Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Momo by Michael Ende (1985)

When Momo, a bedraggled orphan with a seemingly unending capacity for listening to others moves into the amphitheater in an unnamed city, she becomes the center of cultural life. By talking to Momo the residents of the city learn to solve problems, play games, tell stories, and get along better with their friends and family. In exchange for the riches Momo gives to the city, the residents look out for her and keep her safe, acting as the parents and siblings she does not have. This wonderful arrangement is soon threatened, however  - and eventually destroyed - by a mysterious supernatural race of men in grey, whose sole purpose is to rob people of their time and make it impossible for them to enjoy their lives. Momo is determined to save her beloved friends from the fate brought about by the men in grey's sinister activities, but even with the help of Professor Hora, who is responsible for all time and his psychic tortoise Cassiopoeia, the process of defeating these enemies is very dangerous and uncertain.

Momo is by Michael Ende, the same author who wrote The Neverending Story, which is another strange fantasy novel that uses symbolism to comment on the state of society. Momo was originally published in German in 1973, translated into English in 1974, and published in the US in 1985. I would never have chosen to read it - or even known about it - on my own, but my husband insisted that it was a must-read, so I wound up reading it aloud to him over a period of weeks this past summer. Though I found it difficult to understand - and I still find it difficult to fully explain - I found that he was right. This is a lovely book about the importance of real human connection and the dangers that lurk beneath the surface of the many seemingly inconsequential things that eat up our time. Because the story uses symbolism to make its points, it can be applied not just to the distractions people faced in the 1970s, such as television and work, but also to newly developed technologies like smart phones, social media, and digital devices.

The lack of specific setting and the mysterious origins of Momo make this book somewhat unsettling, but the emotional depth and allegorical elements are impressive, and there is no way I could have allowed myself to leave the book unfinished. Though this is technically a children's book, there is so much in it that can be appreciated by teen and adult readers as well. A child who reads this book will probably need to read it again at a later stage of life in order to truly appreciate its full meaning. Even I feel as though my own interpretation of the book could benefit from a second or third reading

After a bad experience with The Neverending Story as a kid (it was the read-aloud on my first-ever overnight trip away from home, during which I was promised I could call my parents and then denied the opportunity), I vowed never to read it, but I can see now that this would be a mistake. Because of Momo, I will definitely be giving it another chance, and I fully expect to enjoy it.

Momo is best read without any preconceived notions, so I will stop short of revealing anything else about the book, and just say that even if you are not typically a fantasy reader, it should make its way to the top of your to-read list as soon as possible! You will have no regrets.

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