The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
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 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.
This is a book no fantasy reader should miss; Beagle argues brilliantly the need for magic in our lives and the folly of forgetting to dream. —Nona Vero
I’ve had The Last Unicorn on my reading list for what seems like forever. The movie is a family favorite, and my children still enjoy it today. I was excited to finally get to this original story by Peter S. Beagle.
The Last Unicorn is the story of a beautiful unicorn living in an old forest, who overhears that there are no longer any living unicorns in the land.
“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.”
This puzzles her, and she feels compelled to discover what happened to the others. She’s been warned not to leave, but she sets off on a journey through the forest in an attempt to locate all the others. She meets humans along the way and a butterfly that notifies her where all the other unicorns have been forced to go. Then she encounters Schmendrick the Magician at a carnival, and Molly Grue later, and the trio make their way toward King Haggard’s castle where it’s been said that a Red Bull monster has run all the unicorns into the sea. Here, the unicorn may realize that it’s much more dangerous than she could’ve ever expected.
“I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am full of tears and hunger and the fear of death, although I cannot weep, and I want nothing, and I cannot die. I am not like the others now, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret.”
Once I was able to settle into this story and get used to the writing, it was lovely. It took me a while to get there. The prose is ornate and metaphorical yet smooth and beautiful, and the melancholic tone is perfect. It’s poetical at times. The characters have a lot of depth, and I liked all of them. In this story, they all learn some life lessons.
“We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.”
Because I read this with my two middle graders, it was somewhat laborious stopping for vocabulary study now and then. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this book is very much an adult fantasy. The content is fine, but the way the story is written with adult themes makes this a better fit for older readers.
They still enjoyed reading the book with me and could follow the gist of the story just fine. It was fun for us to talk about the differences between the movie versus the book too. Watching the movie and reading the book are two very different experiences. It seems the only thing that felt off to me in the book was the world-building, which makes this different from other fantasies I’ve read. It’s too bad there isn’t a map included to give you an idea of the location of everything.
Overall, this was a unique, magical fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed. With themes of truth, love, obsession, and loss, this is just a beautiful story that anyone can enjoy. I can’t believe I let this wonderful story sit on my shelf for so long. This is a quick read, and one that I’ll likely revisit again in the future.
- Publisher : Ace; Illustrated edition (January 1, 1991)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0451450523
- ISBN-13 : 978-0451450524
This is another addition to my retelling reading challenge, even though it isn’t a retelling. I included it on my list for 2021. You can see my progress by clicking the image below.
Thanks for reading my review of The Last Unicorn. Have you read this book? What are some of your favorite classic fantasy reads? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment’s section.