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Literature / The NeverEnding Story

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The Neverending Story (German: Die unendliche Geschichte) is a German fantasy novel by Michael Ende, originally released in 1979, with an English translation published in 1983.

A troubled, insecure young boy named Bastian who loves to read happens upon a antique bookstore owned by a Mr. Coreander, when hiding from some bullies. Inside Mr. Coreander's shop, Bastian comes across a book titled The Neverending Story, which claims to have No Ending. Unable to resist, Bastian steals the book and hides in the school attic where he can read it undisturbed. In the book 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.

The book spawned three movies, though only the first film tried to follow the plot of the book, being an adaptation of roughly the first half of the book, with the second only making a few loose references to the book's plot, and the third one going off to do its own thing entirely. 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.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Bastian's sword, Sikanda, a blade of living light that can perfectly perform any task the user requires, from slaughtering an entire army to delicately cutting a suit of armor to pieces without leaving a scratch on the wearer's body.
  • 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: Triply so with Bastian, whose full name is Bastian Balthazar Bux. It also the case with the owner of the bookstore, whose full name is Carl Conrad Coreander.
  • All Stories Are Real Somewhere: Because Fantastica is a land literally made of stories, Bastian finds that his storytelling can bring things into existence. Not only that, if he tells a story of something set in the past, that something will have always existed.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: The residents of Amarganth all have the letter 'q' in their names. Mostly it was their first letter 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.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Bastian goes From Nobody to Nightmare all by the fulfillment of his own wishes; while there are some evil Fantasticans like Xayide who manipulate him, the fact is that he wished them into being in order to defeat them with the ultimate goal of being loved and feared by everyone. Bastian is the purest example of how a small, helpless yet good-natured little boy can slowly yet inevitably turn into a cruel, heartless little tyrant by gaining unlimited power.
  • Anatomy of the Soul: The Mines of Memory, where Bastian attempts to retrieve his final memory of himself.
  • Animated Armor: Xayide's guards are this, being nothing but empty suits of armor animated by her magic.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification:
    • The Childlike Empress is the muse or goddess of fantasy, the embodiment of imaginative and creative potential.
    • The Old Man of Wandering Mountain represents the end result: stories written down, fixed and unchanging.
  • Another Story for Another Time: Many chapters end using this on the characters important to that section.
    "But that is another story and will be told another time".
  • 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."). This is also the final sentence of the book as a whole.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Perrilin the night forest can only live and grow at night; by day, it withers and dies and is replaced by a scorching desert where nothing can live. This ignores the fact that plants need sunlight to thrive in the real world.
  • Attack on One Is an Attack on All: Seen with Gaya, the dark princess of Spook City and the Land of Ghosts. She turns on Gmork when he arrives searching for Atreyu, because he lets slip his true mission to bring about Fantastica's destruction. While it's implied Gaya is an evil or at least foul Fantastican, since she rules over a land of vampires, ghosts, witches and night hobs, she nevertheless defends her world against Gmork.
    "Gmork. You forgot that I too am one of the creatures of Fantastica. And that to fight against Fantastica is to fight against me. That makes you my enemy, and I've outsmarted you."
  • 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.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Bastian has it invoked on him.
      "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 AURYN can grant any wish, but does so at the cost of Bastian's memory of his human life. When Bastian finally figures this out, he's down to his most basic memories.
    • 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.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: It's implied that William Shakespeare was one of the previous people to visit Fantastica.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Änderhaus (Changing House) is, for all intents and purposes, a TARDIS. The trope is name-checked word for word. And for added points, the woman who lives there undergoes a sort of regeneration upon death, becoming a new person, and having a succession of lives.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • No one knows why the sphinxes let some people pass and paralyze others.
    • 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.
  • Bookends:
    • 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.
    • Smaller versions, relate to the events in the book when the clock chimes in Bastian's world.
