutely needs to be. Which means all of the (very few) female characters we meet are in some sense either witches, sages, or mothers. Oh, plus one damsel in distress. That’s … it. This huge supposedly borderless land that is the realm of story turns out to have borders after all.

Still, for all my mixed feelings this time around, this story about how wishes are tricky and dangerous and utterly necessary things was worth the reread.

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