Title: The Neverending Story.
Author: Michael Ende (translated by Ralph Manheim).
Genre: Fiction, teen, YA, fantasy, adventure, philosophical fiction.
Publication Date: 1979.
Summary: Small, fat and insignificant, Bastian Balthazar Bux is nobody's idea of a hero, least of all his own. One day he steals a mysterious book and hides away to read it—only to find himself stepping through its pages into the world of Fantastica. Enchanted, perilous, dying, Fantastica is waiting for a Messiah, its faery people doomed, until Bastian appears as their Saviour—and in doing so saves himself.
My rating: 10/10.
♥ Human passions have mysterious ways, in children as well as grown-ups. Those affected by them can't explain them, and those who haven't known them have no understanding of them at all. Some people risk their lives to conquer a mountain peak. No one, not even they themselves, can really explain why. Others ruin themselves trying to win the heart of a certain person who wants nothing to do with them. Still others are destroyed by their devotion to the pleasures of the table. Some are so bent on winning a game of chance that they lose everything they own, and some sacrifice everything for a dream that can never come true. Some think their only hope of happiness lies in being somewhere else, and spend their whole lives traveling from place to place. And some find no rest until they have become powerful. In short, there are as many different passions as there are people.
Bastian Balthazar Bux's passion was books.
If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger—
If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early—
If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless—
If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next.
♥ "I wonder," he said to himself, "what's in a book while it's closed. Oh, I know it's full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there's a whole story with people I don't know yet and all kinds of adventures and deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut up in the book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it's already there, that's the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be."
♥ The Childlike Empress—as her title indicates—was looked upon as the ruler over all the innumerable provinces of the Fantastical Empire, but in reality she was far more than a ruler; she was something entirely different.
She didn't rule, she had never used force or made use of her power. She never issued commands and she never judged anyone. She never interfered with anyone and never had to defend herself against any assailant; for no one would have thought of rebelling against her or of harming her in any way. In her eyes all her subjects were equal.
She was simply there in a special way. She was the center of all life in Fantastica.
And every creature, whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, merry or solemn, foolish or wise—all owed their existence to her existence. Without her, nothing could have lived, any more than a human body can life if it has lost its heart.
All knew this to be so, though no one fully understood her secret. Thus she was respected by all the creatures of the Empire, and her health was of equal concern to them all. For her death would have meant the end of them all, the end of the boundless Fantastical realm.
♥ A large golden amulet hung from a chain around his neck, and on this amulet one could make out two snakes, one light and one dark, which were biting each other's tail and so forming an oval.
Everyone in Fantastica knew what the medallion meant. It was the badge of one acting on orders fro the Childlike Empress, acting in her name as though she herself were present.
It was said to give the bearer mysterious powers, though no one knew exactly what these powers were. Everyone knew its name: AURYN.
But many, who feared to pronounce the name, called it the "Gem" or the "Glory."
♥ These purple buffaloes were about twice the size of common bulls or cows; they had long, purplish-red hair with a silky sheen and enormous horns with tops as hard and sharp as daggers. They were peaceful as a rule, but when they scented danger or thought they were being attacked, they could be as terrible as a natural cataclysm. Only a Greenskin would have dared to hunt these beasts, and moreover they used no other weapons than bows and arrows. The Greenskins were believers in chivalrous combat, and often it was not the hunted but the hunter who lost his life. The Greenskins loved and honored the purple buffaloes and held that only those willing to be killed by them had the right to kill them.
♥ "AURYN gives you great power," he said solemnly, "but you must not make use of it. For the Childlike Empress herself never makes use of her power. AURYN will protect you and guide you, but whatever comes your way you must never interfere, because from this moment on your own opinion ceases to count. For that same reason you must go unarmed. You must let what happens happen. Everything must be equal in your eyes, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, foolish and wise, just as it is in the eyes of the Childlike Empress. You may only search and inquire, never judge. Always remember that, Atreyu!"
