Author: Michael Ende
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
Duration: 13 hrs, 38 mins
Publisher: Tantor Media
Description from Goodreads:
In this classic fantasy novel from author Michael Ende, small and insignificant Bastian Balthazar Bux is nobody's idea of a hero, least of all his own. Then, through the pages of an ancient, mysterious book, he discovers the enchanted world of Fantastica, and only Bastian himself can save the fairy people who live there. Shy, awkward Bastian is amazed to discover that he has become a character in the mysterious book he is reading and that he has an important mission to fulfill.
So far as the story goes, the only part I liked was the frame story. In this part, Bastian, a fat, bullied boy, runs away from school and hides from his tormenters in a book shop. This is Bastian at his most sympathetic. Once in the bookshop, he interacts with the child-hating bookseller. When the shop owner goes to answer the phone, Bastian shoplifts a mysterious, fancy old book, and absconds to school with it, where he proceeds to shut himself up in the attic to read. These sections couched firmly in the real world highlight the power of a story to carry one away, and the strength of imagination. These are great themes. I only wish the others were not so upsetting.
Set up in the attic, Bastian begins to read the story of Fantastica. He learns about the Nothing, eating away at this world, and that the Childlike Empress is sick. She needs a new name or she will die, and Fantastica with her. Atreyu is enlisted to go on a quest for the person that can give her a new name. Along the way, his horse Artax dies in the Swamp of Sadness and he meets Falcor, the luck dragon. The quest is, however, unsuccessful, so he and Falcor go to the Childlike Empress to apologize for failing and dooming her to death. At which point, she tells them that they didn't and the human who will name her has been watching all along, effectively meaning that she doomed Artax for no reason whatsoever. At this juncture, I decide that the Childlike Empress is a bitch.
|Because you killed my horse, bitch.|
|The terrible effects just make him scarier.|
Anyway, he finally says her name, giving in to the repeated non-subtle entreaties that got Destiny's Child firmly stuck in my head for days. So, then, Bastian comes into the book and the Childlike Empress is all "take this bling as a reward." That may not be a direct quote. Maybe. She gives him the amulet, Auryn, and it will grant his wishes. What he doesn't know is that every time he makes a wish, he loses memories and becomes less human. Way to warn him, Childlike Empress. See what I said about her being a bitch? I'm supposed to be worried for his fate, but instead I just wanted Bastian to die a slow, painful death.
|Every time Bastian didn't die.|
What really kills the story is not the insufferable main character or the questionable messages it's sending to a young audience. No, the big problem is that it's boring. Neither Atreyu nor Bastian ever has any agency. Throughout the whole book, they never learn anything for themselves or accomplish anything on their ow. Everything they do, they're told to do by some adult along the road. The Childlike Empress tells Atreyu where to look, he goes there and finds a creature who tells him where to go next, so he does that, and on it goes. The same is true of Bastian. This story doesn't empower children and lacks any real momentum since everything they're doing feels so arbitrary and staged.
On top of that, the storytelling is very detail-oriented, going for a classic style, only the details are repetitive and needless. He gives information to make the book look fancier, but it doesn't matter at all. For example, there's one scene where Bastian sees some ex-humans playing a mindless game with letter blocks where they write down the letters that come up. Anyway, the narrator was reading out random letters for at least a full minute. Sure that would be less obnoxious in print, but this had no freaking impact on the plot of the book, so why the fuck did it even happen? Stop wasting my time, Ende. Readers only want their story to be neverending if it's actually good.
The only reason I'm giving this book 1.5 stars is the narration. All of those go to him for making this slightly more tolerable than it would have been. He does a great job, managing to keep the humongous cast of pointless characters distinct with ease. So, good job, Gerard Doyle. I hope when we meet again you're reading a book I actually like.