The Neverending Story (novel)

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Open...but...very carefully.

An ostracized young boy named Bastian who loves to read steals a magical book which claims to have No Ending. In it is the story of an otherworldly Magical Native American boy named Atreyu on a quest to save a Magical Land from vanishing. As Bastian reads more and more of the story, he finds that the book seems to be aware of him. Eventually, it is revealed that the magical land within the book is actually another dimension encompassing all of human imagination, and only a human with creative ideas can save it.

Bastian is then transported to the world, where he finds that all his desires can be fulfilled, but begins to lose a part of himself for every wish he makes... And that there are forces in Fantastica who would use him for their own ends.

The story purposefully has lots of loose ends (in the form of left-off side stories and secondary characters), to drive home the point that it is a "Neverending Story". In addition, there was a scene in the original novel where to convince Bastian that this was "real" the Childlike Empress tells the Historian to read the story over. Which includes what Bastian had done that day. This gets them all stuck into a timeloop until Bastian accepts it and enters the story.

Originally written in German by Michael Ende, the several hundred page book spawned three movies. The first one was very well received (except by, among others, Ende himself, who sued unsuccessfully to have the name changed because he disliked it so much and had his name taken out of the writing credits); the sequels were each less popular and less faithful to the book than the one before. There was also a short-lived Animated Adaptation, and a TV miniseries called Tales From The Neverending Story which created an entirely new plot loosely based on the premise of the book and its characters.

