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“‘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, ther’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 a 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 Neverending Story” is a story about the creation of stories. It is about being an author, about writing a story and the paths that leads a writer down.
Bastian begins by finding a seed, a beginning of a story. Then he finds that this is not just someone else’s story: this is his story. It was somehow his story all along. Just as a writer plays with ideas in her head, reads books, doodles and makes notes: it has started, and it’s growing, and it doesn’t feel entirely within the author’s control.
Bastian, though he is part of the book now, draws back. He knows that name of the Childlike Empress, but he is afraid to speak it because he believes the inhabitants of Fantastica will hate him. Authors are afraid too, to the point of paralysis. The fear is twofold: will an audience like me? Will they care about what I say? And more important than that is a question that can eat writers alive: am I good enough to write this story?
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Then the Childlike Empress forces Bastian’s hand, creates a paradox of a story within a story. This is a glorious sequence, and in it we see the way some stories demand to be written. And once you have begun to enter a story, you can never really escape it again.
Then Bastian enters the story and is changed. At first the changes seem harmless, heroic. He is finally the writer of his own story. But the story is changing him too, just as authors find themselves changing with their creations.
This is where the story becomes very dark, as Bastian is overtaken by his own selfishness, as his desire to create new stories literally eats his mind alive. He destroys his relationships, cuts himself off from everyone.
Finally he comes to a city of mad people. Of all ages and times, they are constantly doing something and yet what they do amounts to nothing. They are what happens when authors loose to much of themselves; they are the madness which being a vehicle of creation can lead to.
But Bastian is able to escape. He still has friends who love him. He still has a home to go back to. And when he leaves Fantastica, he is himself and yet changed, new and yet old. And there is a new story, to join to part of the Neverending Story.