The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Dir. Wolfgang Peterson, Warner Brothers
Based on the book by Michael Ende, Thienemann Verlag, 1979
Starring Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, and Tami Stronach
A boy reads the adventures of a young warrior who is trying to save the empress of a fantastical kingdom, and magically gets drawn into those adventures himself.
(The following text is a chapter from my upcoming movie devotional, Forged in Film!)
The movie The NeverEnding Story came out when I was in fourth grade, and I was immediately attracted to it for several reasons. One, like the main character Bastian, I was a big–time reader. I mean, I was obsessed with books. Having learned to read in kindergarten, I was reading chapter books by the first grade, and was constantly going about with a book in hand. I just found books so fascinating, other people’s stories, other people’s lives, other worlds that all seemed so much more exciting than my own. I also was bullied at school, had (and still do have) an extremely vivid imagination, and longed constantly for an adventure of my own. I used to wonder if any of the books I read were portals into other worlds, worlds that needed me, specifically, to save them. Oh, that would’ve been amazing.
I became sort of obsessed with books and used them quite often as an escape. I even used to get in trouble for hiding books in my desk during school and reading them during class, I couldn’t help it, I just had to know what happened. Books to me then were like smartphones to kids nowadays.
John Eldredge in his book, Epic, shares how important the power of Story is. Jesus taught in stories. We are attracted to great adventures in story because our lives are an adventure! We long to be the hero because we were created that way. Let’s get lost in the pages of The NeverEnding Story, and see how Story connects us all to each other.
As I noted above, I was bullied a lot in school. I’m still not totally sure why, except that I was, well, different. Always have been. Although some of you may find this hard to believe, I was then and still can be shy and quiet at times. But when I get excited about something is when I transform, and get very chatty and passionate! But back then (and still now, I guess) I was a big daydreamer and bookworm, and I suppose that made me an easy target to get picked on. I mean, I was a big daydreamer. When I’d be off in my own world, man, I was gone, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.
It was rough then, but I’m glad I had the experiences, because one, it helps me relate to those who have also had experiences like that. I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. And two, I overcame it and am stronger for it. If you have been or are being bullied, it’s rough. I know. I never got thrown in a dumpster, but I got called nasty names, pushed around physically, even spat on. I got my books and book bags thrown around, was tripped, kicked, had my things stolen, and had cruel things said about me. I get it. It’s rotten. And I know that bullying in today’s world has gotten much worse with the introduction of social media and cyberbullying.
I hope I can encourage you first by letting you know you’re not alone; I know the feeling, I really do. I remember feeling depressed, and frustrated. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, so I would just stand there and cry and take whatever was thrown at me. After many years I learned how to fly under the radar and it got a little better. Thankfully, as an adult, I was able to allow Jesus to do some work on those hurting, broken, and bruised places, and receive healing. Because He knows those feelings too, intimately. He also was beaten, whipped, called nasty names, teased, humiliated, spat upon. He too was attacked when He had done absolutely nothing.
This may not make you feel better, but I want you, reading this right now, to know this-you can get through this. What you are going through right now will not last forever, as much as the enemy would like you to believe it will. If you think you can’t make it through the next day, then break it down and make it through the next hour. If that’s still too long, make it through the next minute. And then the next one. Keep going. You are strong and in trials are being made even stronger. Seek help if you need it from a parent, teacher, mentor, whoever. But don’t give up. You’re not alone!
Coming up on the Men at the Movies podcast, I talk with Britt Mooney and Sarah Daniels about the Neverending Story. We all get tempted to either lose ourselves in escapism or busyness. But great stories have the capacity to reveal our worth and our identity. We were never meant to live an ordinary life. Every real story…is a never-ending story. Join us as we discover God’s truth in this movie.
The Power of Story
Ok, if you’re not a reader, you may not understand this.
There is an absolutely fantastic passage in the book version of The NeverEnding Story (by Michael Ende) regarding Bastian’s theft of the book that goes like this – “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 have totally experienced everything that Michael Ende describes here, so I absolutely get why Bastian stole the book. As a reader, as a dreamer, as one who longed for years to escape this world for a better one, I get it. To escape into a storybook that never ends would have been a dream come true for me! But, at that point, I didn’t realize…I was already part of one. We all are. It’s the great Story Book of Life that God has been writing since the beginning of time and is writing even now. Someday all will know what lies within the pages, good and bad, but it’s the most amazing Adventure Story ever, and you are in it as a main character!