      • At 9am, Bastian reads as the four travelers resume their trip to the Ivory Tower. At 9pm, Atreyu and Falkor are traveling to the Ivory Tower.
      • At 10am, Cairon has just appeared from meeting with the Childlike Empress. At 10pm, Atreyu first sees the Childlike Empress.
      • At 11am, Atreyu accepts his mission from Cairon. At 11pm, Atreyu's mission officially ends after his meeting with the Childlike Empress ends.
    • Towards the end of Atreyu's portion of the quest, when encountering a stranger he comes wary of revealing his true identity and purpose, and merely refers to himself as "Nobody". Similarly, towards the end of Bastian's quest, he too encounters a stranger and becomes wary of revealing his true identity and purpose, but this time refers to himself as "Somebody".
  • Born as an Adult: There's a race of Fantasticans called Sassafranians, who are born old and die as infants.
    • This is also true of Fantastica itself. The minute Bastian wishes something into being, it's as if it has always existed.
  • A Boy and His X: Atreyu starts off as A Boy and His Horse, with his talking horse Artax as his only companion. Artax's loss in the Swamp of Sadness is what makes Atreyu realize how truly arduous his journey will be. Later, the story becomes a Boy and His Luckdragon when Atreyu rescues and befriends Falcor. The two become inseparable for the rest of the book.
  • 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.
  • Canon Sue: Deconstructed in the second half of the book, with Bastian becoming an in-universe Canon Sue. 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.
  • 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. This is also why the Childlike Empress is the only being in Fantastica who can never enter the inside of AURYN - she can't leave herself behind.
  • Cast from Sanity: Bastian's wishing power turns out to require sacrificing memories of the human world.
  • Catchphrase: Argax is fond of inserting "in a manner of speaking"note  into his dialogue.
  • 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 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).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Subverted with Al Tsahir, which Bastian uses for something else before he can use it for its intended purpose.
    • The fox, eagle, and the owl mentioned in the attic have a chapter more or less revolving around them, sort of.
  • City of Canals: More precisely, a silver city of floating palaces on a lake of tears. Acidic tears!
  • The Chosen One:
    • Atreyu is the Chosen One for finding the cure for the Childlike Empress.
    • Bastian is The Chosen One to stop The Nothing.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Bastian believes two events are this in the book. The first is when he screams , the characters hear a scream. That was justified in thinking it a coincidence. The second is when Atreyu is looking into the Magic Mirror, the second gate to the Southern Oracle. He sees Bastian and the description Bastian reads is an exact description of him and his surroundings. It freaks him out, but Bastian tries to think of it as a coincidence. It isn't.
  • Damsel in Distress: Princess Oglamar after Bastian explained she was captured by a vicious dragon so that Hero Hynreck can save her, which makes it happen.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Using Sikanda without the consent of the blade itself.
  • Day-Old Legend: The story explores this idea in-depth, as Bastian can create whole worlds from scratch, and they come with their own history and mythology, even if Bastian did not think this up himself.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Hero Hynreck has quested for years to prove himself to Olgamar, Princess of Luna, whose standards are so high that nothing impresses her. Bastian eventually has to invent an impossible peril for Hynreck to save Olgamar from to make her change her mind. [[Spoiler:By that time, though, Hynreck no longer wants her.]]
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Ivory Tower is given a very similar description, in terms of its design and layout, to Minas Tirith. The only major difference being the Ivory Tower is about ten times taller.
  • Deus ex 'Scuse Me: At the start of the book, Coreander is called away for a long phone call, allowing Bastian time to take the book.
  • Drunk with Power: Bastian gets a bit too fond of being an all-powerful unbeatable Marty Stu with the ability to make his every wish come true, eventually turning outright villainous as he decides to attempt to usurp the Childlike Empress and crown himself ruler of Fantastica.
  • Dub Name Change: The German name of Faulkur is "Fuchur" /Foo-Xoor/ you can imagine why there was a name change.
