SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Best Book Ever Written

Each Saturday, Jason spotlights one product or service he finds particularly useful or enjoyable; the kind of things that make you wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone have this?”

Welcome back to www.jasonrpeters.com. Happy weekend. I hope your year is going as well as mine is. Or if you’re reading this on Facebook, I feel sorry for you, but thanks anyway; accidental support is better than no support at all.

There it is in the picture I took just moments ago: The book in my library more times than any other, so thoroughly used and abused that it is entirely falling apart.

I wish I could claim to be holier-than-thou enough for that to be the Bible, but it isn’t. Nor any other “religious” text in the traditional sense.

No, I’m not talking about a book I’ve ever read out of duty, but so eagerly and repeatedly that I have no idea when I first read the book. This story is as much a part of my psyche as any distant memory or cherished event, and has shaped my personality my whole life.

The book is written in text of two colors; red and green in my copy, though I have seen other color pairs. The colors correspond to worlds within the book; red for our world, green for the fantasy world. And when you finally get halfway through the book, and a character from our world who always appeared in red text suddenly appears in green pose, it’s a shocking and meaningful moment. (This same technique was adopted by The Matrix which used blue tinge for the real world and green tinge for all events that occurred in the Matrix.)

Each chapter begins with beautiful large capitals of the Alphabet. In order. The first chapter starts with “A”, the second with “B”, and the last with “Z”, and the book is one prologue and exactly 26 chapters. It must have been my 100th reading before I even realized this.

If you’ve ever read it, you already know exactly the book I’m talking about. But if you haven’t read it, I’m about to name the title. And if ANY of you mention a MOVIE which bears almost nothing in common with the book except the title, I shall disown you. That’s like if someone asks you if you’ve read the Bible, and you say no, but I saw The Passion of the Christ. Actually it’s worse, because Passion for all its flaws was a deep and meaningful movie, and The Neverending Story was a complete joke in comparison to the book.

Don’t tell me you liked the movie. I know. I liked it too, until I read the book and realized how thoroughly it had been spit on by filmmakers hoping to make a quick buck at the expense of true storytelling. It happens to contain some of the same characters and concepts, but that’s it.

In the movie, the Nothing is a kind of destructive windstorm. In the book, the Nothing is a nothingness creeping over Fantastica, like a non-gravitational black hole. Things near it lose color and fade until they are simply…nothing.

In the movie, the Southern Oracle is a pair of Sphinxes that speaks with a disembodied voice. In the book, the Sphinxes are creatures that send out riddles with their eyes and are just one of three tests Atreyu must pass to speak to the southern oracle, which IS disembodied voice made up of poetry and song, that only speaks in rhyme, and can only hear questions that are phrased in verse.

In the movie, Atreyu is a whiny child that basically yells at every creature and monster he encounters. In the book, Atreyu is an accomplished and solemn hunter.

In the movie, when Bastion names the Childlike Empress, the Nothing is banished and Bastion is the hero and the movie ends.

In the book, when Bastion names the Childlike Empress “Moon Child”, thereby expressing his belief in Fantastica and abolishing the Nothing, he is transported into Fantastica to meet with the Childlike Empress. Just like in the movie, except that the story is just beginning. The movie left out such insignificant details as the Auryn granting Bastion’s wishes until he is handsome, strong, and brave, and climbs trees hundreds of feet high and rides across the Desert of Many Colors on the back of lion as deadly as death itself.

The movie left out such minor moments as Bastion’s social and political rise to power, waited on hand and foot by every kind of creature imaginable as he begins a selfish quest to force the Childlike Empress to reappear to him.

The movie left out such minor details as Bastion’s conquering the Ivory tower, declaring himself emperor, and Atreyu’s war against him which left the Ivory tower bloodied and broken, and Bastion destitute and lonely until he finds the City of Old Emperors; the sad remains of Fantastica’s other usurpers, and Bastion learns that he can just barely go home.

The movie left out the entire point of the book, which was Bastion’s relationship with his father, healed only after he learned all the lessons that Fantastica had to offer, after having experienced everything from being an Emperor with godlike powers to being lost and alone and forgotten in a strange world and no memory of how he arrived, or at the worst moments, even who he was.

It is true that the second movie brought in some of the concepts from the second half of the book. But it did an even worse job than the first movie. Comparing The Neverending Story 2 film to the second half of the book is a little like comparing Dora The Explorer to Lord of the Rings. So please, I beg you, don’t.

I fear something, though, after having written this article. If you finally read the book, you will be disappointed by the expectations I’ve set. So let me do what I can to temper those expectations, and assure you that your experience will not be the same as mine.

1. The book is a German children’s book. It was translated into English, and though I own a German copy, I cannot read German and so I fear the book may have lost some of the original depth.

2. I read and fell in love with this book as a child. You’re an adult now, and you will be critical of things that never bothered me.

3. Like the trope Seinfeld is Unfunny, there are probably books, movies, and shows that have borrowed from this book without even realizing it. When I first read it, the concepts and elements were new to me. They will not be new to you.

4. Some of the names in the book are cheesy, since it WAS written for children. The name “Fantastica” doesn’t do much for me, for starters. You will have to find the kid in you to get past these things if they bug you.

5. Bastian is a little wimp/panzy/loser/crybaby. He will be difficult for some of you to identify with. I identified with him precisely because his experience growing up was much like mine. If you have never been chased by bullies or made fun of for your appearance, you won’t know what I’m talking about and the book won’t mean as much to you.

6. ANY time a book or movie is recommended, the recommendee NEVER likes it as much as the recommender. So you won’t like this book as much as I did, guaranteed.

7. All taste is subjective. I’m not saying this is the best book ever written in literary terms, in symbolism, in critical acclaim, in sales, in popularity. Nor do I think it ever will be. I am saying that this book spoke directly to my soul in ways that greatly surpass almost everything else I’ve ever read, and therefore in my life, in my subjective experiences, and in my little selfish corner of the universe, that makes it the best book ever written.

When I read it, I was learning about myself. When you read it, you may also learn about yourself, but it’s more likely that you’ll be learning about me.

Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it. I’d loan you my copy, but it is virtually destroyed already.

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