A Need for Escape
Bastian is immediately caught up in the call of adventure, enough so to blow off school and hide in the attic just to read more about it. I mean, who can blame him? Bullied and thrown in a dumpster, a mother who has died and a father who doesn’t understand…Bastian needs an escape, and the book offers it to him. How many of you have ever wished your life could be more exciting? I have, and I know others who have as well. I’ve often thought that if you feel that way about your life, then you’re not seeing the bigger picture. Or, more specifically, you’re not seeing your life in a heavenly way. Sure, it’s easy to fall into the “daily grind”, where your days and activities can become repetitive, where nothing ever changes or anything exciting happens.
If you feel this way, let me make a suggestion, and encourage you to start a journal. “But Sarah,” you say, “I stink at writing!” Who says it has to be a written journal? There are so many forms of journaling that you may not have considered. You could start a video blog, or a podcast. (Neither of these things have to be public, either, unless you want them to be, although if you are going to do that I encourage you to follow the proper internet safety protocols.) You could do a photographic journal, or a doodle journal. Journals have many purposes and benefits, but one of them is it helps you take a “bigger picture” look at your life, and reading back, you can see that your life really is an Adventure! Also important to remember, what may feel boring about your own life can seem outrageous to someone else! For instance, you can have the mindset of “Man, my life is dull. I live on a farm and all I do is take care of animals.” Someone else could look at your life and be all, “Dude! You live on a farm and get to take care of animals? I wish I could do that!!”
One last thing…keeping a journal, any kind of journal, is sharing your Story, which could just maybe inspire and encourage another, which is exactly one of the things that Story is supposed to do.
The Weight of Grief
Like Atreyu and Bastian, I have lost people in my life, people I greatly cared about, and now my life is just a little bit less without them. I’m sure you have too, we all have. Grief is a terrible thing to bear, it hurts, many times physically, and at times feels like it will never end, and that you will just go on in pain forever. This may make you feel like you don’t want to love anyone ever again because you risk losing them if you do. Perhaps you’ve made a vow not to allow yourself to love or be loved again because you were hurt before. If that’s so, first of all, I’m so sorry that you felt driven to that point. That is a truly desperate place to be.
It’s true, if you don’t allow yourself to love, you may shield yourself from further pain. But consider the words of CS Lewis in his book The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Friend, please don’t let your heart harden because of past grief. Your heart is so precious, the center of who you are as a person, and you are so valuable! If you will let Him, God can meet you in your grief, and while He won’t take the pain away, He will walk with you through it, if you desire it. Your grief is precious to Him, what you have lost is precious to Him, and He would never abandon you to your grief to deal with it alone. I pray that you allow Him in like a Luckdragon, and grab hold of Him and allow Him to rescue you before despair takes you.
Also, if you are in such pain due to grief, loss, or whatever it is in your life that you feel you can’t deal with it, and that pain has caused to you seek a release from that pain in an unhealthy way, such as drugs, cutting, eating disorders, alcohol, etc., I pray first that you will instead see that Jesus offers a better way, and that you will consider taking refuge in His love instead, because His love, support, and encouragement can ultimately fill your broken places more than anything else on this earth ever could. And two, I urge you to recognize the areas that have become unhealthy in your life and seek support for those areas. Your life is important, you are important, and your pain is important.
Is it REALLY Real? (Part 1)
What in the what-what? How on earth is Atreyu able to see Bastian’s face in Fantasia? How is that even possible? Bastian is starting to see his dreams of being a part of the story becoming real, and he, quite naturally, freaks out. I mean, wouldn’t you? But, his curiosity gets the better of him, as he wonders if these fictional characters could really…maybe…be real?
So many people read the Bible and don’t realize its reality. We don’t realize that we are a part of its story! We are among Abraham’s descendants, and that when he was gazing at the stars, one of them was lit for you, friend. God came as a man called Jesus and died on a cross with you and me on His mind. And He rose from a tomb with an invitation for you, personally. Once you read the Bible that way, from a personal, God’s-talking-to-YOU way, yeah, like Bastian, that can freak you out. But, also like Bastian, doesn’t it make you just a little curious? Don’t you want to know…more?