  • Eat Dirt, Cheap: The entire race of the Rock-Chewers, who subsist on a diet of rocks and stone.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Location:
    • The Mountain of Destiny, said to be as a big as a whole country yet never occupies the same place twice. One cannot climb it until the last person to do so has not only died but passed out of all memory, or else the mountain will simply not be found.
    • The Wandering Mountain, wherein dwells the Old Man who records the Neverending Story, can only be found if fated - never searched for.
    • The Southern Oracle, which can only be entered through a Stargate-like door called the No-Key Gate. This door simply stands alone in an open field, and the only way to unlock it is to forget the reason you came in the first place. Each of the latter two gates are not there until you pass through the previous gate. Behind the Great Riddle Gate is nothing but endless land. Once through the gate, the Magic Mirror Gate appears about twenty paces ahead. Beyond that gate is nothing until you pass into it, then the No Key Gate appears.
    • Salamander, a city whose buildings and people are made entirely of fire. Atreyu's horse, quite naturally, would not go near the place.
    • Fantasia itself, if the incident at the Star Cloister is any indication. Bastian uses an enchanted stone to produce a light so blinding it pierces the heavens, and the space beyond is revealed to be... the attic of Bastian's school. In other words, he is looking out through the pages of the book.
    • The Ivory Tower, which is basically a mountain the size of a city nearer its base, is always at the center of Fantasia. However, since Fantasia has no borders and is infinite, its center is nebulous. Ivory Tower has been stated to be equally near to and far from everywhere in Fantasia and that how far they must travel is dependent on the state of the travelers.
  • Empathic Environment: The Swamps of Sadness. The two fan theories about it are if Morla has gotten as selfish and cynical as she is from living there for so long, or if her selfishness and cynicism has caused the Swamps to become such a dangerously morbid place.
  • 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.
    • A wish will also consume a memory of its opposite: Wish to be handsome and you will lose your memory of ever having been ugly; wish to be strong and you will forget that you were ever weak. Wish to rule Fantastica and you'll forget that you ever came from a different world.
  • 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.
  • Evil Costume Switch: A minor, unintentional version. Bastian's mantle (cloak) was silver until the battle when it was described as black. It remained black for the remainder, even after his switch back to sanity. It was finally left at the House of Change.
  • Evil Is Sexy:
    • Gaya, the Dark Princess, while unseen in the book, is said to have been very beautiful...and both her moniker and her status as a princess of Spook City suggests she was probably not a nice person.
      • Although Gmork said she was attractive to his sensibilities, so who knows if a human being would agree.
    • Xayide is described as very alluring, and is also the closest thing the book has to a villain other than the Nothing itself.
  • Exact Words:
  • Extreme Doormat: Xayide acts this way towards Bastian, as part of her gambit to manipulate him.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: If a human who comes to Fantastica fails to find their way back to the human world, without exception they all eventually attempt to supplant the Childlike Empress as supreme ruler of Fantastica, losing their memories all the while through wishing. The fate of all who stay on this course is to wind up in the City of Old Emperors as nearly mindless creatures without memory or ability to speak, performing ridiculous meaningless activities forever.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • You risk this with even the first gate leading to the southern oracle. It is guarded by a pair of sphinxes who might let you pass if you're lucky, because who they let pass appears to be completely arbitrary. If you're one of the unfortunate many who they won't admit, they will gaze at you, sending out all the riddles of the world for you to solve. This paralyses you until you either solve them all or die from starvation and dehydration.
    • You do not want to end up trapped in the City of Old Emperors.
    • Stay away from the Nothing, or you'll get what the Bark Trolls did. Even Gmork, magically chained, refused Atreyu's offer of food, preferring to die of hunger before the Nothing could get to him.
