A troubled, insecure young boy named Bastian who loves to read steals a magical book which claims to have No Ending. In it is the story of an otherworldly Magical Native American boy named Atreyu on a quest to save a Magical Land from vanishing. As Bastian reads more and more of the story, he finds that the book seems to be aware of him. Eventually, it is revealed that the magical land within the book is actually another dimension encompassing all of human imagination, and only a human with creative ideas can save it.Bastian is then transported to the world, where he finds that every wish he makes will come true. However, he begins to lose a part of himself for every wish he makes.The story purposefully has lots of loose ends (in the form of left-off side stories and secondary characters), to drive home the point that it is a "Neverending Story". In addition, there was a scene in the original novel where to convince Bastian that this was "real" the Childlike Empress tells the Historian to read the story over. Which includes what Bastian had done that day. This gets them all stuck into a timeloop until Bastian accepts it and enters the story.Originally written in German by Michael Ende, the several hundred page book spawned three movies. The first one was very well received (except by, among others, Ende himself, who sued unsuccessfully to have the name changed because he disliked it so much and had his name taken out of the writing credits); the sequels were each less popular and less faithful to the book than the one before. There was also a short-lived Animated Adaptation, and a TV miniseries called Tales From The Neverending Story that created an entirely new plot loosely based on the premise of the book and its characters.
This book provides examples of:
Above Good and Evil: The Childlike Empress considers good and evil, beautiful and ugly to be of equal value, and never favours one over the other. It's not her concern whether the people dream good or bad dreams, as long as they dream.
Aliens Speaking English: Or, in this case, German. When Bastian enters Fantastica, he has no problem conversing with anyone — which actually makes sense, since Fantastica isn't a self-contained fantasy world separate from ours, but made up of dreams, tales and fantasies complementary to our reality. Of course they'd also speak our language there.
Alliterative Name: Bastian Balthazar Bux. The owner of the bookstore was Carl Conrad Coreander.
Alphabetical Theme Naming: The residents of Amarganth all have the letter 'q' in their names. Mostly it was their first name such as Querquobad, the Silver Sage. However, as per Bastian's story of the history of the Amarganthians (which came true as he told it), leaders such as Quana and Quin as well as Aquil and Muqua existed.
Anatomy Of The Soul: The Mines of Memory, where Bastian attempts to retrieve his final memory of himself.
"That is another story and will be told another time".
Batman Gambit: The Childlike Empress sends Atreyu out on a quest to find a cure for her mysterious illness. It turns out that the Empress knew the cure (to be given a new name by an imaginative human) all along; the actual purpose of the quest wasn't to find the information, but rather to provide a long, harrowing adventure that would summon the savior, and make him sympathetic enough to Atreyu and Fantasia/Fantastica that he would give her a new name when the time came. The Empress also had a back-up plan in case Bastian was too reluctant to name her immediately.
You wish for something, you've wanted it for years, and you're sure you want it, as long as you know you can't have it. But if all at once it looks as though your wish might come true, you suddenly find yourself wishing you had never wished for any such thing.
The Acharis suffer from this as well. They ask Bastian for new bodies but come to regret it much too late as they no longer enjoy being carefree clownish beings and can no longer fulfill their original purpose.
Arguably also the childlike empress. She doesn't care what happens to a savior afterwards and even encourages him or her to absolutely indulge in Your Mind Makes It Real-style wishing, but doesn't warn him that doing so will slowly drive him over the edge. For her as the personification of fantasy itself, what counts is that a fantastic world is created, without considering that escapism taken to the extreme isn't necessarily a good thing.
Body Horror: Ever wonder what it would feel like to lose a part of your body, even half your face or a whole limb, and not die or even feel pain? The Nothing would be happy to show you.
Book Ends: The book begins with a description of viewing the bookstore from the inside looking out the glass door. Bastian then opens the door "violently" causing the bells on the door to ring for a while. It ends with Bastian looking out the same door at his father, opening the door "vigorously" and causing the bells on the door to ring.
Canon Fodder: Invoked in-universe. Everything Bastian does in the story-world creates several new plot hooks which tail off with some variation on the phrase, but that's another story for another time. In the end, Bastian is told he can't leave until he 'ends all the stories he began', but Atreyu volunteers to do this on his behalf.
