Reconstructivist Art: The Neverending Story

Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (1979) as an example of Reconstructivist Art

Michael Ende’s international bestseller found an audience among children and adults alike, due to its psychologically rich exploration of a hero whose wish to enter the fairy tale world of the books he loves leads to unexpected consequences.

(1) Nod to Artifice: In proper post-modern fashion, the book The Neverending Story appears within itself in several different ways –first as a work of fiction being read by a boy named Bastian; next as a book within that book (which contains Bastian’s own story along with its other contents); and finally as the boundary of an entire (meta-) fictional universe.

(2) Classic Structure: Ende’s book has a unique doubled structure. The first half is a classic fairy-tale style hero’s journey, about the quest undertaken by a young boy named Atreyu, which is presented as the story in a book read by Bastian. The second half of the book traces a more unusual version of the same journey, as undertaken by Bastian himself, once he enters the world he had previously read about.

(3) Transcontextual and Iconic Elements: The first half of the book is filled with familiar tropes and archetypes of fantasy literature, from the zany band of non-human creatures to the ethereal Ivory Tower ruled over by a beautiful and mysterious princess. The reconstructive cycle itself is dramatized in the book, however, when the overly-traditional fairy tale world of the first half of the book is deconstructed and reconstructed through a process that requires Bastian to recreate a now destroyed fantasy world using the power of his imagination. Accordingly, elements from the first half of the book are subsequently recontextualized in relationship to a set of new and more original archetypes that reflect and respond to elements deep within Bastian’s psyche.

(4) Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: Ultimately, the Neverending Story is about the redemptive power of art and imagination, and Bastian finds that love and friendship are Real, even in a world where much of what he experiences proves to be illusionary.

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