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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

I recently re-read The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. According to the Wikipedia article on the book, it has been translated into twenty or more languages, and sold over five million copies.

What's the attraction? I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the good guys (and girls and unicorns) win. And that some of the good guys are flawed characters. Hardly a surprise. Here's a pretty good description: "During the meal Schmendrick told stories of his life as an errant enchanter, filling it with kings and dragons and noble ladies. He was not lying, merely arranging events more sensibly . . ." Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. (New York: Penguin, 1991, p. 47)

"Whatever can die is beautiful -- more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and is the most beautiful creature in the world . . ." ( p.108.)

The title comes from the situation of the unicorns. They are immortal, or nearly so. All of them have disappeared, into the sea, out past the castle of King Haggard. Haggard's magical red bull, an enormous beast, has chased them there, and keeps them.

Schmendrick is one of the good guys, and the main character. He is a mediocre wizard, at best, except for two occasions, central to the plot, when he tells his magic to go ahead and do whatever it needs to, without direction. The results are not what anyone was expecting, in either case. Molly Grue is another important character. She has been partner to a man who is in charge of some forest knaves, who rob, and act as pale imitations of the mythical Robin Hood. They know that they are imitations.

The book has some beautiful scenes, some amazing symbols (including mythical beings), magic, a unicorn, and a plot which surprised me more than once. If you haven't read The Last Unicorn, and fantastic literature (with no vampires) holds an attraction for you, you should read it. Thanks for reading this.

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