Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Not a White Mare

The Last Unicorn

Written by: Peter S. Beagle

Released: 1968 by Viking Press

Summary: 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.

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.

This was one of my absolute favourite animated movies from when I was really little. In fact, I’m surprised that I didn’t wear out of VHS copy I watched it so much – note to self; dig out said VHS and re-live childhood for a few hours.

I don’t know if it was because it was all about unicorns – my room had unicorn wallpaper and a rainbow mural – or because I thought that she was so pretty when she became human, but my eyes never strayed from the story and the red bull scared me.

A few years ago I discovered that my beloved movie was based on a novel of the same name and I then made it my mission to unearth a copy at a used book store. I finally got around to reading it this fall (last fall as I write this now) and I wasn’t disappointed how the story was transferred from one medium to another in my mind.

I was captivated not only by the well-known story but by how the characters were written. Maybe it’s the remnant scenes left in my head, but the characters just jumped off the page. No, I take that back, it’s the fantastic writing quality of Beagle that really makes the characters pop along with the scenery and the emotions.

Molly Grue was by far my favourite character. I loved how snarky she could be but also how soft and loving she was. You knew as soon as she was introduced that she would fall into a motherly role with the unicorn (the lady Amalthea when she’s human) and you can almost hear her heart breaking at the end of the novel even though she knows that what’s done is for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the unicorn too with her vast knowledge of almost nothing, and I loved reading her transformation – going from the aloof beast that she was to the almost-human girl that she becomes, and I so wanted her romance with Prince Lir to work, but she just didn’t carry the fire that Molly did.

This book is one that I’m going to forever keep on my bookshelf and buy for my younger bookworm cousins for their birthdays. It’s that quintessential part of my childhood that I’ll never outgrow, and for that it gets a 10/10.

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