Thursday, October 20, 2011

The NeverEnding Story

The NeverEnding Story
last seen online via YouTube

I was a fairly avid reader as a child. I still have some of the books I read, too - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web, as well as some lesser known children's books. I'm told by my mother that I learned to read at a quick clip. I suspect that must be true because I know that I learned to write quickly. I don't remember if I had a preference for fantasy or not; I read real-world stories as much as I did anything else. Judy Blume's "Fudge" stories were a particular favorite, as I recall.

When I was in sixth grade, my Language Arts teacher, Ms. Brooks, whom I've written about here before, gave me a particular book. Now, I'm not sure whether or not I was the only one in my class whom she gave a copy to - I know I wasn't that special - and I don't recall whether or not I ever asked her. Still, I remember feeling honored, and privileged, that she would choose me to begin with. Ms. Brooks inspired a great deal of loyalty in us. She was that rare one in a thousand teachers who went above and beyond for her students, and we were aware of this.

Anyway, the book was called The Castle of the Pearl. I think I still have it buried in one of my closets somewhere. It was unlike any book I'd seen before or since - it was an interactive fantasy "story" that doubled as a kind of personal diary. It's difficult to explain; basically it casts the reader as the main character, wandering through a castle of many chambers, and through a series of introspective questions, invites the reader to document and examine their own personal hopes and dreams, loves and fears.

Now, I should reiterate that this book was given to me in sixth grade. I couldn't have been older than ten or eleven years old. I suppose I liked to think of myself as being more mature than I was, but you know how it is when you're a kid - everything means so much more than it actually does. Puppy-love crushes seem like True Love, your parents are either the best or the worst people ever, depending on how much they put up with your crap, and the friends you make you figure you'll keep forever.

And now here I was being given this book by one of the adults I trusted most outside of my immediate family, in which I'm asked all these questions about my life, which I've lived so little of. It was an honor... but it felt very strange as well. Still, I gave it a go. Like I said, if I do still have this book, it's buried in a closet somewhere, so I don't remember how much of it I completed or what I wrote, but I know I wrote quite a bit in it - mostly about friends I haven't seen or even thought about in years, thoughts about my family which have no doubt evolved over time, and wishes that I'm sure don't completely reflect the person I've become or the life I've led since. Still, what remains prominent in my mind is the trust Ms. Brooks had in me, the faith she had that I was indeed mature enough to be given such a unique book.

I thought of that as I watched The NeverEnding Story last night. I first saw it as a kid, of course; around the same time Ms. Brooks gave me Castle, in fact (though I don't recall how much overlap time there was, if any). As an adult, I can more clearly see the structure of the story, and how Bastian's thoughts and dreams shape the story as he's reading it. As a kid, I didn't completely grok that, though I do remember how freaked out I was towards the end, when the Fantasia characters directly acknowledge his presence (and by extension, the audience's), right when their world is about to go kablooey. One did not see characters in a live-action movie break the fourth wall very much as a kid.

This is one of those movies that I fear Hollywood may try to remake sometime in the future. (Bad enough they made a sequel.) I'll admit, it would be cool to see characters like Falkor and the Rock-Biter rendered in CGI, if for no other reason than that their mouth movements would match their spoken words (the limits of animatronics). Still, it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't have the same feeling of realness to it, a concept I've examined here before. Look at that image of Gmork and tell me that doesn't scare, or at least unsettle, the hell out of you. (Falkor's actually kinda scary looking too...!) So here's hoping they leave this one alone.

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