There's also an implication that whoever reads the book will end up reading a story about a character somewhat like what they are and also what they want to be. Since Bastian is a young boy who wants to be brave he ends up reading about Atreyu, a young boy warrior. This is heavily implied at the Oracle which revealed Atreyu's inner self to be Bastian, and when Carl Coreander told Bastian that his experiences with the Neverending Story, including the appearance of the book itself, were entirely different from Bastian's. If Coreander was reading, the story probably would have featured Engywook or someone similar.
Catchphrase: Argax is fond of inserting "in a manner of speaking"note At least that's how it comes out in the English translation. into his dialogue.
Can't Take Anything With You: A non-time travel example. Bastian cannot leave Fantastica with anything the Childlike Empress gave him or that he received in Fantastica. This means his clothes fell off him and he changed from the Oriental Prince look to his normal look as both were given to him by the Childlike Empress.
Cats Are Mean: Subverted in the character of the lion Grograman. Yes, all land around him is turned into scorching desert, and no one can touch him without being burnt to a crisp, but this is an involuntary part of his nature and not a sign of malice or inner evil. When Bastian, protected by the AURYN, is able to speak with him, Grograman comes across as a quite personable, even friendly, beast, as well as rather melancholy due to his enforced solitude, ignorance about his origin, and painful (daily) Transformation Sequence. The scenes where Bastian discovers the truth about him, and sits with him so he won't be alone, are genuinely moving, and Grograman himself is actually treated as a brave companion by Bastian to the point he wants the lion to come with him on his journey (which Grograman points out to him is sadly impossible since he takes the desert with him wherever he goes).
Eldritch Abomination: The Nothing. There are quite literally no words to adequately describe it, as shown in the first chapter when one of the messengers struggles through describing a lake being replaced by nothing. Not like a hole or a dried-up lake, because then there would be a hole or a dried lake bed there. No, it's nothing. And when Atreyu takes a look at it from afar, he can't even glance at the Nothing head-on, and his eyes hurt just from seeing it, because his brain can't comprehend it. It isn't just blackness, because black is a thing that can be comprehended. It isn't even empty space which matter once occupied, because empty space is still something that can be occupied. It is, long story short, something that should not be... because it isn't.
One can easily replicate what Atreyu saw. to do so one must simply close their eyes as they normally do at night. However try to focus on what you see and well, you can't. In other words, The Power of the Void, at its most frightening form.
There's also the Manipulators, Gmork's employers, who wish to drive humanity mad with lies and delusions born out of Fantasticans who have been erased by the Nothing.
Equivalent Exchange: Each wish made on AURYN consumes a memory of home. To be precise, the amount of memory consumed is proportional to the difficulty of the wish. Woe betide you should you run out before finding your way back.
Even Evil Has Standards: Gaya, the Princess of Darkness. Though she is never shown as a character, she sweet talks and capture Gmork for his Evil Plan to destroy her home of Fantastica.
Everything's Better with Monkeys: Inverted. A monkey named Argax is the "steward" of the City of Old Emperors, and neither he nor his domain are very pleasant or fun.
Exact Words: The words on the back of the Auryn: DO WHAT YOU WISH. For Bastian, it was a double sided rule as his wishes led him both good and bad.
Extreme Doormat: Xayide acts this way towards Bastian, as part of her gambit to manipulate him.
A God Am I: Bastian driven semi-insane by excessive wishing decides that he should become the new Emperor — like dozens of saviors before him, who are now all stuck in Fantastica as idiot children.
God Emperor: The Childlike Empress. The City of Old Emperors is full of people who tried to set themselves up as one and learned the hard way why it is not a good idea.
Grail in the Garbage: The physical Neverending Story itself, the book which contains the entire world of Fantastica, is housed in an unsuccessful antique bookstore.
Hard Work Hardly Works: Hero Hynreck is a professional hero who spent his whole life being the best at everything he does, but he can't hold a candle against Sebastian, who outmatches him with ease by virtue of holding the Auryn.