Tropes used in The Neverending Story (novel) include:
  • Above Good and Evil: The Childlike Empress considers good and evil, beautiful and ugly to be of equal value, and never favours one over the other. It's not her concern whether the people dream good or bad dreams, as long as they dream.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Sikanda.
  • Adventure Towns
  • Alliterative Name: Bastian Balthazar Bux. The owner of the bookstore was Carl Conrad Coreander.
  • Anatomy of the Soul: The Mines of Memory, where Bastian attempts to retrieve his final memory of himself.
  • Batman Gambit: The Childlike Empress sends Atreyu out on a quest to find a cure for her mysterious illness. It turns out that the Empress knew the cure (to be given a new name by an imaginative human) all along; the actual purpose of the quest wasn't to find the information, but rather to provide a long, harrowing adventure that would summon the savior, and make him sympathetic enough to Atreyu and Fantasia/Fantastica that he would give her a new name when the time came. The Empress also had a back-up plan in case Bastian was too reluctant to name her immediately.
  • Big Badass Wolf: Gmork.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: No one knows why the sphinxes let some people pass and paralyze others.
    • In the movie, the Sphinxes at the first gate strike down anyone who doubts their own worth. The second gate judges Atreyu based on how well he knows himself.
  • Body Horror: Ever wonder what it would feel like to lose a part of your body, even half your face or a whole limb, and not die or even feel pain? The Nothing would be happy to show you.
  • A Boy and His X: X being first a horse, and then a dragon.
  • Canon Fodder: Invoked in-universe. Everything Bastian does in the story-world creates several new plot hooks, but very, very few of them are resolved in the book, opening up new directions for human imagination to work in. In the end, Bastian is told he can't leave until all are resolved - but Atreyu has learned to be a storyteller himself, and so is able to take on the task for him, making the world self-sustaining - and, of course, giving the book its title.
  • Canon Sue: Deconstructed Trope in the second half of the book, with Bastian becoming an in-universe Canon Sue.
    • There's also an implication that whoever reads the book will end up reading a story about a character somewhat like what they are and also what they want to be. Since Bastian is a young boy who wants to be brave he ends up reading about Atreyu, a young boy warrior. This is heavily implied at the Oracle which revealed Atreyu's inner self to be Bastian, and when Carl Coreander told Bastian that his experiences with the Neverending Story, including the appearance of the book itself, were entirely different from Bastian's. If Coreander was reading, the story probably would have featured Engywook or someone similar.
  • Catch Phrase: Argax is fond of inserting "in a manner of speaking"[1] into his dialogue.
  • Cats Are Mean: Subverted in the character of the lion Grograman. Yes, all land around him is turned into scorching desert, and no one can touch him without being burnt to a crisp, but this is an involuntary part of his nature and not a sign of malice or inner evil. When Bastian, protected by the AURYN, is able to speak with him, Grograman comes across as a quite personable, even friendly, beast, as well as rather melancholy due to his enforced solitude, ignorance about his origin, and painful (daily) Transformation Sequence. The scenes where Bastian discovers the truth about him, and sits with him so he won't be alone, are genuinely moving, and Grograman himself is actually treated as a brave companion by Bastian to the point he wants the lion to come with him on his journey (which Grograman points out to him is sadly impossible since he takes the desert with him wherever he goes).
  • City of Canals: More precisely, a silver city of floating palaces on a lake of tears. Acidic tears!
  • The Chosen One: Bastian is The Chosen One to stop The Nothing.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Using Sikanda without the consent of the blade itself.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Argax, Gmork.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The Princess of Luna.
  • Deus Ex Scuse Me: The librarian is getting called away for a long phone call, allowing Bastian time to take the book.
  • Dream Land: Fantastica, obviously.
  • Eat Dirt Cheap: The entire race of the Rock-Chewers.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Nothing. There are quite literally no words to adequately describe it, as shown in the first chapter when one of the messengers struggles through describing a lake being replaced by nothing. Not like a hole or a dried-up lake, because then there would be a hole or a dried lake bed there. No, it's nothing. And when Atreyu takes a look at it from afar, he can't even glance at the Nothing head-on, and his eyes hurt just from seeing it, because his brain can't comprehend it. It is, long story short, something that should not be... because it isn't.
    • One can easily replicate what Atreyu saw. to do so one must simply close their eyes as they normally do at night. However try to focus on what you see and well, you can't.
    • In other words, The Power of the Void, perhaps at its most frightening form.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Each wish made on AURYN consumes a memory of home. To be precise, the amount of memory consumed is proportional to the difficulty of the wish. And woe betide you should you run out before finding your way back.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Inverted. A monkey named Argax is the "steward" of the City of Old Emperors, and neither he nor his domain are very pleasant or fun.
  • Extreme Doormat: Xayide acts this way towards Bastian, as part of her gambit to manipulate him.
  • Eye of Newt: Memories for wishes.
  • Eyes of Gold: The Childlike Empress, which leads to her official title, "The Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes."
  • Fate Worse Than Death: You do not want to end up trapped in the City of Old Emperors. For that matter, stay away from the Nothing, too, or you'll get what the Bark Trolls did.
  • Fisher King: The Childlike Empress
