Manybooks's Reviews > Die unendliche Geschichte

Die unendliche Geschichte by Michael Ende
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Nov 29, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: childrens-literature, fairy-tales-fantasy, michael-ende, german-literature, classics, favorites, books-on-books, book-reviews
Recommended for: anyone who loves fantasy
Read from January 01 to 15, 2017 — I own a copy

Although I have read this book more than twenty times, I have, until now, never actually written a longer and more involved review for Michael Ende's utterly amazing The Neverending Story (I have also never read it in English). I first read it in German in the early 80s, I believe, and I have reread it regularly over the years. Die unendliche Geschichte is thus truly one of my all-time favourite German children's literature books. I love/adore everything about this novel, including the ingenious way the chapters are arranged, as well as the different colour fonts (red for reality, blue for Fantastica, or Phantásien in German). For me, the different fonts are not only an ingenious plot and narrative device, they also represent the separation of fantasy and reality. However, the fantastical first letters of each of the 26 chapters, representing the 26 letters of the alphabet, are all (at least in my own copy of the book) presented in the same reddish font as the parts of the story that take place in the real world (even for those chapters based wholly and entirely in Fantastica); this shows on a visual level that while fantasy and reality might be separate spheres and different from one another, they are nevertheless forever linked.

I remember when we were reading this very novel in the Children's Literature Group (more than a few years ago), one of my GR friends (Kirei) asked if the story actually ever did end. And I have to admit that when I first read Die unendliche Geschichte as a teenager, I kept searching for other novels by the Michael Ende about Fantastica, as he was always hinting at precisely that eventuality (but that is another story), until I finally realised that this was just a plot device. At first, this bothered me a bit (I actually felt a wee bit cheated). But then, I realised how ingenious this particular plot device was (and is). It solidifies Michael Ende's belief that every book is a neverending story, and that books engender other stories and so on and so on. Furthermore, for a reader who might become somewhat nervous and apprehensive when reading exciting or frightening tales, the fact that the author claims that there will be more (future) tales of Fantastica, gives a comforting (but spoiler-less) reassurance that Fantastica will survive, that the nothing (the emptiness) will not succeed in utterly destroying fantasy and the realms of the fantastical.

In the first part of Die unendliche Geschichte, the main emphasis seems to be mostly on the absolute importance and necessity of fantasy and imagination and how the lack thereof is detrimental to not only the realms of Fantastica, but also to the real world (to reality). While the story is never openly didactic, it does possess an obvious message against pure materialism and the disallowance and discrediting of fantasy (and imagination). The childlike empress will succumb to her illness and with her all of Fantastica, unless a human being can enter Fantastica and give the empress a new name (humans used to regularly find their way to the realms of fantasy, but they are seemingly losing this ability, or are perhaps unwilling or afraid to make use of it). And while Bastian does, in fact, possess said fantasy and imagination, he is also at first too unsure of himself to give the empress the name he has created for her (moon child). Indeed, the empress must resort to trickery and subterfuge in order to persuade Bastian to finally utter her name, to stop the nothing and to himself become part of the world of Fantastica, to enter into the latter's realm.

In the second part of the story, Bastian is then given the opportunity (and the task) to use the power of his own imagination (his own wishes and desires) to reconstruct Fantastica. At first, it seems that there are no limits imposed; in fact, the empress actually tells Bastian that he should do what he wishes, what he wants. There are essential internal limits though, namely that Bastian's main responsibility, his main goal is to find the nature of his one true (his dearest) desire (which is something that Bastian only learns slowly, bit by bit). And it rapidly becomes apparent that Bastian's desires to be strong and courageous, of wanting to change his outward appearance are not only not his actual, true wishes, they portray that Bastian, at this time, only uses imagination and fantasy as an escape from a world (from a reality) that he does not like very much, a world where he can neither love nor be and feel loved. Bastian thus does not truly reconstruct Fantastica by creating new realms of fantasy, he uses these mostly to escape from both reality and his own personality. In fact, Bastian actually becomes majorly dictatorial, even attempting to usurp power from the childlike empress. Luckily for him, this proves unsuccessful, and faced with the loss of his memories, Bastian finally realises that his dearest wish is to love himself, to be able to love, that without love, there truly is absolutely nothing.

