How ‘The Neverending Story’ Truly Never Ends, Explained

The Neverending Story celebrates its 35th anniversary this summer. The tale of Fantasia and books that write themselves has captivated viewers for three and a half decades. Based on the book by Michael Ende, The Neverending Story generated two sequels and an animated series, but that’s not why it truly never ends.

Noah Hathaway as Atreju in a scene of the film “The Neverending Story.’ | dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Sure, the first film only ran 94 minutes and The Simpsons has a joke in which Lionel Hutz sues The Neverending Story for false advertising. However, The Neverending Story itself explains how it never ends. As you look back on The Neverending Story, understand how you are a part of the story that never ends.

It’s not endless length, it’s endless storytellers

If you’re looking at the linear length of a story, then yes, the credits do roll after 90 minutes of The Neverending Story. That’s just the X and Y-axis. The Neverending Story continues along a Z-axis in which the story reaches beyond a single movie (or book originally). 

Tami Stronach and Barrett Oliver
Tami Stronach und Barret Oliver behind the scenes | Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach) herself says, “Just as he is sharing all your adventures, others are sharing his.”

Follow that logic outward and there are infinite levels of Neverending Story like a Russian nesting doll. Follow us through each level.

Level 1: Atreyu’s story

This is the basic adventure of The Neverending Story. Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) quests through the land of Fantasia. He loses his horse in the Swamp of Sadness, meets the Rock Biters, flies on Falkor, etc. 

That would make a perfectly wonderful story, full of amazing creatures brought to life by puppeteers and animatronics. Yet there’s much more to The Neverending Story.

Level 2: Bastrian reading Atreyu’s story

A major part of The Neverending Story is the “real world” where Bastian (Barrett Oliver) is reading the book called The Neverending Story. He’s not only reading about Atreyu, Bastian is part of Atreyu’s story. 

Barrett Oliver and Tami Stronach
Tami Stronach and Barret Oliver ride Falkor behind the scenes | Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

Even Bastian doesn’t believe it at first when the Childlike Empress says he is sharing Atreyu’s adventure. “I can’t believe it,” he says. “They can’t be talking about me.”

They are though. 

Level 3: The viewer watching Bastian read about Atreyu

When The Childlike Empress says “others are sharing his” she is talking about us. As much as Atreyu is part of Bastian’s story, we are part of Bastian’s. That’s true of folks watching The Neverending Story movie or reading the book. Going to the theater or popping in the Blu-ray is part of The Neverending Story

That’s where The Childlike Empress’s explanation ends, but there’s still more to The Neverending Story.

Level 4: The people we meet along the way

Now that we’ve established that we are level three of The Neverending Story, you can follow that logic beyond. We are going to meet other people. You are level four of The Neverending Story because you are reading about me explaining how The Neverending Story works. 

Level 5: You affect people you’ll never meet

Now that you have entered The Neverending Story, you are going to meet other people of whom I’ll never be aware. You may tell them you read this article about The Neverending Story. You may never mention it to anyone, but you’ve been part of my story and however you go in with your life, you will be part of someone else’s story. 

Falkor from The Neverending Story
You can still visit Falkor today in Germany | Felix Hörhager/picture alliance via Getty Images

It will never end. As long as there are DVDs and Blu-rays of The Neverending Story and as long as there are copies of the book, people will be taking part in The Neverending Story and ensuring it continues forever. Now, watch The Neverending Story again with that in mind.