Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Last Unicorn

Last unicorn hb.jpg 

This Peter S. Beagle novella opens with the eponymous equine living alone, being old and immortal, with a fat man coming across her and mistaking her for a standard horse, a butterfly teasing her as well, and being warned about the Red Bull. The Midnight Carnival also mistakes the unicorn for a regular steed, featuring many regular animals posing as mythical beasts, although among them is Schmendrick the magician, who recognizes the unicorn for what she really is. The wizard and the unicorn ultimately flee, with the latter asking wondering the possibility of others of her kind still existing in the world.

One of the primary issues with the story is that at times, despite occurring in what seems to be a standard medieval fantasy otherworld, there are references to Earth languages such as French and folktales such as Robin Hood, which makes it feel sometimes anachronistic. A woman named Molly Grue joins the unicorn and Schmendrick, heading to the town of Hagsgate, where the melancholy King Haggard lives. The Red Bull serves as something as an antagonist, appearing when the unicorn emerges from hiding, with the horned equine for a few chapters transformed into the human Lady Amalthea.

Haggard’s heir Prince Lir ultimately joins the unicorn the battle against the Red Bull, with the story generally being a short but sweet read, given some occasional good poetry and decent denouement, although the aforementioned issues with anachronism somewhat mar the narrative. Although there is some tragedy involved with the novella, moreover, it does end with hopeful notes and the potential for romance after its main events. Ultimately, this was a good fantasy story for its time, the late 1960s, and while it falls somewhat short of being a masterpiece, it is recommended overall.

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