Ask any American child of the 80's who Atreyu is and they'll most likely be able to recall the hero in the movie adaptation of this highly imaginative fantasy novel that originated in Germany, caught fire and became a best-seller in 27 countries. The movie delighted children and adults alike across the U.S. as the tale of a lonely, bullied young boy named Bastian who discovers a mysterious book and delves into the tome, discovering its unusual qualities as he becomes entangled in the adventures of the character Atreyu, on his mission to save the Empress of Fantasia (Fantastica, in the novel). For those who have seen the movie, you've only experienced the first half of the novel (and a very condensed version of it, I might add). No cinematics could ever do justice to the extensive imagination Ende has put into this book, the many layers of plot, the fantastic, original creatures that inhabit Fantastica, and the full story that leads Bastian Balthazar Bux to take refuge in this world within a book. This piece of literature can only truly be appreciated when viewed through one's own imagination.
Ende blows all other fantasy writers out of the water with his creativity in both the characters he's created and the adventures he sends them on. The Neverending Story is nearly three stories in one. It begins in our world, following the fat, friendless Bastian, who feels unloved even by his own emotionally distant father. After stealing The Neverending Story from a book shop, he stows away in his school's attic and buries himself in the pages of this strangely magnetic book. Then we switch between the story of Bastian reading in the attic and Atreyu, a young boy in the book on a quest to find the cure for Fantastica's dying Empress. Little does Bastian know that once he began reading, he became part of this other realm, immortalized in the true "Neverending Story." Lastly, we follow Bastian into Fantastica, where he has become exalted as the Savior of Fantastica through his renaming of their Empress. Wielding AURYN, a medallion gifted to him by the Empress herself, which grants all of its bearer's deepest wishes, Bastian becomes drunk with power, wishing himself strong, handsome, and courageous, all the qualities he lacks in his real life, risking his relationships with Atreyu and the luckdragon Falkor, the only two real friends he has ever had. Far from the only risk he takes, Bastian must figure out what he truly wants more than anything, before he ruins the world he only recently saved and becomes unable to return home.
One of this novel's amazing features in the extensive amount of imagination and creativity with which the author fills every single page. Ende creates dozens on his own creatures, such as a "man-sized rooster in jackboots" and the Acharis, known as the saddest creatures in all of Fantastica, they resemble fat worms and cry a river of silver. Favorites from the movie are also given their due in the novel, like Pyornkrachzark, the rock chewer, and the night-hob Vooshvazool and his bat mount.
The format in which Ende presents his novel allows two of the separate story lines to coexist and flow seamlessly into each other. The author even goes as far as to print in two colors- red text for events taking place in the real world, and green text for the happenings of Fantastica, further separating the imagination from reality.
This multi-layer adventure carries the primary theme that friendship, and loving & being loved in return, are more important than the vain characteristics we humans are so often blinded by- power, looks, popularity. Indescribably imaginative, in my opinion, The Neverending Story was clearly well-planned and could only have come from the mind of a Grand Master of the fantasy genre.