ArtView May 2015 - Page 11

I was born in Singapore but moved to Warwick, Queensland in the early 1970s where my dad was the town G.P. On an application form for a driver‟s licence, I believe, Dad wrote in the box where it said „Skin colour‟ “medium” because a question like that is always going to be confusing. But the officer who took the form from him struck out the word and wrote “dark”. Moments like that — in your family history and in your own life — will stick and have an impact on the kind of person you become, and the work you do as an adult. Which is why — after a diet pendulous with Trixie Belden, Enid Blyton, The Three Investigators, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and abridged English literary classics — reading The Neverending Story, by German author Michael Ende, was a revelation. What that book brought home — as an eleven-year-old Australian-Chinese girl on holiday in Singapore — was that skin colour is completely irrelevant. It‟s what you do inside that skin that counts. Not to be confused with the execrable movie of 1984, The Neverending Story (Allen Lane, 1983) has as its central heroic triumvirate: a “fat little boy of ten or twelve”, a small boy from a nomadic hunting tribe with blue-black hair and green skin, and a ruling empress who resembles a beautiful child with snow-white hair and golden eyes. Among other things, the novel is populated by blackskinned centaurs, talking werewolves, sentient insect swarms, ghouls, giant guardian snakes and a wingless, magic luck dragon with ruby-red eyes. Briefly, Bastian Balthazar Bux (the pastyskinned kid) is the daily target of school bullies. He is completely ignored by his father, who is still grief-stricken after the death of Bastian‟s mother. Instead of attending class one day, Bastian — heeding some impulse he can‟t name — steals a strange old hardback from a second-hand book dealer called “The Neverending Story”. Bastian then hides away in his school attic to read it all through that day and into the dawn of the next. But inside those hours, an entire world — Fantastica — is destroyed and born again. And Bastian is witness to all of it. The Neverending Story was ground-breaking for me on many levels. It‟s a story within a story: the book itself is inside the book. How many times as a child have you wished to enter and be a part of the story you were reading? Well, Bastian is the reader physically drawn into the story, becoming a god-like player in it — capable both of creation and destruction. Before I even knew what “breaking the fourth wall” meant, here was a book that made me, the reader, complicit in that. “The Neverending Story” that Bastian reads begins to speak directly to him. When he cries out in his world, he is heard by the characters inside the book he holds. They beg