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The Neverending Story Digital Study Guide

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Study Guide written by Luisa Appolloni, Education Associate- Enrichment Focus, Education Department, Stratford Festival


"Because you don't have what every human child is born with - an imagination."

- Gmork, The Neverending Story, Act II

This is a tale for young and old alike about the nature of imagination. It explores power, corruption, its consequences and the true meaning of freedom. It also examines what it means to be heroic, as the story contains two heroes: one meek and bullied, the other strong-willed and brave. It takes all kinds of courage and ultimately determination to face the dark Nothing. The Neverending Story offers a unique opportunity for students to discover important ideas about finding hope and self-confidence, about dealing with bullying, and above all about the role that our imagination plays in storytelling and in our daily lives.

Content Advisory for Students

Deals with mental health, grief and bullying. Contains intense music and strobe lighting effects.

Curriculum Connections

Suitable for students Grade 3+

  • Global Competencies:
    • Creativity
    • Learning to Learn/Self-Awareness
    • Communication
    • Collaboration
    • Critical Thinking
  • Grades 3-12:
    • Language/English (listening to understand, speaking to communicate, reading for meaning)
    • Drama, Music, Visual Art
  • Grades 3-12:
    • Health and PE (harassment, bullying, care for self and others, decision-making, visible and invisible differences, respect, actions, self-concept, leadership)
  • Grade 11:
    • Raising Healthy Children (neglect and abuse, society's role in the lives of children and families)
    • Gender Studies (representation of gender)
    • Equity, Diversity and Social Justice (social awareness and individual action)
    • Dynamics of Human Relationships (self-concept and self-esteem, making decisions, resolving conflicts)
  • Grade 12:
    • Human Development Throughout the Lifespan (risk and resilience, identity)
    • Working with School-Age Children and Adolescents (positive environment for development, guiding children's behaviour, neglect and abuse)

Themes and Motifs

  • The Power of Imagination: Joy of Reading; Value of Storytelling; The Hero's Journey; Finding Hope; Love of Adventure
  • Identity: Coming of Age; Developing Self-Confidence; Finding Courage; Freedom to Discover and Be Oneself
  • Mental Health, Relationships and Well-Being: Finding Hope in Sadness and Grieving; Strength in Community; Dealing with Bullying
  • Growing Up: Self-Discovery; Standing Up for Yourself; Grappling with Failure

A Perspective on the Piece from the Director

With Jillian Keiley

Why did you choose to direct this production? What excites you most about it?
I really love this story for a lot of reasons. The show is written with a certain whimsy, but it is also very deep - almost religious in its philosophy. The idea that there is a "character" in the story who is in fact the reader is a thrilling way to tell a story to a theatre audience. The acknowledgement that characters know you're out there is wonderful. I love the power that this eventually gives the anti-hero Bastian, who has no idea that he is who the story is about.

I know it is still early days, but would you share a little bit about your vision for the piece? Anything you can share about your particular approach or the production's design would be much appreciated.
The production concept and design are based on the idea of light vs. darkness. The book's hero, Atreyu, is facing the Nothing, a darkness that swallows up whole cities and generations. We see even the great horse Artax swallowed up by the dark Swamps of Sadness. We created everything using recent technologies to make the entire set and playing area completely black, with all the characters, props and environments made of light. All the actors are puppeteers as well as characters: we have giant spiders made of light operated by 10 people! It should be very beautiful, and I hope it will lend to the aspect of the story that is about the loneliness of floating out there all alone in the universe.

A young person is at the heart of this play. Bastian demonstrates incredible courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. How do you feel his journey might resonate with young people seeing the play?
I am keenly interested in the plight of young boys right now and how we keep boys both encouraged and respectful as the gender conversations of our time play out. I think our young man Bastian is left out and bullied because he believes in things that are not "serious" or "important"; because he is focused on art and literature and make-believe. These are considered feminine traits, and his desire to play in those realms has led him to a lonely life. Now he is in a world where not only do the creatures of make-believe make him not lonely but they also make him a hero: he is now essential to them and a saviour to them. I think it's important to believe that, although you feel alone sometimes, there are people in the world who depend on you and who need you, and that you can be a hero to them too.

What do you hope audience members will experience during the show? What questions or new thinking do you want them to leave with after the play?
I want audience members to be thrilled by the gorgeous design that I hope they won't have encountered before. I hope that the actors will provoke them to think about the realm of the imagination and how valuable that is - not just for lonely kids, but for you too - and that you can invent any world you want: you just have to wish for it!


Ask students:

  • If you were to go on an adventure, what kind would you choose and where would it take you?
  • What do you look for in a hero? What qualities should they possess?
  • What stories do you know about heroes going on some sort of quest or journey? What are common elements across these stories?
  • What kinds of heroes do we especially need today?
  • Do you like to read books or listen to and tell stories? What are some of your favourite ones?
  • How would you describe your imagination? Is it powerful? Important? When do you use it?
  • What would life be like without it?
  • What is bullying? What might we do to help someone in the school or community being bullied?
  • What makes someone responsible? Can anyone become responsible?
  • What makes someone powerful? What power do children and young people have that adults don't possess?
  • How can power be used in positive ways? How can power be used in negative ways?



This exercise is designed to help students create the world of Fantastica before seeing the production at the Stratford Festival. Through imaginative play the students will demonstrate an understanding of the story.


  • Paper, pencils, coloured pencils/crayons
  • A space in which to move


1. Tell your students that The Neverending Story takes place in a world called Fantastica: a magical land where amazing creatures live.

2. As a class, brainstorm what you imagine Fantastica might be like.

3. Then invite each student to imagine they are a citizen of Fantastica.

4. Have them draw a picture of what they would look like.

5. Beside their drawing, encourage students to list what positive traits they have that would help the world of Fantastica.

6. Have students share their Fantastica personas with one another, displaying their drawings and describing their traits.

7. Still working in pairs, have students imagine these two Fantasticans meet on their way to the Childlike Empress's palace. How would these two friends greet each other? Have each pair come up with a special way for their characters to say hello to one another.

8. When everybody in the class has created something with their partners and had some time to practise it, ask for volunteers to show the class their imaginative greeting.

Debriefing Questions:

  • Upon meeting so many Fantasticans, what positive traits did they share with one another? Were there any positive traits that surprised you? Why?
  • How were these Fantasticans different from the world we live in?
  • What do you hope to see at the Stratford Festival's production of The Neverending Story?
  • How important is it to you to be able to use your imagination?



This exercise will have students engage in dramatic play with a focus on exploring themes, ideas, characters and issues of the play.


  • Handout: tableaux with lines (precut)
  • A space in which to move


  1. Tell students they are now going to tell the story of the play they will be seeing.
  1. Define and discuss a "tableau" (a frozen picture that tells the story - no moving, no talking). Talk about what makes an effective tableau (different levels, a clear point of focus, creative physicality, expressive faces, etc.).
  1. Divide students into six equal groups.
  1. Hand out two tableaux cards per group.
  1. Have groups work independently to tableau the scenes on their given cards. Have each group look up and discuss the meanings of words that may be unfamiliar to them.
  1. Remind students that each person in the group should either be participating as a character or image in the tableau or be the one reading the scene caption to the audience. NOTE: Some scene captions could be broken up into several smaller tableaux to tell the story. Encourage the students to do so if they wish.
  1. Give students time to rehearse.
  1. Invite each group to present their tableaux in story order. Have them freeze and then invite the narrator to read the scene caption while the students take the freeze.
  1. Ask the students to hold the freeze while you discuss it. Ask students in the "audience" to share what they notice. They may want to talk about what they see happening or identify the characters who are named in the tableau card. Invite them to discuss the relationships between the characters and the action in the scene.


  • Remove the numbers on the scene captions and have the students place the scenes in chronological order.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What did you notice when you got your section of the story up on its feet?
  • What did you discover while watching and listening to other tableaux presentations? What were the similarities and what were the differences between how each group chose to stage their section?
  • Who were the heroes in the story? What makes them a hero?


Ask students:

  • What does courage mean to you? Where did Atreyu find his courage? What helped to make Bastian brave?
  • What is grief or sadness? How might you help someone in your life who is dealing with grief or sadness?
  • Bastian loves to read, especially when he is having trouble in his life. What activities help make you feel calm, safe or give you a break from the everyday?
  • How do you think Bastian will cope with the bullies when he returns home? What advice would you give him?
  • In what ways do adults in the play affect Bastian's journey? Do they help or hinder him?
  • At the end of the play, we see a new Fantastica. What do you think will happen next for the Childlike Empress and the other creatures who live there?
  • What character did you admire the most? What character did you least admire? What was it about that character that made such an impact on you?
  • Who did you see as a hero in the story? What obstacles and hardships did they overcome?
  • How did the sets, costumes, lighting and sound contribute to the mood the creative team (director, designers, technical experts, etc.) was trying to establish?
  • How did the use of puppets enhance the story being told?



