Most Americans' familiarity with the book will come from the three American movies, despite the fact that the book was a bestseller in Germany for three years.
The first two movies are based on the first and second halves of the book, respectively (fortunately, the events of the third one were never written about). Bastian, rather than being a cute, slim, wide-eyed little boy, is a chubby recluse who withdraws into his own imagination as a replacement for friends, even more so since the death of his mother.
While not amazingly well-written by any stretch of the imagination, The Neverending Story makes up fully for that by being such a gripping adventure. Ende can write an enthralling drama, as equally light-hearted as it can be dark.
The story, however, goes deeper than providing a high fantasy tale. It is, at its heart, when all is said and done, a story about learning to love oneself. Bastian's metamorphosis from a selfish schoolboy to a worshipped, egotistical weilder of Auryn in Fantastica to, finally, a humble, appreciative son is as magical as the rest of the novel.