Book: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Format Read: Paperback
Living alone in a magical forest with a pool she can see herself in, a unicorn overhears a couple of hunters. They know she is there, although they do not see her, and through their conversation, the unicorn learns that she is the last unicorn in the world. The realization is disquieting for the immortal creature, enough for her to embark on a quest seeking others of her kind. Then again, the world has changed and those who do see her see a white mare – and those who recognize her for what she is have sinister plans for her.
Eventually though, the unicorn must confront the one who is responsible for her solitary existence without her kin. A little butterfly, with his short attention span and infuriating habit of leaping from speech to song to poetry and riddle, is the most enigmatic oracle the unicorn can find. He tells her, in a brief moment of clarity, who to look for. Then he lapses back into his song and speech and poetry and riddle. Just like that.
“The Last Unicorn” is a whimsical story, part fable, part fairy tale. The unicorn is simply called the unicorn, a remarkable character. Almost everybody around her is mortal, animals and birds and humans alike, and she makes no distinction between them, talking to humans as easily as she does to a butterfly. Briefly captured by a carnival and put on display, she is freed by a seemingly foolish magician called Schmendrick. By his own admission, Schmendrick and others like him are, “…not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.” (page 40)
The magician follows the unicorn on her quest, and later on, so does the strong willed and bold Molly Grue, who was once part of a Robin Hood-esque band of outlaws. They’re a little confused though – they steal from the hapless poor and allow themselves to be robbed by the rich. And of course they pay tribute to the rich mayor to leave them alone. Of course.
“The Last Unicorn” is a beautifully narrated tale of magic and imagination. The language is rich and musical, and the story is in turn happy and humorous and sad and always enchanting.