Sometimes I pick up a book on an entirely unexpected whim, and so I did with The Neverending Story. I saw the 1991 Wolfgang Peterson film of the story back when our daughters were kids, and I remember thinking that it was pretty good. (The younger daughter, upon being quizzed, reports that she found the movie frightening, about people losing their memories. Actually, the issue of memory came in the second half of the book and was the subject of a sequel, The Next Chapter. She has a good--albeit traumatized--memory!) Anyway, good children’s and YA lit usually packs in a good story, fun, and a quick read (unless you're doing so aloud). This proved entirely correct with this classic. The film, as best as I recall it, did a pretty good job of tracking the book, so I was happy to learn again about Atreyu, the heroic young warrior, Falkor, the luck dragon, the Swamps of Sadness, and the Child-like Empress. (In doing some research I learned that author Ende didn’t like the film production and tried to stop it, but he failed. It’s been too long since I saw the film one around the time of its release, but it is an elegant and involved book, and that almost always means that a film adaptation will often prove thin by comparison.)
I won’t go into details about the plot, but I do want to share an extended passage that I found especially resonant, demonstrating again intriguing literature comes in all manner of cover:
"You ask me what you [Atreyu] will be there [in the human world]. But what are you here? One of the creatures of Fantastica? Dreams, poetic conventions, characters in the neverending story. You think you're real? Well yes, here are in your world you are. But when you been through the Nothing, you won't be real anymore. You'll be unrecognizable. You'll be in another world. In that world, your Fantasticans won't be anything like yourselves. You'll bring delusion and madness into the human world. Tell me, sonny, what do you suppose will become of all the Spook City folk you who have jumped in to the Nothing?"
"I don't know," Atreyu stammered.
"They will become delusions in the minds of human beings, fears where there is nothing to fear, desires for vain, hurtful things, despairing thoughts where there is no reason to despair."
"All of us?" Asked Atreyu in horror.
"No," saidGmork, "there will be many kinds of delusion. According to what you are here, ugly or beautiful, stupid or clever, you will become ugly or beautiful, stupid or clever lies."
"What about me?" Atreyu asked. "What will I be?"
Gmork face grinned.
"I won't tell you that. You'll see. Or rather, you won't see, because you will be yourself anymore."
Atreyu stared at the werewolf with wide-open eyes.
Gmork went on:
"That's why humans hate Fantastica and everything that comes from here. They want to destroy it. And they don't realize bit that by trying to destroy it they simply multiply the lies that keep flooding the human world. For these lies are nothing other than the creatures of Fantastica who have ceased to be themselves and survive only as living corpses, poisoning the souls of men with their fetid smell. But humans don't know it. Isn't that a good joke?"
"And there's no one left in the human world," Atreyu asked in a whisper, "who doesn't hate and fear us?"
"I did know of none," said the Gmork. "And it's not surprising, because you yourself, once you're there, can't help working to make humans believe that Fantastica doesn't exist."
. . . . [Gmork continues]:
"When it comes to controlling human beings there's no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. Beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts. That's why sided with the powerful and served them – because I wanted to share their power."
"I want no part of it!" Atreyu cried out.
"Take it easy, you little fool," the werewolf growled. "When your turn comes to jump into the Nothing, you too will be a nameless servant of power, with no end of your own. Who knows what use they will make of you? Maybe you'll help them persuade people to buy things they don't need or hate things they they know nothing about, or hold beliefs to make them easy to handle, or doubt the truth that might save them. Yes, you little Fantasticans, big things will be done in the human world with your help, wars started, empires founded . . . "
For time to Gmork appeared at the boy out of half closed eyes.
Then he added:
"The human world is full of weak minded people, who think there as clever us can be and are convinced that it's terribly important persuade even the children that Fantastica doesn't exist. Maybe they will be able to make good use of you."
172-174.Okay, enough of your bedtime story. Sweet dreams!