♥ "My parents were both killed by a buffalo, soon after I was born."
"Who brought you up?"
"All the men and women together. That's why they called me Atreyu, which in our language means 'Son of All'!"
♥ And farther still there was nothing, absolutely nothing. Not a bare stretch, not darkness, not some lighter color; no, it was something the eyes could not bear, something that made you feel you had gone blind. For no eye can bear the sight of utter nothingness. Atreyu held his hand before his face and nearly fell off his branch. He clung tight for a moment, then climbed down as fast as he could. He had seen enough. At last he really understood the horror that was spreading through Fantastica.
♥ "Sakes alive!" Morla gurgled. "We're old, son, much too old. Lived long enough. Seen too much. When you know as much as we do, nothing matters. Things just repeat. Day and night, summer and winter. The world is empty and aimless. Everything circles around. Whatever starts up must pass away, whatever is born must die. It call cancels out, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Everything's empty. Nothing is real. Nothing matters. ..Your life is short, son. Ours is long. Much too long. But we both live in time. You a short time. We a long time. The Childlike Empress has always been there. But she's not old. She has always been young. She still is. Her life isn't measured by time, but by names. She needs a new name. She keeps needing new names. Do you know her name, son?"
"No," Atreyu admitted. "I never heard it.
"You couldn't have," said Morla. "Not even we can remember it. Yet she has had many names. But they're all forgotten. Over and done with. But without a name she can't live. All the Childlike Empress needs is a new name, then she'll get well. But it makes no difference whether she gets well or not."
She closed her pond-sized eyes and began slowly to pull in her head.
"Wait!" cried Atreyu. "Where can she get a name? Who can give her one? Where can I find the name?"
"None of us," Morla gurgled. "No inhabitant of Fantastica can give her a new name."
♥ And then this spooky creature of darkness that was chasing Atreyu without his knowing it. Bastian would have liked to warn him, but that was impossible. All he could do was hope, and go on reading.
♥ "No," he said aloud in the stillness of the attic. "Atreyu wouldn't give up just because things were getting a little rough. What I've started I must finish. I've gone too far to turn back. Regardless of what may happen, I have to go forward."
He felt very lonely, yet there was a kind of pride in his loneliness. He was proud of standing firm in the face of temptation.
He was a little like Atreyu after all.
♥ Luckdragons are among the strangest animals in Fantastica. They bear no resemblance to ordinary dragons, which look like loathsome snakes and live in deep caves, diffusing a noxious stench and guarding some real or imaginary treasure. Such spawn of chaos are usually wicked or ill-tempered, they have batlike wings with which they can rise clumsily and noisily into the air, and they spew fire and smoke. Luckdragons are creatures of air, warmth, and pure joy. Despite their great size, they are as light as a summer cloud, and consequently need no wings for flying. They swim in the air of heaven as fish swim in water. Seen from the earth, they look like slow lightning flashes. The most amazing thing about them is their song. Their voice sounds like the golden note of a large bell, and when they speak softly the bell seems to be ringing in the distance. Anyone who has heard this sound will remember it as long as he lives and tell his grandchildren about it.
♥ Her single eye had a vertical pupil, which stared at Atreyu with inconceivable malignancy.
A cry of fear escaped Bastian.
A cry of terror passed through the ravine and echoed from side to side. Ygramul turned her eye to left and right, to see if someone else had arrived, for that sound could not have been made by the boy who stood there as though paralyzed with horror.
Could she have heard my cry? Bastian wondered in alarm. But that's not possible.
♥ "Will you set the luckdragon free if I ask it in the name of the Childlike Empress?" he finally asked.
"No!" said the face. "You have no right to ask that of Ygramul even if you are wearing AURYN, the Gem. The Childlike Empress takes us all as we are. That's why Ygramul respects her emblem."
♥ "..Everything will turn out all right. You'll see."
"I can't imagine how," said Atreyu.
