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!