  • Fisher King: The Childlike Empress.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Bastian starts out as an overweight, ugly, unathletic scared little boy who tells stories to himself. He reads the Neverending Story and gives the childlike empress a new name, propelling him into the world of Fantastica. He is granted the power to make wishes using Auryn, the symbol of the empress, and his first wish is to be strong, handsome, athletic and brave. This first wish also robs him of the memory of ever being that overweight, ugly, clumsy, scared little boy — and thus part of the understanding and empathy for what it means to be bullied and downtrodden that comes with it. Each subsequent wish removes his memory of something vitally important to Bastian's character that made him a good person, and so he slowly transforms from the savior of Fantastica to a bloodthirsty conqueror who seeks to depose the empress and sit on her throne.
  • Giant Flyer: Falkor.
  • 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.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The mysterious power behind the Nothing who sent Gmork to kill Atreyu. It or they are mentioned once by Gmork and never play any role in the story after the Nothing is defeated. If they're even sentient creatures is up for debate.
  • 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 Bastian, who outmatches him with ease by virtue of holding 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.
  • Hive Mind:
    • 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.
    • Ygramul the Many is a swarm of steel-blue insects that move with a single will, the entire thing speaking and acting with a single consciousness and taking different forms and bodies by arranging the swarming of its component insects.
  • 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. This can possibly be explained as a result of Bastian gradually losing his memories, and consequently his humanity.
  • 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.
  • Hurricane of Puns: A disturbing example when Atreyu introduces himself to Gmork as 'Nobody.' They then use that name as a disturbing and serious play on words regarding the hopelessness of the situation.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The Swamps of Sadness and Spook City.
  • I Know Your True Name: Giving something a name gives it power, knowing a name gives power over it. 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.
  • It's All About Me: This is Bastian's fatal flaw and the reason why most of his wishes in Fantastica go horribly wrong. Because he starts out as a Loser Protagonist, he wishes for strength, good looks, favorable opinions, to be feared and so forth. Even when Bastian wishes for good things to happen for others, it's always about secretly getting something he wants, or increasing his own appearance of benevolence. The story even points out that the motive behind doing a good turn for someone is as important as the good turn itself. It takes all of Bastian's selfish wishes going wrong to show him how low he has sunk after morally wounding Atreyu and later seeing what becomes of the other humans who went down similar selfish paths and became trapped and mindless in Fantastica. Bastian's last remaining wish breaks this cycle for him, because it's a wish to love someone other than himself and thus put another person first before his own wants.
  • 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.
  • The Illuminati: The "Manipulators" spoken of by G'mork, implied to live in and, to a great extent, control the human world.
  • In Defence of Storytelling: 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".
  • Informed Attractiveness: Gaya, the Dark Princess, is described by Gmork as "very beautiful... to me anyway". Given that her admirer is a ferocious werewolf who loves the sinister and fiendish, a human might find her to be either a malevolent yet alluring temptress or a stark reminder that other beings' preferences may be a tad different than our own.
  • Invisibility Cloak: The belt Ghemmal that Xayide gives to Bastian, is made of glass and makes the wearer invisible. Bastian was disconcerted the first time he wore it as he couldn't even see himself so he couldn't take it off without Xayide's help.
  • It Was with You All Along:
    • In both Atreyu's quest and Bastian's.
    • In Bastian's case, his ability to enter Fantastica and to leave it was with him all along, though he had to read the story and then live as a part of it until he could make use of either. In the former case, all he had to do was give the Childlike Empress a name by calling it aloud in the human world. In the latter case, all he had to do to return to the human world was to give up AURYN of his own free will.
  • I Wish It Were Real: The story is in a sense, an in-depth analysis of the idea of Wish Fulfillment, playing it straight in the first half of the novel, then deconstructing it and rebuilding it at the end. The story itself even comments on this:
    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.
  • Jumped Off The Slippery Slope: Bastian becomes an evil psychopath toward the end of the book due to Xayide's manipulation, but snaps out of it, leading to a My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Hykrion, Hysbald, and Hydorn. Hynrek might also qualify.
