The Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. (New York: Penguin, 1968) 304 pages.

My second Peter Beagle book and, I have to say, this novel was as much of a treat to read as were his short stories.

The Last Unicorn is a faerie tale. Not only that, but it is a faerie tale of exactly the right sort. It is the kind of tale where nothing is as it seems and everything is as it should. A tale which starts out in such a simple, non-presumptuous, way but which ends by giving so much more than you anticipated. A tale in which each character is human, frail and weak and a mix of good and evil, but where each one surprises you and makes you feel for him or her. It is, in short, a very good story.

The tale begins with a unicorn in a wood. This is Beagle's description: "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 overhears two hunters talking about how there are no more unicorns in the world, and that if this wood, which seems so enchanted, still has one, then it is the last. The unicorn, overhearing this, awakened to consciousness of both others and its situation in that moment, sets off on a journey to find out what has happened to all of her kind. Thus, the journey begins. Along the way she is captured by won of the last witches left in the world, imprisoned with a harpy and many sad creatures who are used as the base for grand illusions, and they are all put on display in a travelling circus. There the unicorn meets Schmendrick the Magician and they escape.

This, of course, is only the beginning of a wondrous tale which winds its way through cursed towns, lost children, good princes, evil kings, and, of course, a monster at the heart of it all.

As with the last Beagle review, I will conclude with this: I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading. You don't have to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy this; you just have to enjoy a good story.

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