Four Lessons From The NeverEnding Story

The Neverending Story is one of those cult books that all generations adore. Inside this book are many adventures, as well as interesting reflections on different aspects of life.
Four Lessons From The NeverEnding Story
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 23 March, 2023

The Neverending Story is a masterpiece, one of those classic, timeless works, popular with both children and adults alike. Written in 1979 by Michael Ende, it quickly became a bestseller. Its adaptation to the cinema in 1984, with its cheap special effects and already legendary musical theme, made this production a mass phenomenon.

However, an adaptation should really have been made that was comparable in quality to Ende’s work itself. Indeed, the complexity of its narrative, plots, and philosophical contribution is immense, and it well deserved an adaptation with the budget of a cinematographic blockbuster.

Interestingly, Ende never approved of the way German director Wolfgang Petersen adapted his prized work to the big screen. He defined the film as a “gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush, and plastic”. He even sued the film production company but ended up losing the lawsuit.

However, every time a new generation discovers this movie, their curiosity is aroused and they frequently decide to read the book for themselves. It’s there, in the refuge of the book’s pages, where everything changes and the real journey begins. The one where visual simplism disappears and a more authentic, heroic, philosophical, and transformative journey begins.

child and dragon symbolizing the teachings of "The Neverending Story"
The monotonous and incredulous lives of humans suppose the destruction of freedom, imagination, and life itself, for Michael Ende.

Lessons from The Neverending Story

The lessons in The NeverEnding Story have won it a place among some of the best fantasy books. Nevertheless, the child who reads this book for the first time isn’t left with ideas like “Clap your hands if you believe in fairies”, as they were shown in Peter Pan. The first thing that happens is that the young reader starts to identify with the protagonist, Bastian Balthasar Bux.

He’s the classic school nerd. An introverted boy, bad at sports, overweight, who’s also being bullied. His mother is dead and his father is dealing as best he can with his own grief, separating himself a little from his own son as he does so. For Bastian, the world feels too chaotic, until an unusual book falls into his hands. A book in which he becomes the protagonist.

Although it’s often claimed that Ende’s work is too complex for children to read, nothing could be further from the truth. Children are born philosophers. Indeed, only they can ask questions such as Can something like ‘nothing’ really exist in our world? Is having no limits the same as being infinite? Only the reader who questions what they read will connect with the teachings of this book.

Let’s find out what they are.

1. Imagination makes us free and wise

“Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated”.

One thing we discover in The Neverending Story is that the world of Fantasia can’t exist without the real world, and in turn, our world can’t exist without Fantasia. In fact, the health of one world depends on that of the other. We shouldn’t forget that Ende was heir to Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant. Therefore, for him, reason and imagination would always go together.

This shows us that only those who allow themselves to enjoy stories and imagination manage to be free, noble, and also wise.

That’s because imagination, tempered with reason, allows us to see reality from other perspectives. Thanks to these different views, we also learn to relativize and question reality. However, those who live clinging to their beliefs without questioning anything can be manipulated and dominated.

2. When sadness drags you down, fight

“Like all true transformations, it was as slow and smooth as the growth of a plant.”

Those who’ve seen the movie may well have been traumatized by the death of Atreyu’s horse, Artax. The animal was slowly sinking into the swamp of sadness, while its master, Atreyu, mourned its end with helplessness and despair. This image is a harsh metaphor for loss.

However, its protagonist, far from being carried away by that sadness, managed to get ahead, move forward, and recover. After all, death is part of life and, before its image, we can only move forward and transform ourselves.

3. Dreams and hope keep us safe from despair

“Once someone dreams a dream, it can’t just drop out of existence”.

Gmork is a symbolic character in the form of a wolf who’s a servant of the power behind the Nothing. His presence paves the way for the destruction of Fantasia. He gives a description to Atreyu of exactly what the Nothing is. It’s the emptiness of despair, when all hope is lost and we’re devoid of anything that gives us meaning. The Nothing is, above all, pain and hopelessness.

Those words evoke the substratum of depression. Nevertheless, Atreyu, the indefatigable hero, doesn’t falter in his bravery. He didn’t do it in the swamp of sorrow when he lost his steed. He didn’t do it in his confrontation with Gmork either. In fact, he’s guided by hope and also by Bastian, who begins to believe in dreams and Fantasia.

tiger to represent the teachings of "The Neverending Story"
Every warrior must arm themselves with courage to fight against the Nothing.

4.  Self-esteem, an inner strength

“Fancy armor doesn’t help. The Sphinxes can see right into your heart”.

Another of the teachings of The Neverending Story is linked to self-esteem. This value, although it’s often conditioned by what surrounds us, must be forged from within. It’s made from confidence, temperance, personal safety, and self-love. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the moment when Atreyu must pass between the titanic Sphinxes to travel to the Southern Oracle.

This act allows him to learn about the illness of the Childlike Empress and save Fantasia. We know that some of the most battle-hardened heroes have lost their lives in that test. That said, those who fell victim to the Sphinxes did so because they hesitated and doubted themselves. On the other hand, the warrior boy advances with serenity and self-confidence.

We should always remember that, in real life, self-esteem also opens doors for us and allows us to become the heroes of our own stories.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rojas, Q., & Milagros, V. (2007). La autoestima.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.