Heroic BSOD: Bastian, which drives him to utilize his last wishes a bit more carefully.
Hero of Another Story: The point of the book is that everyone is the hero of his own story, but Hero Hynreck takes the cake not only by virtue of being a professional hero and having the word 'hero' in his name, but also because we see Bastian purposefully creating a story of adventure for him after he complained about getting dumped by Princess Oglamar and having no monster to fight as a hero. But, as the book says, that is another story and shall be told another time.
The Yskalnari, being so much a community that they lack any form of individualism, when a member of the crew dies not only nobody seems to care, nobody even seems to notice.
And Ygramul the many.
Horrible Judge of Character: Bastian thinks nothing of trusting one of Fantasica's most infamous sorceresses, despite the fact she obviously tries to turn him against Atreyu. She also quite obviously feigned defeat when she kidnapped the knights and Bastian rescued them, as Atreyu points out, but he thinks nothing of it.
Humans Are Special: Since Fantastica is the world of human imagination, it is only appropriate that humans are special to its inhabitants. Only humans can give names and create stories.
The entire first half of the book revolves around finding the one who can give the Childlike Empress a new, true name, to end her illness and dispel the Nothing.
Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Sort of. The names of the chapters are ordinary enough, but Ende notably begins each of them with a successive letter of the alphabet. Since the book's only illustrations are said capital letters (which each take up an entire page), it's hard not to think of the book in terms of "Chapter A", "Chapter M", "Chapter X", etc.
In Defence Of Story Telling: The human neglect of story-telling doesn't just make Fantasia sick, but our world too. Bastian's job as story-teller is to "make both worlds well".
Magical Native American: The literally green-skinned Greenskins (Atreyu's people) who live on the plains of the Grassy Ocean are Native Americans with the serial numbers filed off. They even hunt a purple kind of buffalo.
Meaningful Name: In his own language, Atreyu means "Son of All". This is in comparison to Bastian. who feels like the son of no one.
Medium Awareness: Having read the book The Neverending Story himself, after finding himself in Fantastica Bastian theorizes that his current experiences may be recorded in the book, and that "maybe someone was reading it at that very moment".
Mistaken for Granite: There's a pair of winged statues that might paralyze you with all the riddles in the world if you get too close to them.
Monkeys on a Typewriter: A disturbing take on this and, ironically, explained by a monkey. In the City of Lost Emperors, the humans who could not find their way back are unable to change, age, or die and have no knowledge of who they were or much of anything. Argax, the monkey in charge, gives some of them letter blocks where they put them together. Argax explains that, since they are there forever, they will eventually live up to this trope.
The Multiverse: Briefly touched upon; Gmork's conversation with Atreyu in Spook City implies that Fantastica and the human world are part of one.
My God, What Have I Done?: Bastian, after turning to the dark side for a while and nearly killing Atreyu....in fact, he thought he flat-out HAD killed Atreyu, which makes his "My God, What Have I Done?" even more dramatic.
Near Villain Victory: Bastian gets attacked by the Schlamoofs at the end, who destroy the picture he needs to get home and try to kidnap him. At that very moment Atreyu and Falkor show up and rescue him.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Bastian grants the Acharis their wish of being beautiful and happy, transforming them into the Shlamoofs. They then proceed to bother Bastian and company and he has doubts about whether he did the right thing. Towards the very end of the book, they are unhappy and want to be changed back, and Moru, the Lake of Tears has dried up since they don't cry anymore. Bastian, of course, can't change them back at that point, having no memories and thus not the ability to wish, and they destroy the only thing that can return him home since they don't want him escaping.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: And this after the villain is dead! After Gmork dies, Atreyu gets too close and Gmork's jaws clamp down on his leg, holding him tight, unable to move. Intended to keep him from leaving as the Nothing moved in, it also helped to keep him from walking into the Nothing, which attracts Fantasticans, when it came closer, allowing Falkor to find Atreyu and save him.
No Ending: Purposefully leaves almost all subplots hanging. Hence the title.
However, Bastian's main plot is resolved.
Arc Words: All the threads left hanging are waved goodbye with the phrase "But that is another story, to be told another time" ("Aber das ist eine andere Geschichte und soll ein andermal erzählt werden."). Interestingly, this Catch Phrase is also the final sentence of the book as a whole.
