Fight the Nothing: The NeverEnding Story

Experiencing stories not only exercises a child’s imagination, it also progresses their emotional development. When a child reads (or watches) a tale that touches them, they can learn more about the world around them and how to deal with the things in it. Particularly the difficult things. Many children’s novels do this. One of them is The NeverEnding Story. It serves an important purpose by providing kids with a fantastical way to process true life problems.

Michael Ende wrote and published The Neverending Story (that’s how it’s spelled for the novel, but I use the film spelling elsewhere in this article because that’s how I first encountered it) in 1979 in Germany. The first English translation followed in 1983. It follows a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux as he reads and then unbelievably finds himself inside a book called The Neverending Story. A destructive entity called The Nothing is wiping out the land of Fantastica, including making the Childlike Empress ill. They send a boy warrior called Atreyu on a quest to find a cure for her and stop The Nothing.

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They adapted The NeverEnding Story for film in 1984, starring Barret Oliver as Bastian, Noah Hathaway as Atreyu, and Gerald McRaney as Bastian’s father. Acclaimed filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen directed it. Interestingly, it only transfers the first half of the novel, and calls the fantasy world Fantasia. I loved this film as a kid but Ende apparently didn’t. He sued the studio and lost. In 1991, the studio released The NeverEnding Story 2: The Next Chapter. Jonathan Brandis takes over the role of Bastian with Kenny Morrison as Atreyu. This film adapts events from the second half of the novel but departs much more from it than the first film did. (There was also The NeverEnding Story 3 released in 1994 but it has nothing to do with the novel.)

This story helps the children reading (or watching) it deal with negative emotions; the most obvious is grief. When the novel begins, Bastian’s mother has recently died. His father is emotionally distant almost to the point of being neglectful. Bastian needs what the book gives him, which is a sense of being able to do something. When he finds himself in The NeverEnding Story and realizes he is the savior of Fantasia, he gets over his initial disbelief and gives the Childlike Empress a new name. The story also addresses fear through the character of Atreyu. Everyone is astounded at first that someone so young receives such an important quest but he fearlessly takes it on. Bastian in the film follows this example when he faces the bullies who harassed him early on again in the final scene. This is a deviation from the novel because it’s a post-modern addition where Bastian rides luckdragon Falkor in the real world.

Like almost all narratives created for children, The NeverEnding Story helps them process the unpleasant things in life through the guise of the fantastical. This can be a small but important part of the necessary maturation process for a kid. The wondrous and magical things on screen or on the page capture a child’s imagination so only adults will notice the lesson behind it. That’s what the best of juvenile literature does, and The NeverEnding Story is a part of that, both the novel and the film.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton is from Ohio. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. She has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life. Her hobby is editing fan videos.

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