The first half of The Neverending Story is about Bastian reading a fantasy story about Atreyu's adventures in Fantastica. The second half is about Bastian's own adventures in Fantastica, a world which he basically recreates from nothing, becoming a completely different person himself in the process, before returning to his own world to find that he's still the same person as originally and only a single night has passed.
My question is: is it possible that Bastian never actually went to Fantastica? Is this a valid and consistent reading of the story, or does it not make sense with everything that happened?
- Bastian's adventures leave a permanent effect on him, making him more brave and confident. But the same effect could have come from a vivid hallucination in which he had all the experiences detailed in the second half of the book.
- The conversation at the very end between Bastian and Mr Coreander hints at a more metaphorical interpretation of Fantastica and the whole story, but I can't quite solidify this idea.
Years after reading The Neverending Story as a child, I came to the conclusion that there are many different ways to interpret the story, and I think this may be one of them: that Bastian's whole experience was a dream or hallucination after reading a story he loved, which changed his personality literally overnight. But I'm not certain if it's a totally consistent model of the narrative.