When I was little, one of my most favourite movies to watch (on video!) was The Last Unicorn. Unfortunately I’ve not watched it in many years and had actually forgotten how much I enjoyed it, until someone posted about it on Twitter a few weeks ago. It was also at this point I discovered that the film was actually based on a book of the same name, written by Peter S. Beagle. So to make up for my years living in ignorance, I immediately went online and bought myself a copy and upon immersing myself in it, was immediately taken back to my childhood.
In a world in which magic is real but belief in it is waning, a unicorn sets out from her home to find out what happened to the rest of the world’s unicorns, for they disappeared many years ago and she is now the last. She is aided in her quest by Schmendrick the Magician, a complicated character whose destiny is entwined with her own; and Molly Grue, a woman whose own life is reflective of the changes that have taken place in the world since the unicorns disappeared. On her journey, the unicorn meets a talking butterfly, a witch, and outlaws who have tried to style themselves in the fashion of Robin Hood; and while it initially begins as a quest to find the rest of her kind, it also ends up being a journey of self-discovery and change for her.
There is not one bad word I could say about this book. As I read I found myself thinking that fantasy novels just aren’t written like they used to be, and this is due to the beautifully descriptive writing of the author. From the opening lines of the novel to the last, Beagle’s writing made everything seem vivid and almost real. It’s not a story that has an overly complex plot either: it has a straightforward beginning, middle, and end, and is not weighed down by unneeded loose ends that in other novels would need to be tied up at the novel’s conclusion. While this may sound simplistic and perhaps a little boring, it was really lovely to follow the story as it happened without having to worry about too many little sub-plots as is often the case in many contemporary novels. As the unicorn moved through her own journey on one road, so too does the reader get moved through the novel without having to think too much – they can just sit, read, and enjoy. Which is precisely what a reader should be able to do.
It’s not often that I read or watch things that take me so completely back to when I was small. As I read The Last Unicorn, I could hear the voices of the characters from the film in my head, which I have since discovered included the likes of Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, and Angela Lansbury (which explained why the voices in my head sounded so familiar), and after finishing I’ve actually picked myself up a copy of the movie on DVD, which I’m really excited to watch. While I didn’t read the book as a child, reading it for the first time as an adult did not diminish the magic of it. I especially loved the feeling that even after reading hundreds of books in my time, and despite being a bit cynical in my old age, I still pick up a book for the first time and be left with a sense of wonder and joy.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Schmendrick the Magician was definitely my favourite character. I found him to be the character with the most depth and the hardest decisions to make, which also caused him the greatest inner turmoil.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – anyone who loves classic fantasy fiction will definitely enjoy this. While it’s not as complex or lengthy, it is definitely in the same league as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit.
FAVOURITE QUOTE – “‘I have time,’ the skull replied reflectively. ‘It’s really not so good to have time. Rush, scramble, desperation , this missed, that left behind, those others too big to fit into such a small space — that’s the way life was meant to be. You’re supposed to be too late for some things. Don’t worry about it.'”