"Neither can I," said the luckdragon. "But that's the wonderful part of it. From now on you'll succeed in everything you attempt. Because I'm a luckdragon. Even when I was caught in the web, I didn't give up hope. And as you see, I was right."
.."I've got to do something. But what?"
"Have luck," said Falkor. "What else?"
♥ "..But even so, no one can get through"—here Engywook raised a tiny forefinger—"unless the sphinxes close their eyes. And do you know why? The gaze of a sphinx is different from the gaze of any other creature. You and I and everyone else—our eyes take something in. We see the world. A sphinx sees nothing. In a sense she is blind. But her eyes send something out. And what do her eyes send out? All the riddles of the universe. That's why these sphinxes are always looking at each other. Because only another sphinx can stand a sphinx's gaze. So try to imagine what happens to one who ventures into the area where those two gazes meet. He freezes to the spot, unable to move until he has solved all the riddles of the world. If you go there, you'll find the remains of those poor devils. ..The sphinxes shut their eyes for some travelers and let them though. The question that no one has answered up until now is this: Why one traveler and not another? Because you mustn't suppose they let wise, brave, or good people through, and keep the stupid, cowardly, and wicked out. Not a bit of it! With my own eyes I've seen them admit stupid fools and treacherous knaves, while decent, sensible people have given up after being kept waiting for months. And it seems to make no difference whether a person has some serious reason for consulting the Oracle, or whether he's just come for the fun of it. ..And I'm not so sure the sphinxes would obey the Childlike Empress. Maybe they are greater than she is. I don't know. I don't know."
♥ "..The Magic Mirror Gate. As I've said, I myself have not been able to observe it, what I tell you has been gleaned from travelers' accounts. This second gate is both open and closed. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? It might be better to say: neither closed nor open. Though that doesn't make it any less crazy. The point is that this gate seems to be a big mirror or something of the kind, though it's made neither of glass nor of metal. What it is made of, no one has ever been able to tell me. Anyway, when you stand before it, you see yourself. But not as you would in an ordinary mirror. You don't see your outward appearance; what you see is your real innermost nature. If you want to go through, you have to—in a manner of speaking—go into yourself."
"Well," said Atreyu. "It seems to me that this Magic Mirror Gate is easier to get through than the first."
"Wrong!" cried Engywook. Once again he began to trot back and forth in agitation. "Dead wrong, my friend! I've known travelers who considered themselves absolutely blameless to yelp with horror and run away at the sight of the monster grinning out of the mirror at them. We had to care for some of them for weeks before they were even able to start home."
♥ "..the No-Key Gate is closed. Simply closed. And that's that! There's no handle and no doorknob and no keyhole. Nothing. My theory is that this single, hermetically closed door is made of Fantastican selenium. You may know that there's no way of destroying, bending, or dissolving Fantastical selenium. It's absolutely indestructible."
"Then there's no way of getting through?"
"Not so fast. Not so fast, my boy. ..Just listen. Fantastican selenium reacts to our will. It's our will that makes it unyielding. But if someone succeeds in forgetting all purpose, in wanting nothing at all—to him the gate will open of its own accord."
♥ He had been through a good deal in the course of the Great Quest—he had seen beautiful things and horrible things—but up until now he had not known that one and the same creature can be both, that beauty can be terrifying.
The two monsters were bathed in moonlight, and as Atreyu approached them, they seemed to grow beyond measure. Their heads seemed to touch the moon, and their expression as they looked at each other seemed to change with every step he took. Currents of a terrible, unknown force flashed through the upraised bodies and still more through the almost human faces. It was as though these beings did not merely exist, but as if they were on the verge of vanishing, but would re-create themselves at the same time. For that very reason they seemed far more real than anything made of stone.
Fear gripped Atreyu.
Fear not so much of the danger that threatened him as of something above and beyond his own self. It hardly grazed his mind that if the sphinxes' gaze should strike him he would freeze to the spot forever. No, what made his steps heavier and heavier, until he felt as though he were made of cold gray lead, was fear of the unfathomable, of something intolerably vast.
