The thing with the Never Ending Story by Michael Ende is it appears to try too hard. It’s a masterpiece in terms of completely screwing the levels of narrative over and it is written very cleverly to encompass many different story-genres and expectations. However, while it masters its ‘smart’ aspects, it just doesn’t hold off as a story. It feels jumbled together like you got a pick’n’mix of stories, shoved them together, tied them with a bow and sold them as a quality sweet at a candy store… it just doesn’t slot together well enough. For most of the novel, I was more interested about the branching stories and hypodiegetic levels than the actual main diegesis! For example whatever did happen to that Centaur? Or what happened to the knight who slayed the dragon? What kinds of magical things happen in the various lands of Fantastica we don’t get to hear about in the main storyline? And guess what? Each of those stories would each be MUCH MORE INTERESTING than what we’re actually told. I’d much prefer to read about the heroic battles of a brave knight to rescue (and win the heart of) his maiden than some fat kid who wishes himself thin and heroic and ends up being a slightly more evil fat kid.
Another thing I disliked about it was how quickly it rushed over events and characters. Some of the characters were really interesting (the fiery lion of many deaths and the centaur to name a few) and they were just rushed by and never mentioned again. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, the worst of those fly-by characters actually made the cut to come back: I’m talking of course of those annoying clown-faced flying Acharis race, who after their transformation just got on your nerves. Even forgetting all the odd ends and bits, the narrative itself seemed rushed. Atreyu’s whole journey could have been drawn out and made into a whole book… which I guess is the point for the over-all book effect but that’s its problem. It tries too hard to get an ‘effect’ which adds to the ‘this book doesn’t work as a book, it only works as a statement of how to play with narrative’ effect.
There were things I liked about this book, however. I enjoyed the characters and thought the world of Fantastica was well thought out. I also like the concept that every story told in the human world helps Fantastica grow and how all of our stereotypical genres are added to the mix. I liked the first half of the books’ plot (Atreyu’s adventure), but I wish we could have heard a more detailed description of his travels. I’m also quite fond of the authors supposed intention to completely mess up and toy with fiction by adding in the Man of Wandering Mountain and forming a loop within the book and how that in itself works its way into the title and very being of the book.
But… unfortunately I hate books that focus too much on a statement so that the narrative ends up getting pushed to the background. However, that is another rant and shall be told another time.