  • Giant Flyer: Falkor.
  • A God Am I: Bastian driven semi-insane by excessive wishing decides that he should become the new Emperor -- like dozens of saviors before him, who are now all stuck in Fantastica as idiot children.
  • God-Emperor: The Childlike Empress. The City of Old Emperors is full of people who tried to set themselves up as one and learned the hard way why it is not a good idea.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Atreyu.
  • Heroic BSOD: Bastian, which drives him to utilize his last wishes a bit more carefully.
  • Hero of Another Story: The point of the book is that everyone is the hero of his own story, but Hero Hynreck takes the cake not only by virtue of being a professional hero and having the word 'hero' in his name, but also because we see Bastian purposefully creating a story of adventure for him after he complained about getting dumped by Princess Oglamar and having no monster to fight as an hero. But, as the book says, that is another story and shall be told another time.
  • Heterochromia: Xayide.
  • Hive Mind: The Yskalnari, being so much a community that they lack any form of individualism, when a member of the crew dies not only nobody seems to care, nobody even seems to notice.
  • I Know Your True Name: Giving something a name gives it power, knowing a name gives power over it.
    • The entire first half of the book revolves around finding the one who can give the Childlike Empress a new, true name, to end her illness and dispel the Nothing.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Sort of. The names of the chapters are ordinary enough, but Ende notably begins each of them with a successive letter of the alphabet. Since the book's only illustrations are said capital letters (which each take up an entire page), it's hard not to think of the book in terms of "Chapter A", "Chapter M", "Chapter X", etc.
  • It Was with You All Along: In both Atreyu's quest and Bastian's.
  • I Wish It Was Real
  • Jumped Off the Slippery Slope: Bastian becomes an evil psychopath toward the end of the book due to Xayide's manipulation, but snaps out of it, leading to a My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Hykrion, Hysbald, and Hydorn. Hynrek might also qualify.
  • Made of Air: Uyulala is literally made of sound.
  • Magical Land
  • Magical Native American: The literally green-skinned Greenskins (Atreyu's people) who live on the plains of the Grassy Ocean are Native Americans with the serial numbers filed off. They even hunt a purple kind of buffalo.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Xayide.
  • Meaningful Name: In his own language, Atreyu means "Son of All".
  • Metafictional Title
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self
  • Mistaken for Granite: There's a pair of winged statues that might paralyze you with all the riddles in the world if you get too close to them.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bastian, after turning to the dark side for a while and nearly killing Atreyu....in fact, he thought he flat-out HAD killed Atreyu, which makes his "My God, What Have I Done?" even more dramatic.
  • Names to Run Away From Very Fast: Be honest now, does "Gmork" sound like the name someone/something you'd entrust your life with?
  • Eucatastrophe: Bastian gets attacked by the Schlamoofs at the end, who destroy the picture he needs to get home and try to kidnap him. At that very moment Atreyu and Falkor show up and rescue him.
  • Nigh Invulnerable: Anyone who wears AURYN.
  • No Ending: Purposefully leaves almost all subplots hanging. Hence the title.
    • Arc Words: All the threads left hanging are waved goodbye with the phrase "But that is another story, to be told another time" ("Aber das ist eine andere Geschichte und soll ein andermal erzählt werden."). Interestingly, this Catch Phrase is also the final sentence of the book as a whole.
      • This is even referenced in the film, by the narrator who speaks only at the end: "Bastian went on to have many more adventures before he had to return to the real world. But that's another story."
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Morla, due to her long lifespan, has seen things come and go, and became convinced that nothing matters.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted Trope, lampshaded, and Discussed Trope by Bastian in the real world while reading the book. After he goes into Fantastica, it is then played straight.
  • No Fourth Wall: Neither for real, nor inside the book.
    • Lampshaded when Bastian himself, in the scene directly preceding his move to Fantastica, contemplates whether someone might be reading this scene right now.
  • The Nothing After Death: "The Nothing". Characters from Fantastica who are swallowed are "reborn" in the real world - as lies (at least that's what Gmork claims). It's implied that The Nothing is caused by people in the real world becoming less honest and happy.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: An Eastern dragon in a story otherwise employing Western characters and other stuff. In addition, there is a western dragon named Smearg.
  • Ouroboros: AURYN takes the shape of a two-serpent ouroboros. The films add an infinity knot.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Gmork, despite looking like an enormous wolf, describes himself as this. He tells Atreyu that neither Fantastica nor the Human World are his true home, for he has none. Therefore, he is able to travel between both worlds, appearing as a human in our world and a wolf in Fantastica.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: The book uses two different colors or typefaces for the two reality levels.
  • Pals with Jesus: Goes both ways. Bastian is technically the 'God' who named the childlike Empress, and was with Atreyu all along. Bastian is also on a first-name basis with the Childlike Empress.
  • Patchwork Map: Exaggerated Trope and Justified Trope. Fantastica itself constantly molds its shape, sending people traveling to various places depending on where they want to go. Thus, the geography of Fantastica can't be pinned down and it would be impossible to draw an accurate map of the place.
  • Planet of Hats: The Yskalnari.
  • Playing with Fire: You might want to avoid going into the city of Salamander...
