I am really interested in The Neverending Story, both the film and the book. I googled for interviews for the author Michael Ende, and found this one in German, from 1983 by a journalist called Andre Müller.
So I translated it into English. I don't know its accuracy as I am not fluent in German, but I had fun doing it and I think the general meaning comes across.
The original can be found here:
anyway...here is my translation:
You've been for on the bestseller list of the Spiegel for years. How did you feel when you read your name there for the first time?
Michael Ende: Embarrassment.
Ashamed of yourself?
ENDE: Yes, to a certain degree. I wondered what I did so wrong that this success could occur. In general, the books that are best sellers are not the important books, so you think "oh God, what a mistake". But then I convinced myself that it was always bestsellers which were also very good books. Also, "The Sorrows of Werther" was Goethe's key to lifelong worldwide success.
Your books are good: you know this, yes?
ENDE: No, not at all. The Neverending Story was written over two years. Originally, it shouldn't have been more than a hundred pages. The substance exploded under my hands, and when the book was finished, I didn't know if it was any good or the most nonsense I'd ever written. If my wife and my publisher had not said, "give it a chance", it is something I would not have had the courage to publish. In the end I could not judge whether anyone would be interested, or if I had run so much esoteric kitsch into it no one could want to read it.
Are you pleased with the success?
ENDE: It is also a burden. I get twenty letters a day today. It completely sucks. This is beyond human scale.
What's in the letters?
ENDE: A letter, which I was glad came from a factory worker who wrote to me - "Dear Ende , I just wanted to say I just read straight through your book and then cried for half an hour, that I am another one, warmest greetings". There are also more or less clear invitations from older ladies who are hoping for an emotional relationship with me.
Is it comfortable for you to have this effect?
ENDE: What effect do I have? I do not know.
Obviously, you give comfort in difficult situations.
ENDE: Maybe I create something that the Greeks called "catharsis". A knot is loosening, and then people feel healthier.
Your critics accuse you of enabling the reader to escape into a world of illusion.
ENDE: I know. In Germany, everyone is everyone's schoolmaster. You will have noticed this already in traffic, because you only need to get in the wrong lane and you get a knock on the window saying in a shrill way, "eh, you know that you are wrong here ". There was a time when I was asked in every discussion about the social relevance of my books. Even with friends, I have to explain myself constantly, until it was too stupid for me, and finally I said, "let me rest, I don't ask that you read my books, I don't want to lecture anyone, I want to be able to do just what's fun for me, and write books that I would like to read ". Today we live in a totally ideological age in which everyone believes that they must announce any idea.
But you do it well.
ENDE: Yes, because it forces me. Nevertheless, I have expressed these theories sparingly. Of course I have my own world view and a certain way of seeing people. I have an idea of the meaning of life. World history doesn't appear to me as something absurd.
ENDE: I am convinced that outside the perceptible world of our senses there is another real world and that man comes and goes between them. Furthermore I've had with my father ** many very serious talks. I owe it to him that I experience the world to this day as something mysterious. For me, nature is not merely the sum of chemistry and physics. Thus, one could call me a heathen in this respect. I believe that the non-perceptible reality in the reality that we actually see is there permanently.
To our advantage?
ENDE: That is the question. I fear that we are facing some disasters. Our economic system will collapse in the next fifteen years. It is a commonly known fact that the heat of the Earth's atmosphere is constantly increasing. Any gasoline engine generates heat, which cannot be emitted. If the heat in our atmosphere increases by an average of two degrees every year, if the ice caps are melting, then sea levels can rise two hundred meters, then, for example, all of Florida will be under water. This may mean that the change in the equilibrium of the earth, the outer layers of the earth, in relation to its spin, behave very differently. Then we would have a kind of flood, where only a few of the people would be left over. They would have to start all over again.
The problem of overpopulation would be solved.
ENDE: Yes, although to this day no one can explain to me why there is this problem at all. It's a mystery. Therefore, it may as well be that at one time fewer people are born again.
You have no children?
You wanted none?
ENDE: No. My wife and I realized after the marriage that we have a rhesus factor incompatibility. I would like children. I suffered from the fact that we could not have them. There
was a time when I couldn't look into any baby carriage without a lump in my throat.
Perhaps, therefore, you write children's books.
ENDE: I do not, because I think a division in literature between adults and children is questionable. I cannot establish any essential difference between myself as I am today and as I was forty years ago.
You were thirteen forty years ago.
ENDE: Yes, in the middle of puberty.
