Symbolic Drowning


Nothing like trying to break doldrum funk by beginning to show your students in both reader’s workshop blocks The Neverending Story. Seeing Atreyu’s beloved Artax drown in the Swamp of Sadness with 25 kids you hold dear, twice in one morning no less, is a surefire way to bring sunshine to any day. What an indelible childhood image/memory that was too. Ugh.

But I know this movie will really amplify the concepts I am teaching in this fantasy book club unit. And I know that charting the characters and the settings and following and analyzing the different complex plotlines will be an overall win for all involved. I’m going to follow up the viewing with something I and many of my peers was robbed of: an explanation of the symbolism behind the fateful scene in the Swamp of Sadness.

Fantasia’s Swamp of Sadness, Bastian narrates, is a place where despair dwells and anyone who allows the despair to take over sinks and drowns in the sadness. Atreyu survives, even as we see him overwrought with emotion from literally watching his closest companion succumb to depression. The swamp’s powers do not get Atreyu. We are told early on that he is a warrior and so I will tell my students to emulate that symbolism. Something I was never taught. Atreyu experienced the trauma, dealt with it properly, but did not allow it to swallow him whole. I’m guessing, unfortunately, that for at least one of my students this will be the most important thing they learn today, and while that may not be the most cheerful, upbeat notion to consider, I’ll take it.   

4 thoughts on “Symbolic Drowning

  1. Wow. What a powerful lesson you are offering to these students. Too often today students (well, and many of us) avoid what is hard and don’t understand the power of dealing with a problem rather than ignoring it. The Neverending Story is an amazing teaching tool for this – what a great idea. I’m sorry it’s a hard day, but I’m glad you know that it’s worth it.


  2. Sounds like you had a great lesson in symbolism for writing/reading …. and a life lesson. It will prevent much heartache if students can learn important lessons through vicarious experiences with characters in stories/movies. In our preK /K literature, I find the animals in Beatrix Potter’s tales offer us those lesson opportunities.


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