Is it REALLY Real? (Part II)
As he continues to read, Bastian is getting more and more into the Story, imagining himself as being able to save Fantasia and its Empress, if only Atreyu could pick him. But as much as he wants to, he doesn’t really believe it…it’s just fun to imagine. To Bastian, the book is just a good story that would be super exciting to be a part of, like the many other books he has read. Meanwhile, Atreyu just wants to find an Earthing Child, any child, and the only thing separating them is Bastian’s lack of belief.
What would you think if you dreamed your whole life about being Luke Skywalker, and one day R2D2 actually showed up at your door with a hologram of Princess Leia, begging for help? Or you had always wanted to travel to Middle Earth and meet the Elves, and one night a gaggle of dwarves arrives on your doorstep in search of a burglar? Or you wish every night that you could live in Narnia and meet Aslan, and then while searching in your closet for a missing jacket you find that the back of it empties into a snow covered forest?
Would you freak out when you found out that all you’d dreamed of was real? Like, really real? Or would you ecstatically embrace it?
What if I told you God has a task for not just someone like you, but you, right now? What if I told you the Story, the Adventure is real? I’m not saying this lightly, but I am telling you that there is a whole aspect of reality that we can’t see or grasp, but that is no less real than the ground we walk on, the desk we sit at, and the car we drive in, and in fact, it’s more real than all that other stuff. It’s the realm of the supernatural, the spiritual, of eternity. We are living in it alongside our bodily existence, right now, and we can’t see with our mortal eyes all the things that are happening around us, and to us, as we go through our day. Think on that the next time you think your life is boring!
Failure...or is it?
Atreyu feels like he is failing. He can’t find an Earthling Child, he can’t even find the borders of Fantasia because it’s so large. He was set upon this task and he’s tried so hard, lost so much, come so far, and he still can’t give the Empress or the people of Fantasia what they need…and it’s almost too late.
Have you ever felt like a failure? (Yup!) Have you ever had people depending on you that you feel like you’ve let down? Or worked really, really hard on a project or paper only to be told it’s all wrong? Then you probably understand how Atreyu is feeling right now.
We all fail, it’s true, some of us pretty spectacularly. But it’s also important to remember what we do with that failure. Do we let it crush us, finish us? Or do we let it turn into a learning experience of how to do it better next time? Or do we accept the fact that we did everything humanly possible that we could, and that sometimes that must be enough, whether we accomplished what we set out to do or not. Sometimes we must fail in order to take the next step in the Adventure. Because God uses failures, and He is greater than our failures, and there is much opportunity to allow Him to turn those failures into victories, if we let Him show us how.
Is It REALLY Real? (Part III)
Bastian is finally getting it. It’s becoming apparent in a way he cannot deny that he, somehow, has become a part of The NeverEnding Story, and he now has a chance to not only save Fantasia, but to make his own dreams and wishes come true. But he is so weighed down with the familiarity and reality of his world that has always been pressed upon him, that he can’t fully allow himself to grasp this new reality.
So he hesitates.
And Fantasia trembles to stay alive as it awaits its savior.
This world also awaits you. God has made us, formed us, chosen us to partner with Him, and He is even now, calling your name to come. Do you hear Him? Are you hesitating? You have the power for change in this world and the people in it, how much longer will you wait as eternity holds its breath?
When We Embrace The Adventure
Bastian, held in place by his promise to his father to “keep his feet on the ground” and stop dreaming, finally answers the call in his heart to “do what he dreams”, naming the Empress and saving Fantasia. What is in your heart? What is your passion, what do you long for? And what is holding you back from it?
God placed those passions and dreams in your heart, and He is calling you right now to do what you dream! Embrace your dreams…it is what you were made for! Won’t it feel right and good to do so?
Anything Is Possible!