This is even referenced in the film, by the narrator who speaks only at the end: "Bastian went on to have many more adventures before he had to return to the real world. But that's another story."
Lampshaded when Bastian himself, in the scene directly preceding his move to Fantastica, contemplates whether someone might be reading this scene right now.
No Name Given: Applied only in the last part of the book and only for a few pages. After Bastian lost his memory of who he was, he is referred to in the narrative as the boy who no longer had a name (or some variant) or just the boy.
The Nothing After Death: "The Nothing". Characters from Fantastica who are swallowed are "reborn" in the real world - as lies (at least that's what Gmork claims). It's implied that The Nothing is caused by people in the real world becoming less honest and happy.
Omniscient Morality License: The Childlike Empress fits this perfectly when she has to basically mentally torture Bastian in order to get him to say her name. Of course, the people of two worlds were hanging in the balance, so she had justification.
Our Dragons Are Different: An Eastern dragon in a story otherwise employing Western characters and other stuff. In addition, there is a western dragon named Smerg.
Ouroboros: AURYN takes the shape of a two-serpent ouroboros. The films add an infinity knot.
Our Doors Are Different: Appropriately, in the Temple of a Thousand Doors. Doors were described as extremely thin, thick, gingerbread, buttoned, caves, shaped like an ear, mouth, etc.
Our Werewolves Are Different: Gmork, despite looking like an enormous wolf, describes himself as this. He tells Atreyu that neither Fantastica nor the Human World are his true home, for he has none. Therefore, he is able to travel between both worlds, appearing as a human in our world and a wolf in Fantastica.
Painting the Medium: The book uses two different colors or typefaces for the two reality levels.
Parental Neglect: Bastian's father became depressed and distant after his wife died. From then on, he pretty much ignored his son.
Patchwork Map: Exaggerated and justified. Fantastica itself constantly molds its shape, sending people traveling to various places depending on where they want to go. Thus, the geography of Fantastica can't be pinned down and it would be impossible to draw an accurate map of the place.
Precision F-Strike: "Go to hell, you little fool! Do you want to keep me alive until the Nothing gets here?"
Prophecy Twist: Al Tsahir, a magical shining stone, taken from a unicorn's horn. When he receives it, Bastian is shown a prophecy. Three things of note: speaking the stone's true name will have it shine its light for Bastian for a thousand years. Bastian does this. Speaking the stone's name backwards will have it release all its thousand years of light in a single instant. Bastian does this, and it then vanishes. But another part of the prophecy "I will guide him in Yor's Minroud" comes to bite him in the butt when he finds out that he managed to Screw Destiny by destroying the stone. Yor's Minroud is a mine, and without Al Tsahir, he must dig and grope for his lost dream in total darkness.
Rainbow Speak: A rare literature example, used to distinguish Bastian reading the book from the actual adventures in the book. Only certain editions of the book do this (namely hardcover versions), while the others (paperback) simply use italics.
Reality Warper: AURYN identifies what the wearer really and truly wants, and can then guide them on their task or, if they have memories of the human world to give up, turn those wishes into reality. Humans can also warp reality in Fantastica without assistance; since Fantastica is the land of imagination, peopled with beings who cannot fashion anything new, anyone from the real world with a little creativity can do it. If you actually tell a story in Fantastica, it will become true, and will always have been true, even if history must be changed to accommodate that, because reality and fantasy are one and the same in Fantastica.
Rewriting Reality: The Neverending Story is a book inside Fantastica (which makes it a book within a book within a book). The Old Man of Wandering Mountain sits in solitude, writing in it. Everything written in the book happens, and everything that happens is written, by the Old Man, into the book. At one point, the Childlike Empress forces Bastian's hand by having the Old Man recite what he has written. This leads to him reciting every line in the book (beginning with the first line of the actual book, recounting Bastian's tale), and writing what he says, which creates more lines for him to read, and causes those events to re-happen, ad infinitum.
Rhymes on a Dime: Uyulala. In fact, she can't speak without rhyming, and also cannot hear people if they do not talk to her in verse. (Atreyu manages to get a knack for it rather quickly.)