Yet he went on. He stopped looking up. He kept his head bowed and walked very slowly, foot by foot, toward the stone gate. Heavier and heavier grew his burden of fear. He thought it would crush him, but still he went on. He didn't know whether the sphinxes had closed their eyes or not. Would he be admitted? Or would this be the end of his Great Quest? He had no time to lose in worrying. He just had to take his chances.
At a certain point he felt sure that he had not enough will power left to carry him a single step forward. And just then he heard the echo of his footfalls within the great vaulted gate. Instantly every last shred of fear fell from him, and he knew that whatever might happen he would never again be afraid.
Looking up, he saw that the Great Riddle Gate lay behind him. The sphinxes had let him through.
♥ "I thank you, friend, for your good will.
I'm glad that you have come to me.
I am Uyulala, the voice of silence,
In the Palace of Deep Mystery.
.."Yes and no and neither one.
I do not appear
In the brightness of the sun
As you appear,
For my body is but sound
That one can hear but never see,
And this voice you're hearing now
Is all there is of me.
.."Once my song is ended,
What comes to others soon or late,
When their bodies pass away,
Will also be my fate.
My life will last the time of my song,
But that will not be long.
.."Who can give the Childlike Empress
The new name that will make her well?
Not you, not I, no elf, no djinn,
Can save us from the evil spell.
For we are figures in a book—
We do what we were invented for,
But we can fashion nothing new
And cannot change from what we are.
But there's a realm outside Fantastica,
The Outer World is its name,
The people who live there are rich indeed
And not at all the same.
Born of the Word, the children of man,
Or humans, as they're sometimes called,
Have had the gift of giving names
Ever since our worlds began.
In every age it's they who gave
The Childlike Empress life,
For wondrous new names have the power to save.
But now for many and many a day,
No human has visited Fantastica,
For they no longer know the way.
They he forgotten how real we are,
They don't believe in us anymore.
Oh, if only one child of man would come,
Oh, then at last the thing would be done.
If only one would hear our plea.
For them it is near, but for us too far,
Never can we go out to them,
For theirs is the world of reality.
But tell me, my hero, you so young,
Will you remember what I have sung?"
"I will remember. I will remember every word.
But tell me, what shall I do with what I've heard?"
.."That is for you alone to decide.
I've told you what was in my heart.
So this is when our ways divide,
When you and I must part."
..Again he heard the sobbing in the voice, which receded more and more as it sang:
"The Nothing has come near,
The Oracle is dying.
No one again will hear
Uyulala laughing, sighing.
You are the last to hear
My voice among the columns,
Sounding far and near.
Perhaps you will accomplish
What no one else has done,
But to succeed, young hero,
Remember what I have sung."
And then, farther and farther in the distance, Atreyu heard the words:
"Oh, nothing can happen more than once,
But all things must happen one day.
Over hill and dale, over wood and stream,
My dying voice will blow away."
♥ Fear gripped the luckdragon and his rider, and at first they changed direction to avoid looking at the horror. But, strange as it may seem, horror loses its power to frighten when repeated too often. And since the patches of Nothing became more and more frequent, the travelers were gradually getting used to them.
♥ No longer was Atreyu a dragon rider, and no longer was he the Childlike Empress's messenger. He was only a little boy. And all alone.
♥ Again the floor creaked.
What if there were ghosts in this attic!
"Nonsense!" said Bastian none too loudly. "There's no such thing! Everyone knows that."
Then why were there so many stories about them?
Maybe all the people who say ghosts don't exist are just afraid to admit that they do.
♥ For the first time he was fully aware of how much he needed the Childlike Empress's amulet and how helpless he was without it. And not only or even mainly because of the protection it had give him—it was thanks to his own strength, after all, that he had stood up to all the hardships and terrors and the loneliness of his Quest—but as long as he had carried the emblem, he had never been at a loss for what to do. Like a mysterious compass, it had guided his thoughts in the right direction. And now that was changed, now he had no secret power to lead him.
