Book: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Description: Shy, awkward Bastian is amazed to discover that he has become a character in the mysterious book he is reading and that he has an important mission to fulfill. (from Amazon.com)
I really enjoyed this story. In many ways it felt like reality-- the fact that the narrator acknowledged all the other stories that were woven into Bastian's, the emotional turmoil that Bastian especially went through, and the emotional truths that were woven into the story. Ende did a fantastic job with the world-building--Fantasia felt like a real place, even though it was a fantasy world (something that even the story acknowledged), I really enjoyed all the small details like the hint that Shakespeare came to Fantasia, and all the peoples and places that he created were very cool. Overall, I think that feel of Fantasia was the feel of a world in an epic poem like Parsival--people are either good or bad, people do great deeds, the world seems magical and the main character must go through some trial of character (although it also acknowledged the real world through Bastian's early experiences, and really played with the idea of books versus reality. In that regard it really reminded me of Inkheart). The play between fiction and reality was very well-done and mind-boggling.
Although I didn't realize this until almost the last page of the book, I think that the main reason I enjoyed it so much was because The Neverending Story is an allegory for the Christian life and a Christian's relationship with fantasy and fiction in general. The main themes are the invasion of the (fantasy) world with nothingness and staying true to your self. Here I don't mean the stereoytpical sort of "stay true to yourself" advice that people give at graduations or whatever. Throughout the story Bastian wishes that he could be more and more like his idea of a 'perfect' boy (i.e. handsome, without fear, physically strong, etc.), but as his wishes are fulfilled he forgets about how he was before his wish and becomes more and more arrogant and self-centered. You do not stay true to yourself by seeking to fulfill your shallow, often societally-driven wishes, but when you realize who you truly are--a child of God, created to love others and God and be His hands and feet--and seek to stay true to who you are. Ende is not so explicit, and God is never mentioned, nor is there an obvious God figure such as Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps that is why this book isn't a widely-acknowledged Christian allegory, like some other novels, and still read and enjoyed by plenty of non-Christians.