Neverending Story


Read Before Burning

Vanessa Berry

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, translated by Ralph Manheim, 1983. Penguin Books. Originally published in German in 1979 as Die unendliche Geschichte.

The Neverending Story is known to most from the 1984 film version. This is indeed how I encountered it, first seeing the film and then reading the book to feed my newfound obsession with this fantasy “story within a story” tale. In it a young boy named Bastian reads a book called the Neverending Story, about a fantasy world in crisis. Even then I understood it as an ecological narrative as much as one about the importance of reading, imagination and self belief which are the explicit themes of the novel. This was the 80s and the many news stories of rainforest destruction and toxic waste terrified me. The Nothing in The Neverending Story – the entity which consumes the world of Fantastica, leaving only a void in its place – seemed to be a similar force to these forces of environmental devastation.

To halt the Nothing Bastian must realise that he needs to take action beyond just reading the story. To stop the destruction a human is needed to give Fantastica’s ruler a new name. Bastian takes a long time to catch on that he is this human. He continues reading, not wanting Fantastic to disappear but at the same time unable to imagine it is he who has the power to intervene. Eventually he does and enters the world of the story, renewing Fantastica just before it is destroyed completely. It is this aspect of the story that I believe is most useful in considering our response to climate change. It provokes thought on how steps must be taken from observation to action, and the potential of these actions to effect change.