Did you have any problems with it?
ENDE: Actually no. I've had to do without a break from women since I was six years old. Because I've seen the napes of girls in the studio of my father enough. People drew there weekly. In the middle sat the model. All around were the painter's friends, and the talk was by no means fine there. So I have never known inhibitions when it comes to sexuality.
Except in your books. There it does not happen.
ENDE: That is correct. The representation of sexuality is problematic for me, in fact, and that is because I do not manage to put it into an independent, artistic reality. The clinical description of the facts is something completely different than what you experience when you sleep with a woman. You experience the heat of the skin, different feelings. It's terribly hard to represent because it is not done with a few vulgar expressions. Goethe used the Latin name for the penis "Iste". Rilke wrote phallic type sonnets. One cannot imagine a greater embarrassment.
You write a diary?
ENDE: Yes, but I will certainly not publish.
Because you tell in it about your erotic escapades.
ENDE: Among other things, yes, because I am certainly not a man who is, let's say, a faithful husband. It already happened sometimes that I succumb to strong feminine charms.
Your wife tolerates it?
ENDE: Reluctantly. But she knows that it is necessary. In every man there's a rooster hiding who wants to crow from the top of the heap once in a while. My wife has, though she has been through a lot, been determined to remain happy. I owe her an awful lot. My books would not have occurred at all without her. Because I tend to get depressed. These are uncomfortable times for someone who must then take the other by the collar to stay afloat.
Why do you get depressed?
ENDE : My depression comes from a feeling of total disability. Then I sit around and see everything completely pitch black. These are times of complete discouragement, where I say to myself, "for what?". Achieve what you want, you never manage anyway.
You have not gone far enough?
ENDE: I am absolutely not happy with myself. I want to go much further.
ENDE: If a fairy came and asked me what I want, I would say I want to invent a contemporary world as complete as Shakespeare did in his time. I'm trying to find a language that is independent of what one describes simply as beautiful. Today we stare continuously at the ugliness of the world, and we think it would help us if we keep repeating like a prayer wheel how sick and broken and destroyed we are. Man was formerly possessed of an intact intellectual worldview. We do not have this anymore.
ENDE: Yes, because I am a Christian ... Embarrassing, is not it?
ENDE: But I must say that I have serious doubts about whether the one I call Christ is the same as to which the christian church prays. The world of Allah from which many revelations come
from time to time …faith isn't for me an imagined world opposite to the one extremely near and dominated by science…the revelation is everywhere already for me, and is not the same as in the
Islamic meaning. I am convinced there is an infinite hierarchy of higher intelligences over our human existence but unlike Mr Däniken I think it is nonsense these higher intelligences were
previously inhabitants of other stars. But they are actually what we knew before as angels and archangels.
And these angels will protect us from self-destruction?
ENDE: I believe that.
Why should people choose us to take this as important?
ENDE: Because mankind is the navel of the world. For me, the world looks out on the entire cosmos as a vast amphitheater filled with gods and demons who are watching with bated breath what we're doing. I think for for us, we are the center of the universe. If I could no longer believe this, I do not see why I should live at all.
You would kill yourself.
ENDE: Yes, probably. I tried it when I was in my school years. I wanted to drown myself. I remained seated and was ashamed in front of my parents, who already had enough to worry about, because my father during the Nazi era was labelled a degenerate artist and was not allowed to exhibit. My mother earned the bare minimum as a masseuse and physiotherapist. Then I thought, if I still come home with nothing but sixes in results, that was it. I could not find an answer, so I spent a whole day standing in front of the dam on the river Isar in Munich. I could not jump in, I got delayed again and again for another five minutes.
Because you were too cowardly.
ENDE: Yes, I thought, I cannot even do it. At school they taught me, but in very big way I learned that I am a failure and not good for this life. Now I could not even die. After that I felt reverted back to being a stunted child and I took refuge in total indolence. To make matters worse in my parents house there was no peace, there was constant quarreling.
My father had the opportunity from a friend to come to the armed forces under a pseudonym, where he could paint pretty much any general on horseback. Thus he could have earned something.
My mother felt that he should do this so that they would be somewhat relieved. But he did not. Since then they just yelled at each other.
Have you admired the steadfastness of your father?
ENDE : I have greatly admired it. As for art, he was absolutely uncompromising.
What are your memories of the war?
ENDE: I was twelve years old when I experienced the first bombing raid on Munich. Our road was completely in flames. I remember walking like a drunk through the burning streets and singing constantly. It was euphoria that seized me. I can not explain to this day entirely why. There was not much, and I would jump into the fire like a gnat flying into the light. But more terrible was the bombing of Hamburg in 1943. I was there to visit an uncle. That really was a doomsday. It always comes back in my dreams, as we recovered the charred corpses reduced to baby size. I can still see the hostile array of totally distraught people before me wandering through the labyrinth of ruins. One carried a table on the back, probably the only thing he had saved.
Did you have to fight?
ENDE: No, because I disappeared when they tried to pick us up at the end of the war, in order to meet the American tanks. We were schoolboys putting on helmets and holding bazookas in our hands. Three of my classmates still fell. Only I managed to run away and go home. At that time, I promised myself, I'll never hold a gun in my hand. I also do not own a gun. When robbers come to attack us, please, let them take everything here!
You would not fight back?
Would you defend your wife?
ENDE: I do not know. If anything happened to her, I would, of course, be horrified. I know how it is when people are shot. I've seen it.
ENDE: No, after the war. We lived just outside of town. I always had to go on the way home a certain route through a forest. American soldiers were drunk with their girls and practiced target shooting at the people who passed by, as if we were tin cans. I always buzzed by there like a rabbit. Beside me, the wood was splintered in the trees where the bullets struck. Once I saw how someone was hit. It infused properly. This was meeting evil for me.
Why does the God in whom you believe let this happen?
ENDE: Because it is necessary. I think that evil is just as necessary as the good. In history, Judas was as necessary as Christ was for the salvation. Desdemona is as important as Iago. The historical and aesthetic point of view has no morality.
Are you interested in politics?
ENDE: That was then. I am one of those who was mutinied in 1968. I took to the streets and had myself carried away by the police. But when this originally very hopeful student movement began to fall apart in a thousand splinter groups, each of which was more orthodox than the other, and you mutually spoke only with an asshole and constantly tried to finish one another off with psychological terror, my enthusiasm passed since I suddenly felt like it was kids' stuff. I could not believe that these crouching eternal smartasses, just waiting with long hair and their Marxist worship, would be able to establish any kind of solidarity.
You just gave up.
Down the line.
ENDE: Yes. I still develop a fighting spirit in artistic matters. I will not sell out. If one comes along and says, "now you'll get a million for it if you keep your mouth shut," I say, "you plug your million up your ass". As for me, money is no object. I have now experienced this with the people who want to make a film of the "Neverending Story". *** This should be done in a commercial way that I take their shoes off. I have struggled to total exhaustion. Attempts have been made with very bad methods to put me on the cross. I made a big scandal. But it did not work.
You have sued for breach of copyright.
ENDE: Yes, but that does not interfere with filming. I was able to save only my writing.
What do you do when you're not writing?
ENDE: I wilt. But I do not die. I've also been through crises in which I wanted to completely stop writing, financial crises. I was not always successful. My external living conditions were once so dark that I could not pay my rent. I had to live off a pint of milk and a couple of cakes. So I think a certain amount of money each person should earn, no matter what he does, as entitlement, because the power that is now provided by the machine is the common spiritual heritage of all the people and should not be of benefit only to business men, but to all people. This would allow the basic needs of everyone to be met, even if one pursues any livelihood.
What are your basic needs?
ENDE: What I have now, a house, a garden. They are here, **** in five thousand square meters. The house has seven rooms. Then I need a car, books, clothes, food and drink.
This means that each person would get a house with a garden and a car for free?
ENDE: Only when he needs it.
Who would say that he does not need it?
ENDE: Well, I correct myself. One would have to specify a certain sum, say twelve hundred dollars a month, which everyone gets. Of which one can live without freezing and starving to death. I'm sure there would still be those that still pursue a job, but that would not be a paid job. I honestly believe that if one exercises all day, he does a job, but he can not expect to get any money.
Fortunately, your work gives you pleasure and is also well paid.
ENDE: Do not blame me.
*) Ingeborg Ende, Michael Ende's first wife, a former actress, died in 1985 of a pulmonary embolism. In 1989 Ende married the Japanese translator Mariko Satō who translated some of his works into Japanese.
**) Michael Ende's father, the surrealist painter Edgar Ende (1901 - 1965).
***) The film version of his novel "The Neverending Story" by Wolfgang Petersen (1984), from whom Michael Ende distanced himself , after all attempts to prevent the film in court had failed.
****) This interview took place in Michael Ende's house in southern Italy.