Friday, April 30, 2010

The Last Unicorn

The 6th book of the challenge and the 3rd of the B's.

Peter S Beagle is a fantasy author who has been active in the field for over 40 years. He's worked in Hollywood and written fantasy and science fiction, even some non fiction, he he will always been best known for his 3rd book, a whimsical fairy tale fantasy called The Last Unicorn.

It's basically a quest book. The last unicorn in the world (never named) sets out from her lilac grove in an enchanted forest to see if it's true, if she really is the last unicorn and whether or not she can find more of her kind. Joining her on her journey of discovery are the incompetent wizard Schmendrick, the incurable romantic Molly Grue and the heroic and lovesick Prince Lir. Along the way the unicorn encounters the perils of the world beyond her forest. A travelling show of curiousities, a village of hopeless people, a band of roaming bandits and finally the miserable King Haggard who has the secret to her quest.

The characters, aside from the unicorn were very deliberately made generic fantasy quest characters, but then their dialogue and actions gave them depth. The language used by Beagle is extraordinary and very uniquely descriptive, but it works. The entire story has this lovely feel to it that makes you keep reading to discover more about the world and it's inhabitants. You care about what happens to the unicorn and her friends. It takes the known fairytale concepts and ever so subtly and cleverly turns them on their heads.

I can see why it's become a modern classic. It can be read and enjoyed for varying reasons across a number of ages, from children under the age of 10 (although they'd need some help and it may even need to be read to them) to adults who just enjoy a well told tale. Other works in a similar vein are William Goldman's The Princess Bride.


  1. My mother read this book to me when I was small. I've read it a number of time since and still love it to this day. It is beautiful. We used to own the cartoon movie as well, but I watched it until the tape gave out.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure why, but I never saw this book as a kid and I think my reading of it was somewhat diminished by first encountering it as an adult, but I can see how it's become a much loved modern classic.