Are you part of the NeverEnding Story?
4 February 2008 (updated 12 March 2011)
For family home evening, we watched the movie, “NeverEnding Story”. It’s the one from the ’80s with a boy who discovers, while reading a book, that he’s creating a wondrous fantasy world.
I remember enjoying the movie as a child, but did not recognize at the time how the story is built around the notion of an infinite regression of worlds created within worlds. Below is a particularly intriguing part of the dialog (which, be warned, occurs at the climax of the story). There are three characters. The Childlike Empress and Atreyu are characters in a book that the third character, Bastian, is reading.
[Atreyu walks up the stairs that lead to the Empress’ room. The chamber door begins to open . . . He enters the room and the door closes behind him. Before him was the Childlike Empress in person. She sits silently on her bed, her gaze never leaves Atreyu.]
Childlike Empress: Atreyu, why do you look so sad?
Atreyu: I have failed you Empress.
Childlike Empress: No, you haven’t. You’ve brought him with you.
Childlike Empress: The Earthling child. The one who can save us all.
Atreyu: You knew about the Earthling child?!
Childlike Empress: Of course. I knew everything.
[Atreyu grows angry with her]
Atreyu: My horse died, I nearly drowned, and I just barely got away from the nothing. For what?! To find out what you already knew?!
Childlike Empress: It was the only way to get in touch with an Earthling.
Atreyu: But I didn’t get in touch with an Earthling!
Childlike Empress: Yes, you did.
[Bastian sits up slowly as we hear what she’s saying.]
Childlike Empress: He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here with you. He’s very close. Listening to every word that we say.
[Atreyu looks around, as does she.]
[Two fragments of Fantasia collide and explode shaking the Tower Violently.]
Atreyu: Where is he? If he’s so close, why doesn’t he arrive?!
Childlike Empress: He doesn’t realize that he’s already a part of the NeverEnding Story.
Atreyu: The NeverEnding Story, what’s that?
Childlike Empress: Just as he is sharing all your adventures, others are sharing his. They were with him when he hid from the boys in the bookstore.
Bastian: But that’s impossible!
Childlike Empress: They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he’s reading his own story right now.
Bastian: I can’t believe it, they can’t be talking about me.
[The Ivory Tower cracks. Atreyu turns around to see where it cracked, then he turns back to the Empress.]
Atreyu: What will happen if he doesn’t appear?!
Childlike Empress: Then our world will disappear, and so will I.
Atreyu: How can he let that happen?!
Childlike Empress: He doesn’t understand that he’s the one who has the power to stop it. He simply can’t imagine that one little boy could be that important.
Bastian: Is it really me?
Atreyu: Maybe he doesn’t know what he has to do!
Bastian: What do I have to do?!
Childlike Empress: He has to give me a new name. He’s already chosen it, he just has to call it out.
Bastian: It’s only a story, it’s not real. It’s only a story.
[The Ivory Tower shakes and cracks some more. Atreyu falls over backward and is knocked unconscious.]
Bastian: Atreyu! NO!
Childlike Empress: Atreyu!
[The courtyard is being taken away by the Nothing. Because of Bastian’s new found disbelief the Nothing has grown stronger and is now attacking the last remaining part of Fantasia.]
Childlike Empress: Bastian, why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?
Bastian: But I can’t! I have to keep my feet on the ground!
Childlike Empress: Call my name! Bastian, please! Save us!
Bastian: All right, I’ll do it. I’ll save you. I will do what I dream!
[He climbs up to the window and opens it. He leans out into the storm and calls out the name he had chosen for her.]
[Darkness, pure and black as night. We hear Bastian speak.]
Bastian: Why is it so dark?
Empress Moonchild: In the beginning it is always dark.
[A small light appears and starts growing until the two children’s faces are illuminated. It is coming from an object in Moonchild’s hand. Bastian looks at it.]
Bastian: What is that?
Empress Moonchild: One grain of sand. It is all that remains of my vast empire.
Bastian: Fantasia has totally disappeared?
Empress Moonchild: Yes.
Bastian: Then everything has been in vain.
Empress Moonchild: No, it hasn’t. Fantasia can arise in you. In your dreams and wishes, Bastian.
Empress Moonchild: Open your hand.
[She puts the grain into his hand and he looks at it.]
Empress Moonchild: What are you going to wish for?
Bastian: I don’t know.
Empress Moonchild: Then there will be no Fantasia any more.
Bastian: How many wishes do I get?
Empress Moonchild: As many as you want. And the more wishes you make, the more magnificent Fantasia will become.
Empress Moonchild: Try it.
Bastian: Then my first wish is . . .
[Moonchild follows his gaze and smiles.]
Could it be, as you have shared Bastian’s adventure, others are now sharing yours? As you were with him when he saved Fantasia, might they be with you as you read this text? Have you been reading your own story? Are you part of the NeverEnding Story? Impossible? Are you sure?
Read the Simulation Argument.