hen I first opened Google today, I didn’t immediately recognise what the doodle represented. As I clicked through the various pictures, though, I experienced a rush of memories and emotions: there were Atréju and Fuchur (that’s what he’s called in the original, not Falkor), there was the Ivory Tower, home of the Childlike Empress, there were Perelin, the Night Forest, and the Silver City of Amarganth. How could I not recognise them, seeing how I must have read Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story more than a dozen times?
s a child, I devoured books. During holidays I got up to eight volumes from our local library each week, reading them like my life depended on it – and it sometimes felt like it did: I felt more at home in imaginary worlds than in the real one, and I breathed the air of places like Middle-earth more easily than the air of 1980s rural Switzerland. Books never bullied me or made fun of my clumsiness. That may be one of the reasons why The Neverending Story struck as much of a chord with me as it did: I identified with Bastian Balthasar Bux to a large extent, being bad at sports and not always fitting in. I also enjoyed fantasy stories at the time (and still do, though less so), but Ende’s novel was as much a metafictional Chinese box as it was fantasy, mixing fairytale and symbolism with surrealism and postmodern overtones. It is the kind of book that contains riches and keeps giving.
hile The Neverending Story sparked my imagination, it also touched my heart and still does, without being sentimental: it is a story about loss, mourning and moving on. Ende managed to put all of this in images that are never hackneyed, that resonate like the kind of dream that you wake up from feeling unaccountably sad or elated and that you may end up remembering years later. It’s not even obvious scenes like the death of Atréju’s trusty horse Artax that got to me: it’s grim werewolf Gmork last words, or the Empress’ arduous journey to the Old Man of Wandering Mountain (an ambiguous figure reminiscent of Eco’s Jorge of Burgos), but above all it’s Bastian towards the end of the book, having lost himself and his memories of home almost entirely, emerging from a dark mine shaft bearing forgotten dreams.
he Neverending Story is in no small part responsible for making me a reader and lover of books. It isn’t even an overstatement to say that it had an important part in shaping me and making me who I am today. The extent to which I value the imagination, and trying to bring empathy to all people and all things: all these are echoes of my first, second, fifth, tenth reading of Ende’s wonderful novel – and I am grateful to Google for the reminder. Perhaps it has been too long since I soared through the skies with Atréju and Fuchur, stayed with the Lady Aiuola and saw the Ivory Tower in the moonlight. Time once again to open that portal to another world that begins with the words: