Michael Ende Essay - Critical Essays

Ende, Michael


Michael Ende 1930?–

German novelist, author of children's books, and poet.

Ende's international bestseller Unendliche geschichte (1979; The Neverending Story) is a fantasy novel which appeals to adults as well as the traditional younger audience. This popular book is also the basis for a film of the same title. The Neverending Story is a "book within a book," with red and green ink used to differentiate between a book that the protagonist is reading and the fantasy in which he eventually finds himself involved. According to its publisher, The Neverending Story has become a symbol for the antinuclear movement in West Germany. Ende emigrated from that country more than twenty years ago and now lives in Italy.

Library Journal

As in all good fairy tales, the protagonist [of The Neverending Story] undergoes various rites of passage, and Ende does an expert job of conveying a sense of magic in a traditional format. Imaginative readers know that the story doesn't end when the covers close; the magic to be found in books is eternal, and Ende's message comes through vividly.

A review of "The Neverending Story," in Library Journal, Vol. 108, No. 18, October 15, 1983, p. 1975.

Somtow Sucharitkul

The Neverending Story seems destined, by dint of its advertising budget, for financial success. Since, in addition, it is an import from Germany and will therefore automatically be embraced by those who ride the bandwagon of reverse cultural chauvinism, I must confess to a certain initial prejudice, which redoubled when, on reading the first few pages, I found out that this was yet another book about an alienated person who falls into a fantasy universe. Any fantasy enthusiast will probably be able to rattle off a hundred titles of novels, from Lewis Carroll's all the way down to Stephen R. Donaldson's, which have made use of this plot. With competition like that, a novelist would have to be a consummate genius to bring it off completely.

That Michael Ende has taken this bewhiskered plot, endowed it with a certain amount of originality, populated it with characters who do not appear to be entirely stolen from the works of predecessors … is indeed an achievement to be proud of, and for this reason alone his novel is worth recommending. However, the reader will need perseverance because the book doesn't really get going until about page 160, and in general its pacing is not quite what Americans are used to.

What's more, the book's opening will seem to be dreary and cliché-ridden. We meet the young and preciously named Bastian Balthazar Bux, who is having soap-operatic father-relationship problems and has run away from school into a weird antique bookstore. The mundane root of his alienation is that of being too fat. Bastian...

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Dan Cryer

Although "The Neverending Story" has been a best seller in Europe, it's hard to see why. The book's appeal seems limited to readers about Bastian's age. It is bereft of psychological insight or depth of characterization. It seems geared more to "Star Wars" viewers than Tolkien readers. Anyone over 12 who gushes over this book ought to be kept in at recess.

Michael Ende's problem, however, is certainly not plotting. The story begins in suspense and darts from adventure to adventure. Ferocious dragons, ancient seers, giant snakes, a wicked sorceress and a faithful dragon roam through these pages. Heroes must best their rivals, endure unspeakable trials, conquer their fears….

Since the tale is fantasy and aimed at the junior-high mind, everything will turn out all right in the end. Courage, readers of this primer will learn, can work wonders for the most fainthearted; friendship is more nourishing than ambition; love is the highest good of all.

Dan Cryer, "Fantasy for Children Who Dream," in Newsday, October 20, 1983.

David Quammen

["The Neverending Story"] is a fantasy epic with all the requisite elements of the genre: chimerical creatures, exotic forests and mountains, unpronounceable proper names, a picaresque plot predicated on a Great Quest, magical swords and amulets, chivalric protocol, high melodrama, a virtuous empress, a heroic little fat boy and a moral vision of Manichaean simplicity. The novel is splashed generously with literary color but, as though that weren't enough, it is also printed in alternate sections of red and green type. Over all, the effect is lighthearted and festive. This rather large book is full of small charms and seems admirably suited for reading aloud, in installments, at the bedside of a 7-year-old child.

But a curious thing about "The Neverending Story" is that certain adults are evidently inclined to take it quite seriously. According to its American publisher, the book was first published in Germany "rather quietly, as a children's book. It began to touch a wider and wider circle of readers, and was adopted as a symbol by the peace marchers."… All this over an ingenuous book, inventive in its frills, conventional in its pieties, that combines some of the better features of Tolkien, "Peter Pan," "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and "The Little Engine That Could." But the fault is not Mr. Ende's. "The Neverending Story," to its credit, does not seem to take itself very seriously. (pp. 39-41)

Throughout the first half of Mr. Ende's novel, Bastian remains placed in the outer narrative frame, as the Reader; over his shoulder we watch while another young boy, Atreyu, pursues a Great Quest to save the life of the Childlike Empress…. At the climax of that quest it becomes necessary for Bastian, the despised bookworm, to speak up himself and, in a moment of empathic transport, step across into the storybook world—Pirandello as played by the Muppets. The novel's second half follows Bastian through a course of challenges every bit as bizarre as those he had envied Atreyu, and eventually toward a lesson of growth and fulfillment he carries back into his mundane existence. It is all broad, innocent fun; nothing less, nothing more. (p. 41)

David Quammen, "Fantasy, Epic and Farce," in The New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1983, pp. 14, 39-41.∗

Pamela Marsh

Alas, it takes more than ballyhoo to make a book worthwhile Just to open ["The Neverending Story"] is to suffer disappointment and be vividly reminded that it began its life in Germany as a child's book, for how can anyone take seriously a book published in colored ink? Worse, the first letter of every chapter is muddily illuminated….

The contents match the packaging. The plot involves a small bookworm of a boy who starts to read a tale about an ever-changing quest through a strange dreamland, peopled with fantastic beings….

There are moments when Michael Ende's imagination takes wing, and he tells us of the terrifying "nothingness" that devours the landscape, and the huge luckdragons, "as light as a summer cloud," which "swim in the air of heaven as fish swim in water." But that hardly atones for the author's expectation that we'll take seriously a creature called "cheesie-wheezie."

"The Neverending Story" has been praised for the lessons it teaches, and certainly it lays down some praiseworthy morals. The transformation of this hero is designed to teach the importance of loving, and no one could quarrel with that, but it is hardly a startling revelation. More interesting are Ende's convictions that fantasy plays a vitally important role in the world and needs to be protected, lest it turn into propaganda, and that to recognize what one is wishing for is as difficult as it is important.

But morals, if they are to do their job properly, must be whipped up vigorously into the plot and not allowed to just lie there in undigested lumps.

Pamela Marsh, "Praiseworthy Morals, Unwieldy Fantasy," in The Christian Science Monitor, November 9, 1983, p. 26.

Alexander Stille

Although Michael Ende wrote "The Neverending Story" as a children's book, it became a nationwide best seller in West Germany and a bible of the peace movement there. Its success is particularly strange because the book travels to an imaginary land and has virtually no political content. It's as if "The Hobbit" had become the rallying cry of the SDS…. (p. 112)

In the first half of the book, Fantastica is a conventional, even saccharine fairyland with the usual cast of princesses, gnomes and dragons. But the book comes to life when Bastian enters the story, ingeniously playing on the relation between imagination and reality. Ende has attempted an ambitious, if not always successful, mix of modernism...

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Rhoda Koenig

[The Neverending Story] is a curious piece of work: A fantasy about a small, fat boy who enters into a book he is reading and becomes the hero of a magic quest…. The special effects may jazz things up, but the book, with a new magic creature on almost every page …, is about as lyrical as a German Walt Disney World…. [Periodically] throughout the quest we cut to descriptions of the boy marveling at the evocative writing, or sobbing and blowing his nose when the magic horse dies. This kind of bullying self-promotion only underscores the banality of the novel, as does another intrusion—the boy's muttering "Thank God" or having a stray thought about Jesus. Reminding us of the most powerful story of our age...

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Tom Easton

[The Neverending Story] offers levels of meaning—pure wishfulfillment, paradox and intrigue, a philosophy of fantastic creation. It is thoughtful and astonishing and—perhaps—above all—glowing with warmth and love. It deserves its status abroad, and it deserves as much again here. (p. 166)

Tom Easton, in a review of "The Neverending Story," in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. CIX, No. 2, February, 1984, pp. 165-66.

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Edmund Fuller

["The Neverending Story"] is full of fresh, imaginative invention, although, like all such modern works, it owes honorable debts to our heritage of myth, legend and fable. Originality, in such matters, lies in variations upon themes, embellishing ancient motifs with new details.

"The Neverending Story" has the classic element of the unexpected entry of a human child into a wholly other world, crossovers from which are a tricky problem. It combines mission and quest, laying the burden of overcoming evil and destruction upon the shoulders of an initially reluctant, unprepossessing hero….

Fantastica is threatened by Nothing. Vast holes of Nothing appear in the land, expanding,...

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Paul M. Lloyd

Ende has an eye for vivid colors and is fairly imaginative in the creation of adventures [in The Neverending Story]. However, these adventures are not all especially connected and one gets the impression that often enough he was simply adding adventures just to pad out the text. The book is clearly written for children, since the author rather ostentatiously talks down to his readers, something which even as a child I found annoying. I found the title amply descriptive: the book is unendingly tedious and didactic, but since it sold a million copies in Germany, it must have interested a good many readers. Unfortunately I was not one of them.

Paul M. Lloyd, in a review of...

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