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.

  • The way I always (even when I was a little child) interpreted the story was that Bastian liked the book, was drawn into it and that the everything once he was "sucked" into the story was his imagination. Once you are drawn into the story, you identify with the protagonists and want to be a part. In a way, the second half in Fantasia is very similar to fan-fiction.
    – Narusan
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:13
  • @Narusan That could be turned into an answer, if you back it up with a bunch of quotes from important moments in the book and show how it's a consistent model of the story. (E.g. are the Old Emperors people who went insane from being sucked into fantasy worlds? Who or what is Xayide? What does it mean that Bastian "left his stories unfinished" and Atreyu will finish them for him? Who is the Childlike Empress really?)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:23
  • I'd really have to re-read the book and find time for that. Maybe I will, but anyone is free to pick up from the very little further inside I provided...
    – Narusan
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:31
  • 1
    Is "metaphysical" (in the title) a typo for "metaphorical"?
    – user14111
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


During Bastian's return from Fantastica, the following sequence of events takes place (starting on page 388 in my Dutton 1997 edition):

Quickly Bastian cupped his hands, gathered as much of the Water of Life as he could hold, ran to the gate, and flung himself into the empty darkness beyond.
[He] put on his his shoes and coat, and saw to his surprise that they were wet as they had been the day when it had rained so hard.
Even if he had spilled the Water of Life, he wanted to go home to his father

I had always read this as Bastian somehow bringing the Water across the barrier between the two worlds, and thus as the one solid counter to the idea that it all takes place in Bastian's head. However, as pointed out in the comments, Bastian is unaware that his entire journey took place overnight, and thus that his garments are indeed still wet from his previous night's rains.

With that said, given that this is a work of reconstructivist art, I don't think the dual interpretations are either unintentional or incompatible. Ende is telling us that this is simultaneously both Real AND in all in Bastian's head, those are not different things within the larger framework Ende is creating.

  • If you have the text of the book to hand, please could you add the relevant quote?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 21:13
  • Downvoted because no he doesn't. He finds his clothes wet from the rain the previous day, which the text mentions to tell the reader that only a day passed in the real world while he spent weeks in Fantastica.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 10:15
  • @b_jonas Thanks for the comment, you changed my entire interpretation of that scene. Edited to address. Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 12:43
  • @Randal'Thor Sorry to take so long to get the real quotes in place. Given your interest in this book, you might enjoy this: popculturephilosopher.com/… Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 12:44
  • The moment when he knows he really did bring back the Water of Life is when he sees tears in his father's eyes. Again, that could be real magic or all just a metaphor. Thanks for the link, but it's going to take me a while to get my head around and understand the concept of reconstructionist art! :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 20:00

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