  • Portal Book
  • Precision F-Strike: "Go to hell, you little fool! Do you want to keep me alive until the Nothing gets here?"
  • Prophecy Twist: Al Tsahir, a magical shining stone, taken from a unicorn's horn. When he receives it, Bastian is shown a prophecy. Three things of note: speaking the stone's true name will have it shine its light for Bastian for a thousand years. Bastian does this. Speaking the stone's name backwards will have it release all its thousand years of light in a single instant. Bastian does this, and it then vanishes. But another part of the prophecy "I will guide him in Yor's Minroud" comes to bite him in the butt when he finds out that he managed to Screw Destiny by destroying the stone. Yor's Minroud is a mine, and without Al Tsahir, he must dig and grope for his lost dream in total darkness.
  • Reality Warper: AURYN identifies what the wearer really and truly wants, and can then guide them on their task or, if they have memories of the human world to give up, turn those wishes into reality. Humans can also warp reality in Fantastica without assistance; since Fantastica is the land of imagination, peopled with beings who cannot fashion anything new, anyone from the real world with a little creativity can do it. If you actually tell a story in Fantastica, it will become true, and will always have been true, even if history must be changed to accommodate that, because reality and fantasy are one and the same in Fantastica.
  • Reality Writing Book
  • Rewriting Reality: The Neverending Story is a book inside Fantastica (which makes it a book within a book within a book). The Old Man of Wandering Mountain sits in solitude, writing in it. Everything written in the book happens, and everything that happens is written, by the Old Man, into the book. At one point, the Childlike Empress forces Bastian's hand by having the Old Man recite what he has written. This leads to him reciting every line in the book (beginning with the first line of the actual book, recounting Bastian's tale), and writing what he says, which creates more lines for him to read, and causes those events to re-happen, ad infinitum.
  • Riddling Sphinx: The Southern Oracle is protected by two sphinxes who petrify anyone who fails to answer their riddles.
  • Rule of Three
  • Sapient Steed
  • Save Both Worlds
  • Say My Name: In the end of the first half, Bastian must say the Childlike Empress's new true name, so that she can be healed, the Nothing can be dispelled, and Bastian can be brought to Fantastica. It takes some doing to get him to actually do it.
    • Many other things in Fantastica are affected by one saying their true name; see I Know Your True Name. Al Tsahir is one prime example.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction/Shout-Out/To Shakespeare: When the three knights stroll along with Bastian, they sing "When That I was and a Little Tiny Boy" (which we know from Twelfth Night), which they learned from a previous human visitor to Fantasia/Fantastica, "name of Shexper, or something of the sort."
  • Shining City: The Ivory Tower, the Silver City of Amarganth.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Fantasia? Fantastica? Depends which version you're reading (or watching). "Fantasia" is a more direct equivalent of the German original (Phantásien), but the standard English translation of the novel uses "Fantastica", possibly to avoid confusion with any of the several things already called Fantasia in English, like Walt Disney's movie. The films use "Fantasia".
  • Synchronized Swarming: Ygramul, which forms a devilish face, a giant scorpion, a fist...
  • Talking Animal: All the animals in Fantastica.
  • Taxidermy Terror: Bastian sees the preserved heads of a fox, an eagle and an owl, and later in Fantastica he meets three sages with the heads of said animals.
  • Technicolor Eyes: The Childlike Empress has solid golden eyes.
  • That's No Moon: Morla.
  • Threshold Guardians: The two golden sphinxes Atreyu has to pass.
    • The second doorway to the Oracle also qualifies - a mirror you have to step through, which shows fears or thoughts of the seeker. The third door, on the other hand, plays this a bit more... strangely: you can't pass it if you want to, because it's made of some kind of Phlebotinum that shuts the door ever faster the more you want it to open.
      • Good thing then that the mirror also temporarily wipes your memory to see if you'll go through on curiosity alone.
  • Time Abyss: The Childlike Empress, who has existed at least as long as Fantastica has (that is, she is as old as human imagination). The Old Man of Wandering Mountain is just as old, and has existed just as long. Morla, and some of the residents of the City of Old Emperors, may also count.
  • Title Drop: "The Neverending Story" is, of course, the name of the book Bastian is reading, but within the book the phrase is first used by Gmork:

"What are you creatures of Fantastica? Dreams, poetic inventions, characters in a neverending story."

  • Trapped in Another World
  • Turtle Island: The wise Morla who lives in the Swamps of Sadness
  • The Unseen: The Manipulators that Gmork works for. Also Gaya the Dark Princess, who traps him in Spook City.
  • Villainous BSOD: Xayide's.
  • The Voice: Uyulala, the rhyming voice of silence beyond the No Key Gate.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first half of the book is a fairly conventional fantasy adventure. The second half is considerably heavier and more philosophical.
  • Walking Wasteland: Grograman, the Many Colored Death. The desert in which he lives travels with him, and extends for many, many miles around him, so intense is the heat that he carries with him. Only Bastian has ever been able to speak with him without dying, and that's because he had the protection of AURYN.
  • White-Haired Pretty Girl: The Childlike Empress.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Happens to Bastian towards the end.
  • The Worm That Walks: Ygramul the Many, a myriad of blue beetles acting as one, most of the time forming a big spider but changing into other forms when fighting with its prey or into a huge face with antennae instead of a tongue when talking to Atreyu.


Notes

  1. At least that's how it comes out in the English translation.