The Last Unicorn Paperback – 31 Oct 1991
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Praise for Peter S. Beagle and The Last Unicorn"Comes alive and stays alive on bright intensity of imagination."--The New York Times Book Review "Peter S. Beagle is (in no particular order) a wonderful writer, a fine human being, and a bandit prince out to steal readers' hearts."--Tad Williams "Beagle illuminates with his own particular magic."--Ursula K. LeGuin "Almost as if it were the last fairy tale, come out of lonely hiding in the forests of childhood, The Last Unicorn is as full of enchantment as any of the favorite tales readers may choose to recall...A delicate, sensitive, yet powerful rendering of all the intangibles that make a fairy tale unforgettable."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Beagle...has been compared, not unreasonably, with Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien, but he stands squarely and triumphantly on his own feet...The book is rich, not only in comic bits but also in passages of uncommon beauty. Beagle is a true magician with words, a master of prose and a deft practitioner in verse."--The Saturday Review
Recounts the quest of the last unicorn, who leaves the protection of the enchanted forest to search for her own kind, and who is joined by Schmedrick the Magician and Molly Grue in her search.See all Product description
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However, the reason the novel works is because there is a second layer of awareness underlying the first. There is magic that is flummery (even though it is still what we would call magic) and magic that is real. The magic that doesn't count is simple conjuring. It may achieve things that we would regard as impossible to be done by sleight of hand, but it achieves nothing that really matters. It can create the seeming of a manticore from a lion, but it cannot make the lion actually BE a manticore. Sometimes, it verges on the edge of reality. When the spider weaving the web believes that she really is Archne, then her belief adds to the illusion cast upon her.
The second kind of magic is deeper and more real and harder to define. It isn't just tricks and appearances. It is the unicorn. She is more real than anything around her. She does not consciously set out to influence the world around her; her intererst in mortals is pretty much non-existant. She is incapable of love. Love is transient, fleeting, mortal. She is immortal and unchanging.
In a world where unicorns can exist, there is always the possibility of real magic. The outlaws play at being Robin Hood and try and adapt his legends to themselves, but the real Robin is the ultimate dream for them. To see or touch the real Robin Hood is to bring reality to their dreams and hopes for themselves. Not the cold reality that destroys dreams, but the kind of reality that says dreams have meaning and are but the shadow of an eternal verity.
The unicorn is an abstract. She is pure beauty, moonlight in darkness. She is springtime. To once see a unicorn is to carry something of beauty with you for the rest of your life. She is hope. She is pure and untouchable. She is the sure knowledge that there is something unsullied in the world.
She is the last of her kind.
When she sets forth from her eternal springtime forest to seek other unicorns, then she sets the story in motion. (I'm not going to talk about the people she meets, as I don't believe in giving away plots in advance.)
The novel has both strengths and weaknesses. The greatest strength is the sense of beauty and magic behind the veil of myth and fairy tale.
The weakness (for me at least) is when the parody is slightly over-done. The anachronisms are probably deliberate to make the contrasts sharper, but I still find medieval outlaws eating tacos to be a little disconcerting.
The other great strength lies in Beagle's descriptive writing. He has a real gift for phrases that come to life: "following the fleeing darkness into a wind that tasted like nails". I can feel and taste the entire rainstorm in that single phrase.