Die unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story) therefore demonstrates (and demonstrates this clearly and shiningly) how the interaction and interplay of fantasy and reality, of Fantastica and humanity only succeeds if one strives to use fantasy and imagination to improve reality, and that because Bastian is unable to love either the world or himself, he uses fantasy not to improve reality, but to escape from it (to even destroy it perhaps). This fault, this main problematic issue causes Bastian to almost become permanently stranded in Fantastica, which might at first not seem such a bad result, except that, becoming stranded in Fantastica also means losing one's memories, losing one's soul and sanity. In the end, it is almost too late for Bastian, and basically, even though he has realised what his greatest desire is (love), it is only Atreju's friendship which allows Bastian to regain all of his memories and be allowed to return (with new vigour and with enlightenment) to the real world. Atreju takes over the responsibility of finishing all of the stories that had been started by Bastian, and it is this which liberates Bastian, allowing his return to reality and to sanity and memory.

With Bastian's return, we also notice that Bastian has not only learned how to love, and also allowed his father to love again, he has also learned to take responsibility for his actions. Bastian himself goes to Mr. Coreander to tell him about taking the book, he does not rely on his father to do this (although his father does indeed offer). Thus the main point of Die unendliche Geschichte, at least for me personally , is and always will be that imagination and fantasy are essential for life and happiness, but that they must also not be used as an escape mechanism, as a bandaid type of solution (they should, they must be utilised in a responsible, moderate, temperate manner). They are to be used as a tool, an enjoyable tool, but a tool nevertheless, as a method of allowing fantasy and reality to exist together in friendship and harmony.

And as such, Michael Ende's The Neverending Story also harkens back very strongly and stridently to the German Enlightenment, to the era of the Aufkläriung, where part of the main thematics was a striving for moderation, for the middle road, for a combination of reality and fantasy, with reality being enhanced with and by fantasy and fantasy being tempered with and by reality and realism. Michael Ende is therefore both an acolyte and a shining mirror image of one of my favourite German Enlightenment authors, Christoph Martin Wieland, whose work always strives for a combination of fantasy and reality, for moderation and a rejection of any form of extremism, including idealism; everything must be moderate and centrist.
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Reading Progress

02/23/2010 page 185
38.95% "falling in love with this story all over again. Cannot wait to discuss it"
02/07/2016 marked as: favorites
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 96) (96 new)


Elinor  Loredan Wonderful review, Gundula! I've only read it twice but it instantly added itself to my favorites list. It's truly a testimony to the powers of imagination. Very inspiring and deep. Its very complexity delights rather than overwhelms me.
I too felt a little cheated at first because of the unfinished threads :)


Manybooks Elinor wrote: "Wonderful review, Gundula! I've only read it twice but it instantly added itself to my favorites list. It's truly a testimony to the powers of imagination. Very inspiring and deep. Its very complex..."

Oh I am glad I was not the only one who kind of felt a bit cheated. And you really must read some of the other books by Michael Ende, Momo is just as wonderful.


Lisa Vegan Oh, wow, Great review, Gundula! My book edition's text colors were purple and green and I really loved them.


message 4: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Thanks for the recommendation. Surprisingly, I've never read it, although I did love the film as a kid. It's definitely on my TBR list and I hope to get to it soon.


Manybooks Tim wrote: "Thanks for the recommendation. Surprisingly, I've never read it, although I did love the film as a kid. It's definitely on my TBR list and I hope to get to it soon."

I hope you will love the book (I never watched the movie).


Manybooks Lisa wrote: "Oh, wow, Great review, Gundula! My book edition's text colors were purple and green and I really loved them."

Definitely a favourite!!


message 7: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Gundula wrote: "I hope you will love the book (I never watched the movie)."

Apparently, the movie is based just on the first half of the book. I'm debating if I need to get the paper book or the audio CD version (Audible doesn't appear to have it).


Lisa Vegan Tim, I'd recommend a text version. As Gudula mentioned, the text colors and appearance change, and they're a big part of the story, or my enjoyment of the story anyway. I think you'd lose a lot reading an audiobook edition.


message 9: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Thanks, is a paperback fine, or do I need the hardcover for the different text colours? There's a bunch of books I've been accumulating so it's getting to that time to put in an on-line order.


Manybooks Lisa wrote: "Tim, I'd recommend a text version. As Gudula mentioned, the text colors and appearance change, and they're a big part of the story, or my enjoyment of the story anyway. I think you'd lose a lot rea..."

I would agree with Lisa. The different colour fonts are an integral part of the book, and that would be lost in an audiobook (although I did listen to a German audio dramatisation years ago that was excellent, but that was after I had already read the book numerous times). And yes, the movie is just based on the first half of the book (one reason I have always refused to see it).


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Tim wrote: "Thanks, is a paperback fine, or do I need the hardcover for the different text colours? There's a bunch of books I've been accumulating so it's getting to that time to put in an on-line order."

I'm not sure. I borrowed my copy from the library and it was a hardcover edition. Maybe read some reviews of paperback editions and see if people mention the different colored text or the lack of it???


message 12: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Thanks, thinking about it a bit more, the hardcover isn't that expensive and I'd feel better about lending it to my niece when she's a bit older. Which leads me to a new question. What's an appropriate age for reading the book?


Manybooks Lisa wrote: "Tim wrote: "Thanks, is a paperback fine, or do I need the hardcover for the different text colours? There's a bunch of books I've been accumulating so it's getting to that time to put in an on-line..."

I know not all of the English paperback versions have the different font colours; the mass-market paperback copy I had out from the library when we read the book in the Children's Literature Group, definitely DID NOT have the different font colours; the mass-market paperback library book had a cover image that looked something like this;

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende


message 14: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Okay, definitely get the hardcover then.


Manybooks Tim wrote: "Okay, definitely get the hardcover then."

Even a trade paperback copy might work, but if you are going to buy yourself a copy, you should make sure it has the different font colours.


message 16: by Lisa (last edited Mar 04, 2012 12:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Tim, It depends on the kid but I'd say 8 or 9 or 10. And all the way up. For read aloud 7 and up perhaps.


message 17: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Thanks Lisa, it's good to know. So, she could probably read it in the next year or so. Although, I really should find her some more books in French. Most of her books ate in English and as a result, her French isn't as good, even though she's in French immersion.


message 18: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Well, this book has been translated into French too! How old is she? Many great children's books have been written in French or translated into French.


message 19: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim She turns 8 in August. I try to stay away from translations, but if you have suggestions on good French children's books I'll take them.


Manybooks I would agree with age eight or nine, although I was considerably older (seventeen, I got it as a Christmas present from Germany).


message 21: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Tim wrote: "She turns 8 in August. I try to stay away from translations, but if you have suggestions on good French children's books I'll take them."

I don't read or speak French, but I know many who do, including kids, so I'll think about it, Tim.

Yes, definitely in a year or so, so you might as well buy the hardcover edition to read and then pass it on. It's a wonderful book.


message 22: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Gundula wrote: "I would agree with age eight or nine, although I was considerably older (seventeen, I got it as a Christmas present from Germany)."

What a lovely gift to get at that age, or 8 or 9 too.


message 23: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Lisa wrote: "Yes, definitely in a year or so, so you might as well buy the hardcover edition to read and then pass it on. It's a wonderful book."

I passed on my copy of Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl, a few years ago in this manner, although it hurt to give it up. I'm not giving up my copy of The Graveyard Book, though.


message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan You can buy her another copy, or lend it to her. ;-)


message 25: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim The Graveyard Book is one I'm not sure about for kids, even though it's a children's book. The first chapter is a bit much, although the rest of the book is fine.


message 26: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Tim wrote: "The Graveyard Book is one I'm not sure about for kids, even though it's a children's book. The first chapter is a bit much, although the rest of the book is fine."

It's on my to-read shelf, but I've heard about that first chapter. Well, maybe when she's older or if she enjoys other similar books.


message 27: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim It's an excellent book. It's basically The Jungle Book, but set in a graveyard. If you go to Neil Gaiman's web site, he has videos of himself reading all the chapters (one video per chapter).


message 28: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan How great that he put that on his website!


message 29: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim It is. He did the readings as part of a book tour and recorded them. Considering how popular the book is, I don't think it's hurt sales and it's probably helped them.


message 30: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan I hope so. Probably.


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Gee, your reviews are just lovely.


Manybooks Dodo wrote: "Gee, your reviews are just lovely."

Thanks, it took me two years to get the courage to actually write a review; it's so hard to review books you love to pieces.


Manybooks Tim wrote: "It's an excellent book. It's basically The Jungle Book, but set in a graveyard. If you go to Neil Gaiman's web site, he has videos of himself reading all the chapters (one video per chapter)."

I think the book is on my to-read shelf as well, but I should check.