Through the use of imagination and creative writing, students will design their own mystical power symbol and demonstrate an understanding of the principles of effective storytelling.


  • Paper, pens, pencils, coloured construction paper, clay (optional), markers, crayons, scissors, glue, file cards, iPads, computers
  • Open space in which to move


1. As a class, discuss the significance of the Auryn in The Neverending Story. What are its magical powers? Where do you think it came from? What is a talisman or mystical object? Have students name other stories they have seen read or heard of that are about a heroic adventure using a mystical object. Why are such objects important to the story? How do they serve the hero?

2. Invite students to create and name their own mystical power symbol that can be worn or carried.

3. Option 1 (for younger students): Students will write three or four sentences describing the types of power the object possesses and how it can help the hero on a quest.

4. Students will then volunteer to be put on the "hot seat" in front of the class or in small groups. They will take on the role of the hero or heroine with that mystical object and respond to questions posed by the other students, who may wish to ask the heroic character about their adventure, the special powers of their object and how it helped them on their journey, etc. Both hot-seaters and questioners improvise their questions and answers and enjoy the process of using their imaginations.

5. Have the class come together to discuss what new insights they discovered while hot-seating.

6. Afterwards set aside a section of your room to create a display gallery with everyone's creations, and place the file cards next to each student's symbol.

7. Option 2 (for older students): Working in pairs, students will write a short story adventure about two friends who go on a quest. These friends have each been given a mystical object with special powers to help them on their journey.

Things to help the students create and give shape to their story:

  • Who are the heroes?
  • What is their day-to-day life before the adventure starts? What does their regular life look like?
  • What specific events happen to make them start this adventure?
  • Who is their mentor (a wise person offering advice to them and/or giving them each mystical symbols to help them on their journey)?
  • Who are the friends they meet along the journey?
  • Who are the enemies or adversaries they meet along the journey?
  • What hardships or trials do they face?
  • What is the climax/confrontation (ultimate challenge) they must finally face?
  • What did the heroes learn from this quest? How did they change?
  • What happens when they return home?

8. After a period of revisions to their draft copies, students will submit their final short story. Then, all stories will be collated into an e-magazine. Alongside each story, students will also submit a photograph of their symbols and come up with a title for their short story adventure.

9. Each pair of students will then combine with another pair of students. One pair will become the characters they have just created, and the other pair will act as the reporters interviewing these heroes and heroines about their adventure. As in the hot-seating description above, the students will improvise their questions and answers, discovering new insights into the heroes/heroines and the significance of their respective power symbols and the role each plays in their imaginary adventure.

10. After a sufficient amount of time for the first set of reporters to ask their questions, switch and have the groups reverse their roles, with those who were the heroes/heroines becoming the reporters and vice versa. Then repeat the exercise.

11. Have all the groups then come together and discuss what new insights they discovered.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What about the making of your own mystical power symbol did you find surprising? What did you find challenging? Why?
  • For younger students: What were the similarities when you saw the gallery of mystical power objects? What were the differences?
  • For older students: What were the similarities in the way the heroes and heroines carried out their quests? What were the differences?
  • What new insights did you discover while hot-seating or interviewing the heroes/heroines?
  • What would happen if you weren't allowed to use your imagination? How important is it for you to be able to use it? What would happen if we lived in a world without imagination?





Ende, Michael (Author), Manheim, Ralph (Translator). The Neverending Story. Puffin/Penguin Group, 1993.



Ende, Michael. Biography

New York Times. "Michael Ende, 65, German Children's Writer?"

Reading to Kids. "The Neverending Story"



1984 (Germany) + 1985 (UK) The Neverending Story. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; starring Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver and Tami Stronach.

1990 (UK) The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter. Directed by George Miller; starring Jonathan Brandis, Alexander Johnes and Martin Umbach.

1994 (UK) The Neverending Story III: Return to Fantastica. Directed by Peter MacDonald; starring Jason James Richter, Julie Cox, and Jack Black.

1995 (Canada) The Neverending Story (animated version). Directed by Mike Fallows and Marc Boréal; starring Jayne Eastwood, Neil Crone and Joyce Gordon.

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