♥ But Falkor wouldn't give up. ..Being a luckdragon, he never doubted for a moment that everything would come out all right in the end.
♥ “Tell me the secret. What will I be in the world of humans?”
Again Gmork sank into a long silence. His breath came in convulsive gasps. Then suddenly he raised himself on his forepaws. Atreyu had to look up at him. And then for the first time he saw how big and terrifying the werewolf was. When Gmork spoke, his voice was like the jangling of chains.
“Have you seen the Nothing, sonny?”
“Yes, many times.”
“What does it look like?”
“As if one were blind.”
“That’s right—and when you get to the human world, the Nothing will cling to you. You’ll be like a contagious disease that makes humans blind, so they can no longer distinguish between reality and illusion. Do you know what you and your kind are called there?”
“No,” Atreyu whispered.
“Lies!” Gmork barked.
Atreyu shook his head. All the blood had gone out of his lips.
“How can that be?”
Gmork was enjoying Atreyu’s consternation. This little talk was cheering him up. After a while, he went on:
“You ask me what you will be there. But what are you here? What are you creatures of Fantastica? Dreams, poetic inventions, characters in a neverending story. Do you think you’re real? Well yes, here in your world you are. But when you’ve been through the Nothing, you won’t be real anymore. You’ll be unrecognizable. And you will be in another world. In that world, you Fantasticans won’t be anything like yourselves. You will bring delusion and madness into the human world. Tell me, sonny, what do you suppose will become of all the Spook City folk who have jumped into the Nothing?”
“I don’t know,” Atreyu stammered.
“They will become delusions in the minds of human beings, fears where there is nothing to fear, desires for vain, hurtful things, despairing thoughts where there is no reason to despair.”
“All of us?” asked Atreyu in horror.
“No,” said Gmork, “there are many kinds of delusion. According to what you are here, ugly or beautiful, stupid or clever, you will become ugly or beautiful, stupid or clever lies.”
“What about me?” Atreyu asked. “What will I be?”
“I won’t tell you that. You’ll see. Or rather, you won’t see, because you won’t be yourself anymore.”
Atreyu stared at the werewolf with wide-open eyes.
Gmork went on:
“That’s why humans hate Fantastica and everything that comes from here. They want to destroy it. And they don’t realize that by trying to destroy it they multiply the lies that keep flooding the human world. For these lies are nothing other than creatures of Fantastica who have ceased to be themselves and survive only as living corpses, poisoning the souls of men with their fetid smell. But humans don’t know it. Isn’t that a good joke?”
“And there’s no one left in the human world,” Atreyu asked in a whisper, “who doesn’t hate and fear us?”
“I know of none,” said Gmork. “And it’s not surprising, because you yourselves, once you’re there, can’t help working to make humans believe that Fantastica doesn’t exist.”
“Doesn’t exist?” the bewildered Atreyu repeated.
“That’s right, sonny,” said Gmork. “In fact, that’s the heart of the matter. Don’t you see? If humans believe Fantastica doesn’t exist, they won’t get the idea of visiting your country. And as long as they don’t know you creatures of Fantastica as you really are, the Manipulators do what they like with them.”
“What can they do?”
“Whatever they please. When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts. That’s why I sided with the powerful and served them—because I wanted to share their power.”
“I want no part in it!” Atreyu cried out.
“Take it easy, you little fool,” the werewolf growled. “When your turn comes to jump into the Nothing, you too will be a nameless servant of power, with no will of your own. Who knows what use they will make of you? Maybe you’ll help them persuade people to buy things they don’t need, or hate things they know nothing about, or hold beliefs that make them easy to handle, or doubt the truths that might save them. Yes, you little Fantastican, big things will be done in the human world with your help, wars started, empires founded...”