  • Late for School: The streets around the school are described as deserted, as a student would feel if he was very late for school. Likewise, the corridors of the school were described as echoing his footsteps.
  • MacGuffin Person Reveal: An unusual version when Atreyu realizes that a human is needed to save the Childlike Empress' life by giving her a new name. It wasn't until Atreyu meets with her that she reveals to him that the human in question has been following Atreyu's adventures with him by reading a book chronicling them. In this case, the shock is far bigger for Bastian, the MacGuffin in question than for Atreyu, the one who only had been searching for him for the short time he knew about the cure.
  • Made of Air: Uyulala is literally made of sound. For her, to stop singing is to die.
  • Magical Land
  • 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.
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality: Fantasticans are only real in their world; once they are taken into our world, they become lies.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Xayide.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Referred to as dream words for the Childlike Empress' response:
    Bastian: Where are we Moon Child?
    Moon Child: I am with you, and you are with me.
  • 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.
    • Bastian's surname, Bux, is pronounced as "books" (rather than "bucks"). Lampshaded by the novel itself, which points out how appropriate the name is for a boy who loves books.
  • Mechanical Horse: Xayide created hollow metal horses that she could control with her mind. Bastian, due to Auryn, could also control these horses and rode one away from a battle until it shattered from overuse.
  • Medium Awareness:
    • The Childlike Empress uses her power as ruler of Fantastica to turn to the beginning of the book YOU are reading, creating a loop only Bastian can break, being effectively part of the loop at that point.
    • 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".
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The Mirror Gate trial shows your true inner self, which sends most would-be heroes screaming in the other direction. Atreyu looks in the Mirror Gate and sees Bastian.
  • Mistaken for Granite: There's a pair of sphynx 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 they can play with and arrange into words. Argax explains that, since they are there forever, they will eventually live up to this trope.
  • Morton's Fork: Ygramul offers to bite Atreyu, which is fatal but allows him to teleport to the southen oracle and have an hour or so to live, or he can stay where he is and let the nothing consume Fantastica. Subverted in that Ygramul pounts out the first option does allow for a sliver of hope for success, which does indeed pay off when the gnomes who find Atreyu at the southern oracle also happen to have a cure for the poison.
  • 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 fact, he thought he flat-out HAD killed Atreyu, which makes his "My God, What Have I Done?" even more dramatic.
  • Mystical White Hair: The immortal Childlike Empress.
  • Name Amnesia: In the final chapter, Bastian overuses the powers of AURYN (which are powered by his memories) and forgets his own name, condemning himself to an eternity as a nameless shade. Fortunately for him, his friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend finds him and gives him at least his name back.
  • Named Weapons: Sikanda. The only way for Bastian to claim the sword that was destined for him was to name it, something only he could do.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Be honest now, does "Gmork" sound like the name of someone/something you'd entrust your life with?
  • 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.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability:
    • Anyone who wears AURYN effectively has this, since no resident of Fantastica will intentionally harm them. There are some who might hurt them unintentionally, though, and it seems to offer no protection from natural hazards like starvation, drowning, etc.
    • Bastian wishes this for himself: his strength, endurance, and determination are limitless, but he still feels the discomfort of thirst and exertion in the desert.
  • No Ending: The book purposefully leaves almost all subplots — such as what happened to the four messengers, Cairon's fate after meeting Atreyu, the adventures of Hero Hyrneck, what became of Ghemmal and of Sikanada — hanging. Hence the title. However, Bastian's main plot is resolved.
  • No Ontological Inertia: After Uyulala, the voice of the Southern oracle, tells Atreyu she will cease to exist, the first gate, the sphinxes go away. That part of the gate then falls and the large boulders left look as though they have been sitting on the ground for centuries complete with old moss growth.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, lampshaded, and discussed by Bastian in the real world while reading the book. After he goes into Fantastica, it is then played straight.
  • No Fourth Wall: Neither for real, nor inside the book.
