N is for ‘The Neverending Story’

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende was first published in Germany in 1979 and translated into English by Ralph Manheim in 1983. It is possibly better known for the film  released in 1984 – I certainly came to read the book in my teens precisely because I’d enjoyed the film as a child – and yet the film only covers the first half of the book. Apparently, Michael Ende felt that it was so different from what he wrote that he sued the production company when they wouldn’t stop production or change its name. He lost.

The Neverending Story, US editionThe Neverending Story, Michael Ende, Puffin UK edition

It is the story of Bastian Balthazar Bux, a boy who runs into a bookshop to escape from bullies. There he discovers a book called ‘The Neverending Story’ in which the land of Fantastica is under threat from the Nothing, the Childlike Empress is sick and a boy warrior named Atreyu is attempting to find a cure for her illness. As Bastian reads of Atreyu’s adventures with Falkor the luckdragon, giants, werewolves and racing snails, he becomes literally drawn into and involved in the book. Eventually he realises that it is up to him to save this world. This is the point where the film finishes, yet Bastian goes on to have further adventures of his own in the world of Fantastica, until he realises that he is in danger of being trapped there forever.

As well as dealing with the importance and power of imagination, and the perils of getting what you wish for, it is about friendship, loyalty and identity. Imagination is not just restricted to the plot, either: each chapter begins with an ornamented initial capital – there are twenty-six of them in alphabetical order – while in some editions, although not the one I read, the text is colour-coded according to whether the action takes place in Fantastica or the real world.

Incidentally, if you’ll pardon the digression,  David J. Peterson at dedalvs.com invites us to spare a thought for translators working into languages with other script systems. This led me to look into the Japanese translation. I didn’t discover how that particular difficulty was overcome, but I learnt that Ende himself was fascinated with Japan and had a huge following there. His second wife was Mariko Sato who translated some of his books into Japanese.

Manheim’s translation, meanwhile, deftly follows the German in alternating between a slightly old-fashioned, fairytale manner for the Fantastican parts and a more down-to-earth style. He also clearly had a lot of fun with the names! There were a few minor issues that struck me as odd – in some places the English seemed more extravagant than the German, while on other occasions it was the other way round. All the same, it’s well written in either language, and an engrossing read. And if anybody has read it in a non-Latin script, I’d be fascinated to hear how it works!

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
This entry was posted in A-Z of Children's Fiction in Translation, Books, Children's Books, Translation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to N is for ‘The Neverending Story’

  1. Aleksandra says:

    I was also surprised when I found out that the movie didn't cover the whole book. I read the book after I saw I movie, so I was thrilled when I realized that there are more adventurous than I thought it would be. I read the book in Serbian Cyrillic script and the text was color-coded in red and green. That really enhanced my reading experience!

  2. Christine says:

    I loved that movie as a child, and didn't even know it was a book. I'll have to find a copy and read it for myself! I was always so sad when the movie ended as a child. I'm glad to hear the story continued 🙂

  3. Rachel Ward says:

    How did the chapter initials work out? Were they able to follow through the Cyrillic alphabet?

  4. Rachel Ward says:

    I hope you find a copy Christine!

  5. Pingback: The Neverending Story | booksfromthelaundryroom

  6. Pingback: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – Better Late than Never « a discount ticket to everywhere

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