For a time Gmork peered at the boy out of half-closed eyes. Then he added: “The human world is full of weak-minded people, who think they’re as clever as can be and are convinced that it’s terribly important to persuade even the children that Fantastica doesn’t exist. Maybe they will be able to make good use for you.”
Atreyu stood there with bowed head.
Now he knew why humans had stopped coming to Fantastica and why none would come to give the Childlike Empress new names. The more of Fantastica that was destroyed, the more lies flooded the human world, and the more unlikely it became that a child of man should come to Fantastica. It was a vicious circle from which there was no escape. Now Atreyu knew it.
And so did someone else: Bastian Balthazar Bux.
He now realized that not only was Fantastica sick, but the human world as well. The two were connected. He had always felt this, though he could not have explained why it was so. He had never been willing to believe that life had to be as gray and dull as people claimed. He heard them saying: "Life is like that," but he couldn't agree. He never stopped believing in mysteries and miracles.
And now he knew that someone would have to go to Fantastica to make both worlds well again.
If no human knew the way, it was precisely because of the lies and delusions that came into the world because Fantastica was being destroyed. It was these lies and delusions that made people blind.
With horror and shame Bastian thought of his own lies. He didn't count the stories he made up. That was something entirely different. But now and then he had told deliberate lies—sometimes as a way of getting something he wanted, sometimes just to puff himself up. What inhabitants of Fantastica might he have maimed and destroyed with his lies?
One thing was plain: He too had contributed to the sad state of Fantasica. And he was determined to do something to make it well again. He owed it to Atreyu, who was prepared to make any sacrifice to bring Bastian to Fantastica. He had to find the way.
♥ Here it seems necessary to pause for a moment and explain a special feature of Fantastican geography. Continents and oceans, mountains and watercourses, have no fixed locations as in the real world. Thus it would be quite impossible to draw a map of Fantastica. In Fantastica you can never be sure in advance what will be next to what. Even the directions—north, south, east, and west—change from one part of the country to another. And the same goes for summer and winter, day and night. You can step out of a blazing hot desert straight into snowfields. In Fantastica there are no measurable distances, so that "near" and "far" don't at all mean what they do in the real world. They vary with the traveler's wishes and state of mind. Since Fantastica has no boundaries, its center can be anywhere—or to put it another way, it is equally near to, or far from, anywhere. It all depends on who is trying to reach the center. And the innermost center of Fantastica is the Ivory Tower.
♥ "The Childlike Empress. Or rather, the Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes. Because that's how you must address her when you come into her presence."
"No, I've never seen her."
"I have. That was long ago. Your great-grandfather must have been a little boy at the time. And I was a young cloud-snapper with a head full of foolishness. One night I saw the moon, shining so big and round, and I tried to grab it out of the sky. When I finally give up, I dropped with exhaustion and landed near the Ivory Tower. That night the Magnolia Pavilion had opened its petals wide, and the Childlike Empress was sitting right in the middle of it. She cast a glance at me, just one short glance, but—I hardly know how to put it—that glance made a new dragon of me."
"What does she look like?"
"Like a little girl. But she's much older than the oldest inhabitants of Fantastica. Or rather, she's ageless."
.."Who is she?"
"What do you mean?"
"AURYN has power over all the inhabitants of Fantastica, the creatures of both light and darkness. It also has power over you and me. And yet the Childlike Empress never exerts power. It's as if she weren't there. And yet she is in everything. Is she like us?"
"No," said Falkor, "she's not like us. She's not a creature of Fantastica. We all exist because she exists. But she's of a different kind."
"Then is she..." Atreyu hesitated. "Is she human?"
"No," said Falkor, "she's not human."
"Well then..." And Atreyu repeated his question. "Who is she?"
After a long silence Falkor answered: "No one in Fantastica knows, no one can know. That's the deepest secret of our world. I once heard a wise man say that if anyone were to know the whole answer, he would cease to exist. I don't know what he meant. That's all I can tell you."