Bastian has embraced his dreams and saved Fantasia, but he waited so long that all that remains is one grain of sand. He is disappointed and feels like everything that has happened has been for nothing, all of Atreyu’s sacrifices and loss, his own chances he’s taken, and all they have to show for it, all they have managed to save, is one grain of sand. That is, until the Empress gently corrects him, telling him that because Fantasia is created from the wishes and imaginations of Earthlings, all he needs to do is use his imagination, as much as he wants, and Fantasia will be completely restored.
Are you in a place like that? Do you feel like you’ve lost everything, and that you have nothing left? Don’t be discouraged. God has placed specific gifts, specific dreams, in you in order to make this world and the people in it better and more beautiful than ever before! What are you going to wish for?
So, did you catch the other key thing about Bastian’s Adventure? The part about how just as he was able to share in Atreyu’s adventure, we (the movie-watchers) are able to share in Bastian’s! Each of our lives interweaves with so many others, and as a result, we are all part of each other’ stories, and to a larger extent, the Great Story, authored by God. It’s intriguing, isn’t it? Talk about unity and connection. Your life is not your own, because it’s also your sister’s, and your father’s, and your son’s. We are all bound up together in Story…a NeverEnding Story. Our stories mirror that Ultimate Story because God is writing it, and while right now we can only see the underside of the tapestry (all loose threads which looks all messy and nonsensical), someday we will see the Story laid out in its fullness before us, and it will be amazing!
In the book by Michael Ende, (which I CANNOT RECOMMEND ENOUGH), the movie ends at the halfway point in the book, and Bastian has many more adventures and learns a lot more about himself before it’s all over. One of the most important things he learns is humility, and healing between himself and his father. He does this through the help of Atreyu, who becomes his friend, and several wise people he meets in Fantasia. I strongly encourage you to check it out, and remember, like Bastian, the Adventure isn’t over yet, and we all still have a lot to learn. Oh, and do yourself a favor. For this story…get the physical book, and skip the e-book version, because if you’re going to read any book in hard copy, it should be this one.
PS – I think we can all agree that “Moon Child”, while a perfect name for the Childlike Empress, is sort of a weird name for Bastian’s mother. I read an article once online years ago (The cached webpage article can be found here) where the author offered the suggestion that Bastian’s mother’s name was actually “Selene”, which is Greek for “of the moon”, which could translate whimsically to “Moon Child”. Anyway, random trivia for your enjoyment!
Questions to Ponder - (drop some answers in the comment section!)
- Have you ever experienced bullying? How did you deal with it? What scars (emotional, mental, spiritual, physical) do you carry from it? Have you sought healing for those scars? Do you believe your scars can be healed? Why or why not?
- What were some of your favorite books growing up? Why were they your favorite? Do you still enjoy them today?
- Do you see your life as exciting? Why or why not?
- Have you ever kept a journal? What kind of journaling out of the options listed above sounds most interesting to you, and one you’d like to try?
- What sort of loss have you experienced in your life? Have you allowed yourself to love again, or do you feel there are areas of your heart that have been shut down due to grief?
- When are some times you have felt like a failure in life? How did you react in those times? Have you ever struggled with pleasing people or perfectionism because of fear of failure? Do you think failure ever has a purpose?
- Each of us has been formed and made for a purpose and a destiny. What do you think your purpose is? Do you have a clear idea or are you still not sure?
- What kind of dreams has God put in your heart? What makes you come alive, and how do you think God can use that? What is holding you back from embracing those dreams?
Links I Like
- Men at the Movies podcast – The Neverending Story with Paul, Britt, and me!
- The NeverEnding Story trailer – the original movie trailer
- Dustin and Suzie singing the theme song in Stranger Things – I love this SO hard. When I’m sad this makes me feel happy ♥️ It’s my favorite scene in the entire Stranger Things series (Max fighting Vecna is a close 2nd)
- Spotify Ad – A Spotify ad featuring a grown-up Atreyu and Falkor, and a behind-the-scenes look
- FAVORITE scene in the movie – “Call my name!”
- The Untold Truth of the NeverEnding Story – Fun behind the scenes trivia about the movie
- Jenny Rollins’ Blog – Great blog post on the NeverEnding Story and how it mirrors the Great Story.
- The NeverEnding Story: The Final Chapter – An older site (from 2002!), but has some fun fanfiction and insight into the characters and movies.