    • The point of the book was that the book Bastian was reading was luring Bastian into breaking the fourth wall of the book. His scream is heard in the book, Atreyu enters into his image in the second gate to the Southern Oracle, and Bastian actually sees the Childlike Empress as Atreyu first saw her. Eventually, Bastian broke through the fourth wall.
    • The narration describing the geography of Fantastica is introduced as a pause in the story to talk directly to the audience.
    • 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 loses 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".
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Ygramul the Many is spoken of as a force of evil by the greenskins, who sing a song about the danger of falling into his clutches if they should venture into the dead mountains. Despite this, he is just a creature who needs food to survive like any other, although his meals tend to be rather large and some of them are sentient, like Falcor. He gives Atreyu some helpful advice; he must measure his quest in terms of The Childlike Empress's life and not his, which means he can't afford to take months or years to find her a cure. He even gives Atreyu the means to reach the southern oracle instantly, although the means are fatal; his poison bite allows the victim to teleport to anywhere their heart desires. Ygramul can't help this as it's simply his nature, and he suggests that it's still a better deal than sitting around waiting for the childlike empress to die and the nothing to overtake all of Fantastica.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: Bastian falls into this trap with a lot of his wishes. In many cases it's because he's careless or he means well but hasn't fully thought through the potential consequences of his actions, although there are some situations where he is also doing the 'right' thing for selfish reasons (namely, doing something that seems good because he wants everyone to see him as benevolent or because he thinks he'll benefit from doing so rather than because it's the right thing to do). This is lampshaded when he makes his beloved mule's most fervent desire to have children come true in order to give himself a reason to 'upgrade' to a seemingly better mount, only to feel curiously ambivalent and guilty afterwards despite seemingly doing a good thing for her:
    A person's reasons for doing someone a good turn matter as much as the good turn itself.
  • 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.
  • Obviously Evil: Xayide, although Bastian fails to realize this.
  • Oh Look, More Rooms!: In the Temple of a Thousand Rooms, each door leads to a new room with two other doors. If a person doesn't have a concept where he wants to go, he will never leave. finding a new room behind every door. Eventually, for those who can find a way, a door will open into a part of Fantastica that is relevant to where the person wants to be.
  • Older Than They Look: Time in Fantastica flows in strange ways:
    • When Bastian arrives at the Ivory Tower, he finds out that the Childlike Empress has not been there "for a long, long time" - even though Atreyu has not aged noticeably since he met her up there.
    • Later, when Bastian makes his way to Dame Eyola's House of Change, she tells him his travels began 100 years ago. Bastian doesn't believe it at first, but he eventually acknowledges it has indeed been 100 years without him (or anyone in Fantastica) aging.
  • The Old North Wind: Lirr, the black North Wind, is one of the four giant elemental embodiments who guard the winds of Fantastica.
  • 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 new name. Of course, the people of two worlds were hanging in the balance, so she had justification.
  • Only One Name: Everyone in Fantastica.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Falkor is 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, one black and one white. Inside it is a pocket dimension where the Water of Life is guarded by the actual two giant serpents, whose strength would destroy the world if they let go of each other's tails.
  • 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 is well-intentioned, but he has become depressed and distant after his wife died and has ended up pretty much ignoring his son.
  • Parental Substitute: Dame Eyola becomes this to Bastian for a time, taking the role of his deceased mother.
  • 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.
  • Planet of Hats: The Yskalnari are physically identical to underscore their lack of individuality: in their minds, they all exist as a single unit, distinguished only by their duties.
  • Portal Book: The "The Neverending Story" book works as a portal to Fantastica.
  • 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 hundred years. Bastian does this. Speaking the stone's name backwards will have it release all its hundred years of light in a single instant. Bastian does this, and the stone 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.
  • Reading Ahead in the Script: Subverted when the Childlike Empress asks the Old Man of Wandering Mountain to read ahead in the Neverending Story that he is writing. He tells her there is nothing but empty pages.