♥ No one who reaches or has reached that pavilion can say how he got there. The last stretch of the way must come to him as a gift.
♥ He tried to remember Moon Child's eyes, but was no longer able to.
He was sure of only one thing: that her glance had passed through his eyes and down into his heart. He could still feel the burning trail it had left behind. That glance, he felt, was embedded in his heart, and there it glittered like a mysterious jewel. And in a strange and wonderful way it hurt.
Even if Bastian had wanted to, he couldn't have defended himself against this thing that had happened to him. However, he didn't want to. Oh no, not for anything in the world would he have parted with that jewel. All he wanted was to go on reading, to see Moon Child again, to be with her.
It never occurred to him that he was getting into the most unusual and perhaps the most dangerous of adventures.
♥ The Childlike Empress's eyes grew grave.
"I was not having a joke at your expense, Atreyu," she said. "I am well aware of what I owe you. All your sufferings were necessary. I sent you on the Great Quest—not for the sake of the message you would bring me, but because that was the only way of calling our savior. He took part in everything you did, and he has come all that long way with you. You heard his cry of fear when you were talking with Ygramul beside the Deep Chasm, and you saw him when you stood facing the Magic Mirror Gate. You entered into his image and took it with you, and he followed you, because he saw himself through your eyes. And now, too, he can hear every word we are saying. He knows we are talking about him, he knows we have set our hope in him and are expecting him. Perhaps he even understands that all the hardship you, Atreyu, took upon yourself was for his sake and that all Fantastica is calling him.
.."Yes, it is true,” said the Childlike Empress, and her golden eyes darkened. “All lies were once creatures of Fantastica. They are made of the same stuff—but they have lost their true nature and become unrecognizable. But, as you might expect from a half-and-half creature like Gmork, he told you only half the truth. There are two ways of crossing the dividing line between Fantastica and the human world, a right one and a wrong one. When humans, children of man, come to our world of their own free will, that’s the right way. Every human who has been here has learned something that could be learned only here, and returned to his own world a changed person. Because he had seen you creatures in your true form, he was able to see his own world and his fellow humans with new eyes. Where he had seen only dull, everyday reality, he now discovered wonders and mysteries. That is why humans were glad to come to Fantastica. And the more these visits enriched our world, the fewer lies there were in theirs, the better it became. Just as our two worlds can injure each other, they can also make each other whole again.”
♥ TURN BACK! TURN BACK AND GO AWAY!
FOR COME WHAT WILL AND COME WHAT MAY,
NEVER IN ANY TIME OR PLACE
MUST YOU AND I MEET FACE TO FACE.
TO YOU ALONE, O CHILDLIKE ONE,
THE WAY IS BARRED, TO YOU ALONE.
TURN BACK, TURN BACK, FOR NEVER SHALL
BEGINNING SEEK THE END OF ALL.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF YOUR INTRUSION
CAN ONLY BE EXTREME CONFUSION.
..WHAT YOU ACHIEVE AND WHAT YOU ARE
IS RECORDED BY ME, THE CHRONICLER.
LETTERS UNCHANGEABLE AND DEAD
FREEZE WHAT THE LIVING DID AND SAID.
THEREFORE BY COMING HERE TO ME
YOU INVITE CATASTROPHE.
THIS IS THE END OF WHAT YOU ONCE BEGAN.
YOU NEVER WILL BE OLD, AND I, OLD MAN,
WAS NEVER YOUNG. WHAT YOU AWAKEN
I LAY TO REST. BE NOT MISTAKEN:
IT IS FORBIDDEN THAT LIFE SHOULD SEE
ITSELF IN DEAD ETERNITY.
..BUT IF YOU STILL REFUSE TO HEED
THE WARNING OF THE LADDER'S SCREED,
IF YOU ARE STILL PREPARED TO DO
WHAT IN TIME AND SPACE IS FORBIDDEN YOU,
I WON'T ATTEMPT TO HOLD YOU BACK,
THEN WELCOME TO THE OLD MAN'S SHACK.
