Reflections on The NeverEnding Story

Posted on the 30th Anniversary of the release of "The NeverEnding Story" (July 20th, 2014)

1984. I was 9-years-old, sitting in a dark Michigan theater with my dad and a bag of Twizzlers, and before me on the screen was a story that would begin to speak to me...and literally never end.

As a young boy who was not only obsessed with what the '80s brought to the world for fantasy cinema (stuff like The Dark Crystal, E.T and Ghostbusters), but also loved to read books and write my own stories, this strange German production of The NeverEnding Story touched a nerve with me like many others I know who grew up with it.

Exactly one year later, my family bought our first VCR and this was one of the first movies we "recorded" off ShowTime on cable TV. (On the same video cassette were The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Last Starfighter.)  To this day I vividly remember laying on my stomach on the carpet of our family cottage in the woods "up north" in Michigan, and re-watching those opening scenes of the Rock Biter in the Howling Forest with its brooding musical score as he spoke about The Nothing. Meanwhile, a thunderstorm literally began brewing outside and a warm summer breeze rolled in through the screen door.

Short and skinny with a bowl-cut mop of brown hair, watching the character of Bastian on that screen was like watching myself through my own Magic Mirror Gate. I related to that character like no other, and dreamed that I too could create my own Fantasia and fly my own luckdragon.  And yes, I even wished I could chase my own enemies down an alley into a dumpster, as I was often picked upon by the occasional bully myself in those days. Even for all of its '80s cheesiness, synthesized sparkle, whining and bad haircuts, The NeverEnding Story was nonetheless a classic fantasy of our times. There was no other film that could haunt our nightmares with dying horses and crumbling statue faces, depress us with its bleakness, and provide us with a hero that ultimately failed, yet still uplift us like this one could. I loved every frame of it, and still do.

As I grew up, that video cassette would still be played from time to time, particularly as I fought the urge to grow up at any chance I could get. The nostalgia behind that musical score and those clunky creatures stayed with me into my college years and beyond. Then one day, feeling like re-visiting these old friends in my lonely Vancouver apartment, I noticed something about those opening scenes with Bastian and his bullies....those streets looked awfully familiar! Had I not walked through them just recently?  Upon further investigation, I discovered those sequences had indeed been shot in the Gastown district of Vancouver, where I now lived. So naturally I went back to those streets and figured out where that alley was, which is at the corner of Cambie and Water Street, pretty much unchanged to this day. Was this part of the reason why the film resonated with me so closely as a boy? Was it calling to me with a glimpse of my own future story?

This was just the beginning. New to the city and with no real friends to talk to, I was wandering through the Vancouver Public Library looking for inspiration, anything to read or look at to pass the time. And there, in one of those old revolving book racks, was a paperback of the original NeverEnding Story novel by Michael Ende. Of course, I always knew the movie had been based on a book, but as a boy I had never read it...never even stumbled across a copy of it anywhere. In my head I heard those 8 synthesizer chimes ring, and I grabbed the book like Bastian out of Mr. Coreander's shop (only I didn't steal it, I used my library card).

Sitting in my dark apartment, I went through a few chapters each night. The first half of the book played out almost exactly the same as the movie, but the biggest revelation came when it actually revealed what Bastian screamed out the window as his new name for the Empress. (Remember in those days when we didn't have the Internet to tell us anything, and our deep conversation at recess was 'what does he yell in that scene?' Even the closed-captioning on the TV didn't know....it just said [SCREAMING]. In case you are still wondering, in the book it's "Moon Child," and if you watch that scene again, that's pretty much what it sounds like.)

But the second half of the book, this was more of a complete surprise to me. Here in those pages were Bastian's "many other amazing adventures" which the movie's bizarre closing voice-over told about. With no cinematic imagery to compare them to, here were images of beautiful forests and deserts, tragic battles and betrayals, a lost city, a warm house and a life-giving fountain.

When I finally reached the end of the book and closed it, I sat silent for a very long time. Before too long, there were tears. No book had ever made me cry before. It had struck a chord in me that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Looking out my window, the sky was a warm shade of pink, and on some strange impulse I grabbed my coat and my camera and felt as if something was pulling me towards English Bay beach. I still have these pictures which I took that very night, in December of 1998.

The mountains on the north shore were capped with pink snow and that same rosy glow reflected in the buildings along the inlet. It was a cold evening and extremely windy, and I can still remember the stormy chill in the air as I tugged at my coat to keep from blowing away. By the time I arrived at the beach the sun had merely become a stripe of light being pressed upon by stormy clouds, but there was still a young couple there flying a kite.



I sat on a rock by the crashing waves, and in that moment with the cold wind blowing through my hair, something stirred within me as an important step towards my backwards/forwards walk with God at the time. It was one of those moments where I was opened up, both in my head and in my heart. It wasn't until a few years later that I experienced more fully the significance of how those images from The NeverEnding Story would interweave with the story of my own life and faith journey.




But as the book repeats several times throughout its pages, that is another story and shall be told another time.

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