  • Reality-Breaking Paradox: What happens to humans in Fantastica who crown themselves emperor, or try to. Through wishing upon AURYN, they try to use the Childlike Empress's power to take her power away from her which results in their minds utterly breaking from the paradox. AURYN disappears from them and they suffer a complete loss of memory of the human world. This renders them mindless gibbering fools who can never return home. After all, the Empress is called "The Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes" for a damn good reason.
  • 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.
  • Reality-Writing Book: The book the Old Man of Wandering Mountain writes doesn't change reality, but merely records everything that happens in Fantastica. Of course, when you're in Fantastica and someone reads the book, history literally repeats itself.
    • Really 700 Years Old: The Childlike Empress is as youthful as her name implies, but has existed as long or longer than Fantastica itself. Slightly subverted, as on a metaphysically level, giving her a new name makes her a new person, just as Fantastica is reborn whenever it is rescued. As the book itself explains, a story written yesterday can be about something that happened a thousand years old, therefore everything in that story is a thousand years old to those within the story.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted with Hero Hynreck, who saved his one true love Princess Oglamar but decided he no longer wanted to marry her.
  • 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.
  • Sapient Steed: Falkor the luckdragon, who carries Atreyu and on occasion Bastian on his back, and Yikka the talking mule.
  • Savage Wolf: Gmork is a hitman sent by "the force behind the Nothing" to kill Atreyu and thereby doom the world.
  • Save Both Worlds: If humans stop inventing new stories, Fantastica begins to decay, and its residents are forced into the human worlds as lies and delusions that stifle human imagination and further hastens Fantastica's destruction, resulting in a deadly cycle that can only be stopped when Fantastica is healed.
  • 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.
  • Serpent of Immortality: This is the visual motif behind AURYN, the amulet representing the power of the immortal Childlike Empress.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The section with Engywook, as he tragically understands. Engywook has spent decades of his life trying to solve the mystery of the Southern Oracle. Finally, Atreyu tells him the final aspect of who she is but adds that the Southern Oracle will no longer exist. Atreyu was her final audience.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: 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.
    • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: Quotes the Twelfth Night song that begins:
      When that I was and a little tiny boy
      With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
    • Tolkien's Legendarium is referenced on a number of occasions:
      • The dragon Smerg, which sounds an awful lot like Smaug
      • Smerg's lair is said to be in a land called Morgul, which is a name applied to multiple places and objects in Middle Earth.
      • The construction and layout of the Ivory Tower is quite similar to that of Minas Tirith.
      • The bark trolls are awfully similar to Ents in their description.
  • 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 name of the Luckdragon. The German name is "Fuchur" Due to the magic that is English pronounciation the resulting name would be more fit for an unintentional Cluster F-Bomb. The original name is roughly pronounced "/foo/-throaty german/scottish 'ch'- ooa" in German.
  • 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.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: The Childlike Empress, which leads to her official title, "The Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes."
  • Symbolic Baptism: The only way to ultimately restore Bastian's humanity and ability to love is the Water of Life, an enormous fountain located inside the AURYN itself, and from which he emerges naked and reborn.
  • Synchronized Swarming: Ygramul the Many, which forms a devilish face, a giant scorpion, a fist...
  • Talking Animal: Many, if not most, of the animals in Fantastica seem to be able to talk.
  • Taken for Granite:
    • Smerg's ice-cold breath has this effect, and turns some trees to stone.
    • Grogramann every night.
  • Taxidermy Terror: Bastian sees the preserved heads of a fox, an eagle and an owl, and later in Fantastica he meets three sages with the heads of said animals.
  • Technicolor Eyes: The Childlike Empress has solid golden eyes.
  • That's No Moon!: Morla. Atreyu thinks she lives on Tortoise Shell Mountain so he climbs it to find her - only to find out that Morla is the Tortoise Shell Mountain.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You:
    • Bastian looks out at the fourth wall outright of the book he was reading during one chapter...
