Book Review: THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle

Then he stopped suddenly and said in a strange voice, “No, no, listen, don’t listen to me, listen. You can find your people if you are brave. They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints.”

I have fond memories of the movie based off of this book, watched several times when I was a child. Of note to me was how closely the movie follows the book as compared to current book-to-screen adaptations (perhaps because of its shorter length, but also likely thanks to the author also writing the screenplay). And the movie’s soundtrack – the music moves me to this day!

“Do you know what I am, butterfly?” the unicorn asked hopefully, and he replied, “Excellent well, you’re a fishmonger. You’re my everything, you are my sunshine, you are old and gray and full of sleep, you’re my pickle-face, consumptive Mary Jane.” He paused, fluttering his wings against the wind, and added conversationally, “Your name is a golden bell hung in my heart. I would break my body to pieces to call you once by your name.”

“Say my name, then,” the unicorn begged him. “If you know my name, tell it to me.”

“Rumpelstiltskin,” the butterfly answered happily. “Gotcha!”

I liked the book well enough. The writing was certainly poetic and lovely, the unicorn remains a sort of tragic fairy tale heroine, but tragic only through the lens of a silly mortal. Humorous at times, the story also has deep messages about mortality, joy, beauty, and the overall fleeting nature of human experience. Here seems like a good place to mention that I think King Haggard is a seriously underrated character in classic fantasy!

“They are nothing to me,” King Haggard said. “I have known them all, and they have not made me happy. I will keep nothing near me that does not make me happy.”

It’s hard to say what I would have thought of this book without the associations of my fond recollections of watching the movie as a child, but really a middle of the road 3 stars seems apt. I appreciated some aspects of the fairytale and the language, other parts of the book were a miss with me. I couldn’t always account for the characters and their behavior, or why everyone else seems to love the roving outlaw part while I just found it kind of annoying.

But did I mention Haggard?

“I suppose I was young when I first saw them,” King Haggard said. “Now I must be old–at least I have picked many more things up than I had then, and put them all down again. But I always knew that nothing was worth the investment of my heart, because nothing lasts, and I was right, and so I was always old.”

Not a favorite of mine, but a solid read. And you know what, from the sheer quotability I’m finding as I write this review, I’m going to go ahead and award a fourth star out of five.

“I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am full of tears and hunger and the fear of death, though I cannot weep, and I want nothing, and I cannot die. I am not like the others now, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret.”