Riddling Sphinx: The Southern Oracle is protected by two sphinxes whose gazes hold the victim still until they have answered every riddle in the world. Needless to say, anyone who is caught by the sphinxes dies of thirst long before they even make a dent in that task.
Say My Name: In the end of the first half, Bastian must say the Childlike Empress's new true name, so that she can be healed, the Nothing can be dispelled, and Bastian can be brought to Fantastica. It takes some doing to get him to actually say it.
Many other things in Fantastica are affected by one saying their true name; see I Know Your True Name. Al Tsahir is one prime example.
Senseless Sacrifice: Ilwan, the blue djinn, sacrificed himself to save Ghemmal, the belt of invisibility, from a fire. While chasing after Atreyu, Bastian fell off his iron steed after it broke apart, dropped Ghemmal, and never thought of it again.
Shakespeare in Fiction/To Shakespeare: When the three knights stroll along with Bastian, they sing "When That I was and a Little Tiny Boy" (which we know from Twelfth Night), which they learned from a previous human visitor to Fantasia/Fantastica, "name of Shexper, or something of the sort."
Shining City: The Ivory Tower, the Silver City of Amarganth.
Shout-Out: The City of Old Emperors, filled with madmen, is modelled on the 'madhouse of Cairo' where Peer Gynt is brought in the famous Henrik Ibsen play.
Spell My Name with an S: Fantasia? Fantastica? Depends which version you're reading (or watching). "Fantasia" is a more direct equivalent of the German original (Phantásien), but the standard English translation of the novel uses "Fantastica", possibly to avoid confusion with any of the several things already called Fantasia in English, like Walt Disney's movie. The films use "Fantasia".
Spirit Advisor: The Purple Buffalo that Atreyu didn't kill in his ritual hunt to officially become a hunter becomes this in Atreyu's dreams. He is the one who points Atreyu to Morla as a thanks for not killing him and instead answering the call of Cairon, whose job was to send him on the mission to save Fantasia.
Straw Nihilist: Morla, due to her long lifespan, has seen things come and go, and became convinced that nothing matters.
The second doorway to the Oracle also qualifies - a mirror you have to step through, which shows fears or thoughts of the seeker. The third door, on the other hand, plays this a bit more... strangely: you can't pass it if you want to, because it's made of some kind of phlebotinum that shuts the door ever faster the more you want it to open.
Good thing then that the mirror also temporarily wipes your memory to see if you'll go through on curiosity alone.
Time Abyss: The Childlike Empress, who has existed at least as long as Fantastica has (that is, she is as old as human imagination). The Old Man of Wandering Mountain is just as old, and has existed just as long. Morla, and some of the residents of the City of Old Emperors, may also count.
Title Drop: "The Neverending Story" is, of course, the name of the book Bastian is reading, but within the book the phrase is first used by Gmork:
"What are you creatures of Fantastica? Dreams, poetic inventions, characters in a neverending story."
The Voice: Uyulala, the rhyming voice of silence beyond the No Key Gate.
Voice for the Voiceless: Interesting variant on this. The Childlike Empress only hears The Old Man of Wandering Mountain as if she remembered that he just said spoke. His mouth never moves.
Walking Wasteland: Grograman, the Many Colored Death. The desert in which he lives travels with him, and extends for many, many miles around him, so intense is the heat that he carries with him. Only Bastian has ever been able to speak with him without dying, and that's because he had the protection of AURYN.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: After his wife's death, Bastian's father became emotionally distant and Bastian couldn't figure out how to even get him to care about him anymore.
The Worm That Walks: Ygramul the Many, a myriad of blue beetles acting as one, most of the time forming a big spider but changing into other forms when fighting with its prey or into a huge face with antennae instead of a tongue when talking to Atreyu.
Atreyu spends what he feels is just less than a day at the Southern Oracle but actually a week has passed for everyone outside the Oracle, though it is slightly averted as time did pass for Atreyu as he notices his wounds are significantly healed.
Bastian spends a long time (months or years) in Fantasia while only about 12 hours pass on Earth.