Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Published: July 2008 (40th Anniversary Edition)
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd. 
Pages: 294
Find Online: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

The Last Unicorn is one of the true classics of fantasy, ranking with Tolkien's The Hobbit, Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Beagle writes a shimmering prose-poetry, the voice of fairy tales and childhood:

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea."

The unicorn discovers that she is the last unicorn in the world, and sets off to find the others. She meets Schmendrick the Magician--whose magic seldom works, and never as he intended--when he rescues her from Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival, where only some of the mythical beasts displayed are illusions. They are joined by Molly Grue, who believes in legends despite her experiences with a Robin Hood wannabe and his unmerry men. Ahead wait King Haggard and his Red Bull, who banished unicorns from the land.

I grew up in the 80s and remember the movie The Last Unicorn captivating me. I have re-watched it many a time and even own a DVD copy now in my 30s. Yet, until now, I have never read the book that the movie was based on. 

I have to say that the book is so much better than the movie. Imagining all of the lovely scenes with my own imagination was wonderful. I do wish I had read it first though, because I think some of the characters still remained like the ones you see in the movie. I think of the scenery of the story much like the scenery pictured in the movie - especially the unicorns forest - so stylistic and beautiful.

The story of the unicorn searching for her own kind, makes me think of people who are different from those around them trying to find where they fit in, to know they are not alone. Her search takes her far and wide and only with the help of two misfits is she able to finally find her true calling. 

Schmendrick plays the bumbling magician really cannot control his magic and Molly Grue has both a snarky side and a motherly side to her. The three travel together and fall into a sort of makeshift family - protecting one another and keeping each other company while trying to complete the unicorn's quest of finding others like her. 

Upon finding the Red Bull, Schemdrick morphs the unicorn into a human form - Lady Almathea, to save her from being hunted down. Little does he know that by doing so he may have condemned her to a fate worse than the others. Slowly but surely, Lady Almathea begins to feel emotions and start to act more human than immortal creature and is losing her true self. She needs the reminder of what she is looking for and who she is. That great decision of staying true to herself or becoming something else is only a choice she can make. 

Her heart is starting to belong to Prince Lir, but her mind is still searching for the unicorns. After some nudges and some magic, she faces off with the Red Bull for a final showdown - in hopes to find the rest of her kind. This was truly a magnificent scene, but I will let you read it for yourself.

Without giving away the entire ending, there is one thing to know - that emotions play a big role in the unicorn/Lady Almathea's life now. Things she had never experienced before have now forever changed her. Whether it is the right thing to have done or not, it is what it is. 

This fantasy novel has all of the elements that you could want: magic, love, good vs. evil, beautiful prose, magnificent scenery and most of all a unicorn!

“We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.”
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

“I love whom I love," Prince Lir repeated firmly. "You have no power over anything that matters.”
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn  

“Heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever; a happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.”
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn 

Sidenote: There is a great post about re-watching The Last Unicorn over at Tor

About the Author:
Peter Soyer Beagle (born April 20, 1939) is an American fantasist and author of novels, nonfiction, and screenplays. He is also a talented guitarist and folk singer. He wrote his first novel, A Fine and Private Place , when he was only 19 years old. Today he is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, which routinely polls as one of the top ten fantasy novels of all time, and at least two of his other books (A Fine and Private Place and I See By My Outfit) are considered modern classics.

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  1. I'm also planning to read this as I chose it for my reading list for my final exams at university. :) Looking forward to it. I've also seen the movie multiple times as a child.
    I'm glad you liked it!

    1. I hope you enjoy it just as much as the movie!


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