Elinor  Loredan Yes, I hope to read Ende's other titles. You pointed out some things in your review I hadn't noticed bore, like the 26 chapters that represent the alphabet, going from A to Z. I'm going to reread it soon...


message 35: by Manybooks (last edited Mar 04, 2012 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Manybooks Elinor wrote: "Yes, I hope to read Ende's other titles. You pointed out some things in your review I hadn't noticed bore, like the 26 chapters that represent the alphabet, going from A to Z. I'm going to reread i..."

Have fun, and I can very strongly recommend Momo.


message 36: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Gundula wrote: "Have fun, and I can very strongly recommend Momo. "

I can see that. You've rated it 5 stars twice (and to-read twice as well). I've added it to my to-read shelf as well.


Manybooks Tim wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Have fun, and I can very strongly recommend Momo. "

I can see that. You've rated it 5 stars twice (and to-read twice as well). I've added it to my to-read shelf as well."


I read it years ago, so before I review it, I need to reread it. I also want to read and review some of the English translations, there supposedly are two distinct ones.


message 38: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Gundula wrote: "Dodo wrote: "Gee, your reviews are just lovely."

Thanks, it took me two years to get the courage to actually write a review; it's so hard to review books you love to pieces."


They're the hardest reviews to write. For a few of my favorites from childhood and others I've read before joining Goodreads, I've sometimes just written review blurbs if anything at all.


Manybooks Lisa wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Dodo wrote: "Gee, your reviews are just lovely."

Thanks, it took me two years to get the courage to actually write a review; it's so hard to review books you love to pieces."

They..."



I'm definitely that way with L.M. Montgomery (and Jean Little a bit as well).


message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

Gundula wrote: "Dodo wrote: "Gee, your reviews are just lovely."

Thanks, it took me two years to get the courage to actually write a review; it's so hard to review books you love to pieces."


I can't write reviews at all.
I'm so awkward with words, it's a shame.


message 41: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Dodo wrote: "I can't write reviews at all.
I'm so awkward with words, it's a shame. "


Just saying a few words expressing what you felt about a book, without worrying about how skilled you are with words, can be so useful to other Goodreads' members. You should give it a try.


Elinor  Loredan I love reading Goodreads reviews (usually at inopportune times, like when I'm putting off schoolwork). It's always fascinating to me to read what other people say about books I've read.
I didn't like writing them myself at first. I still feel awkward at it, but it actually really helps me articulate to myself why I do or don't like books.
But don't feel pressured to if you don't like it, Dodo :)


Manybooks Dodo wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Dodo wrote: "Gee, your reviews are just lovely."

Thanks, it took me two years to get the courage to actually write a review; it's so hard to review books you love to pieces."

I ca..."


I did too, at first, but then I just went for it (and you know, you don't have to post your reviews either, I sometimes just write what I feel in a notebook and only type it out if and when I feel like it).


message 44: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan And at times I've posted but haven't posted to my feed, so members only see those reviews if they're at book searching for its reviews.


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

The first months on Goodreads I just rated books, but around last Christmas some books, either good or bad ones, started to trigger me to write something about them.
So now I'm sometimes squeezing three or four sentences out of the chaos that is my brain.

I'd just love to bleed out my feelings in words like that too :)


Chrissie This review is not good.....it is tremendous! You summarized so clearly the major concepts. Thank you, Gundula, for taking the time to review this, to put the black on white.


Manybooks Chrissie wrote: "This review is not good.....it is tremendous! You summarized so clearly the major concepts. Thank you, Gundula, for taking the time to review this, to put the black on white."

Thanks Chrissie, that means a lot to me. Ha, it also took me over two years of mulling over my reread to write this review, but it was worth it (you know what it is like for books you love, you hesitate to review them).


Chrissie After two years time, you hit it on the spot!


Manybooks Abigail wrote: "Fabulous review, Gundula! It's funny that you mention feeling cheated, because the narrative here seemed to promise other stories set in this world. I had similar feelings as a girl, after reading ..."

I've not read The Princess Bride, but it is on my to-read list (I think if I had tried to read the book before realising it was tongue in cheek, I would likely have tried to find the original, I don't always "get" satire). And I probably will take you up on the off for the Momo translations, but not quite now (I have to clear some of my Mount TBR first and review books I rated and never reviewed, sigh). Thanks for liking my review, it took a while to come together, but it was worth it :-)


message 50: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim It was the digressions into discussions about the "original" that I hated about The Princess Bride. I loved most of the rest of it.


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