Friday, April 20, 2007

The stories which grow with each reading

Among the very best experiences one can have with a favored story book is to read it again at different ages. Ideally suited for such readings are the fairy tales, which have one thing to share with the limitless fountainhead of the child's imagination, and even more to share as one re-reads it through the color of experience and wisdom. In the re-reading, one remembers the wonder of the first reading, bringing with it an upwelling of that same fountainhead, which mixes with all that has transpired since. In the fairy tale, the child encounters truth as a wild, unpredictable creature that grows more familiar, more beautiful, and more profound with each re-reading.

I recently finished the English translation of The Neverending Story, written in the late 70's by Michael Ende. I grew up loving the movie. The Rockbiter on his huge trike, the Swamps of Sadness where Atreyu loses Artex, the roiling cloud of Nothing, the Childlike Empress, the incomprehensible name which Bastian yells out the window into the storm. And of course, who could forget Falkor, the Luckdragon?

Now, having read the book, my mind is reeling with the wonders I encountered there. I have a new book to add to my greatest-books-of-all-time list. Not only is the book even better than the movie, it is much, much longer. The events which take place in the movie barely extend to the 100th page of the 370+ page book. And while I still consider the movie to be solid and powerful, it pales to the richness of the symbolism and maturity of the written work.

Is it a children's book? Yes and no. This is one of the few works which stands in the place reserved for very few stories. It is a true fairy tale in every sense of the word, one that grows with the re-telling and the re-reading. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. If you have young children (perhaps as young as six), give them a wonderful gift: read this story to them. It will take them on a journey that will exhilarate them for months. And when they return to the world years later, perhaps reading it to their children, that same sense of joy will come again, only deeper this time, and more wonderful.

So, for those of you who are keeping a record, here are the very best in this rare category of fairy tale which grows with each reading:
  1. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
  2. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia
  3. Ende's Neverending Story
  4. MacDonald's The Golden Key
  5. Andersen's The Snow Queen

Last, but not least, it might interest some of you theologically astute readers to know that the German title for this book is "die undendliche geschichte". Not quite the heilsgeschichte, but that perhaps, as Lewis said, is the one true myth.

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