    • And the Childlike Empress outright demands for the Old Man Of Wandering Mountain to read the book that YOU are reading, creating an endless loop based round that one event!
  • The Resenter: This is Gmork's reason for wanting to see Fantastica destroyed; the Fantasticans have a world to call home, and he never did.
  • Threshold Guardians:
    • The two golden sphinxes Atreyu has to pass on his way to the Southern Oracle.
    • The second doorway to the Oracle is 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."
  • Towering Flower:
    • The top of the Ivory Tower, where the Childlike Empress herself resides, is shaped like an enormous lotus bud. Its petal-wall sometimes "blossom" to reveal the Empress herself seated in the center, a sight Falcor has witnessed.
    • Horok, Xayide the witch's hand-shaped castle, is surrounded by a forest of orchids taller than a man — orchids that also happen to be carnivorous, thus serving as a first layer of protection around her lair.
  • Trapped in Another World: The City of Old Emperors is full of former humans who eventually turned into true Fantasticans and can never leave. Bastian narrowly avoids this fate.
  • Turtle Island: The ancient Morla who lives in the Swamps of Sadness is so large that her carapace can be easily mistaken for a hill, and in fact forms the landmark known as Tortoise Shell Mountain.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first half of the book is a fairly conventional fantasy adventure. The second half is considerably heavier and more philosophical.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The second half of the book deconstructs the idea of The Chosen One Trapped in Another World. After physically entering Fantastica and rebuilding it, Bastian's newfound ego runs amok. Rather than heal the world, he does tremendous harm to feed his power fantasies, leading to a number of tragic events. He is ultimately only able to go home when Atreyu and Falcor selflessly agree to fix all the damage he did. But the book predates these tropes becoming very commonplace in children's fiction by a wide margin.
  • The Unseen: The Manipulators that Gmork works for. Also Gaya the Dark Princess, who traps him in Spook City.
  • Vague Age: Bastian is described as being a boy of ten or twelve.
  • Villainous BSoD: After Bastian abandons her, Xayide appears to suffer one of these, as she appears to allow her hollow army to trample her to death while making no move to escape them.
  • 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 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.
  • Wham Line: skooB dlO rednaeroK darnoK lraK. Makes no sense, does it? Well, Look at the mirrored text on the VERY FIRST PAGE OF YOUR BOOK.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Invoked: "But that is another story and shall be told another time".
  • Witch Species: Witches are mentioned among the doctors who come to inspect the Childlike Empress, and the inhabitants of Spook City. Xayide is also an evil sorceress. Since none of the natives of Fantastica are truly human, they must be this.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Happens to Bastian towards the end.
  • Worldbuilding: One of the most prominent deconstructions of this trope. Many chapters end by tailing off abruptly, excusing itself by saying that it's Another Story for Another Time. It gets through illustrating people, places and things and then stops because the story recognises that a world should be far greater than the narrative it serves. Fully fleshing it all out would bog the story down in endless description of yet more people, places and things in order to explain where these people, places and things came from. In doing so it posits that, in order to fully realise a fictional setting, you'd have to literally write a neverending story.
  • 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.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside:
    • 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 100 years in Fantasia while only about 12 hours pass on Earth.

Adaptations with their own trope pages include:

Other adaptations provide examples of:

  • I Ate WHAT?!: In the third episode of the live-action adaptation, Atreyu and Tartus enjoy a meal they got from the escaped Woodlanders children, but when they hear the ingredients, they stop immediately.
  • Plant Person: Barktroll is a humanoid, ambulatory tree with leaf-hair and twigs growing from his back.

The people who read this story and found these tropes and edited this page went on to read other stories, and find other tropes, and edit other pages, and other adventures besides. But that is another story, and shall be told another time...

Alternative Title(s): Neverending Story


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