♥ The Childlike Empress read what was being written, and it was exactly what was happening at that same moment: “The Childlike Empress read what was being written...”
“You write down everything that happens,” she said.
“Everything that I write down happens,” was the answer, spoken in the deep, dark voice that had come to her like an echo of her own voice.
Strange to say, the Old Man of Wandering Mountain had not opened his mouth. He had written her words and his, and she had heard them as though merely remembering that he had just spoken. “Are you and I and all Fantastica,” she asked, “are we all recorded in this book?”
He wrote, and at the same time she heard his answer: “No, you’ve got it wrong. This book is Fantastica—and you and I.”
“But where is this book?”
And he wrote the answer: “In the book.”
“Then it’s all a reflection of a reflection?” she asked.
He wrote, and she heard him say: “What does one see in a mirror reflected in a mirror? Do you know that, Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes?”
The Childlike Empress said nothing for a while, and the Old Man wrote that she said nothing.
Then she said softly: “I need your help.”
“I knew it,” he said and wrote.
“Yes,” she said. “I supposed you would. You are Fantastica’s memory, you know everything that has happened up to this moment. But couldn’t you leaf ahead in your book and see what’s going to happen?”
“Empty pages” was the answer. “I can only look back at what has happened. I was able to read it while I was writing it. And I know it because I have read it. And I wrote it because it happened. The Neverending Story writes itself by my hand.”
.."Tell me the story!" the Childlike Empress commanded. "You, who are the memory of Fantastica—tell me the story from the beginning, word for word as you have written it.
The Old Man's writing hand began to tremble.
"If I do that, I shall have to write everything all over again. And what I write will happen again."
"So be it!" said the Childlike Empress.
.."If the Neverending Story contains itself, then the world will end with this book."
And the Childlike Empress answered: But if the hero comes to us, new life can be born. Now the decision is up to him."
"You are ruthless indeed," the Old Man said and wrote. "We shall enter the Circle of Eternal Return, from which there is no escape."
"Not for us," she replied, and her voice was no longer gentle, but as hard and clear as a diamond. "Nor for him—unless he saves us all."
"Do you really want to entrust everything to a human?"
♥ Why, this was all about him! And it was the Neverending Story. He, Bastian, was a character in the book which until now he had thought he was reading. And heaven only knew who else might be reading it at the exact same time, also supposing himself to be just a reader.
And now Bastian was afraid.
♥ In that moment Bastian made a profound discovery. 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.
That is exactly how it was with Bastian.
Now that he was in danger of getting his wish, he would have liked best to run away. But since you can't run "away" unless you have some idea where you're at, Bastian did something perfectly absurd. He turned over on his back like a beetle and played dead. He made himself as small as possible and pretended he wasn't there.
♥ At that point the story began all over again—unchanged and unchangeable—and ended once again with the meeting between the Childlike Empress and the Old Man of Wandering Mountain, who began once again to write and tell the Neverending Story...
...and so it would go on for ever and ever, for any change in the sequence of events was unthinkable. Only he, Bastian, could do anything about it. And he would have to do something, or else he too would be included in the circle. It seemed to him that this story had been repeated a thousand times, as though there were no before and after and everything had happened at once. Now he realized why the Old Man's hand trembled. The Circle of Eternal Return was an end without an end.
Bastian was unaware of the tears that were running down his cheeks. Close to fainting, he suddenly cried out: "Moon Child, I'm coming!"
In that moment several things happened at once.
The shell of the great egg was dashed to pieces by some overwhelming power. A rumbling of thunder was heard. And then the storm wind came roaring from afar.
It blew from the pages of the book that Bastian was holding on his knees, and the pages began to flutter wildly. Bastian felt the wind in his hair and face. He could scarcely breathe. The candle flames in the seven-armed candelabrum danced, wavered, and lay flat. Then another, still more violent wind blew into the book, and the candles went out.
The clock in the belfry struck twelve.