Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” begins as expected, lyrically introducing us to our main character, the Unicorn. The Unicorn, described by Beagle as the color of snow falling on a moonlit night, is alone in her lilac forest when she overhears the words of passing hunters. Upon her eavesdropping, and after being spotted by one of them, she discovers that she is thought to be the last – the last unicorn in existence. After a bit of restlessness and worry, she eventually decides to leave the familiarity of her beautiful lilac forest in a search to find her people. For in her eyes, they simply cannot be gone. This, of course, is where the adventure begins.
Upon first look, I thought the idea of a main character being a unicorn was a bit strange..or perhaps a little too silly for my tastes. However, I can say that I was definitely mistaken, and the Unicorn in this story, was a fabulous and interesting character thanks to the excellent writing of Beagle. While there is a lot to enjoy about this story, and I will go over all that very soon, I can say that the real strength here, at least a good part of it, is in the unique characters. Not only was the unicorn incredibly likable, but the others who come in contact with her were equally interesting.
From Shmendrick, an incompetent wizard working at a bizarre carnival owned by Mommy Fortuna, to a hard edged, yet truly caring woman, named Molly Grue — To lesser involved yet equally interesting characters such as King Haggard – A king whom’ can find no happiness in anything, to a prince who thinks himself a hero. While I really enjoyed all of the characters, I personally found Schmendrick to be the most entertaining, and perhaps one of my favorites in a long time! Not only was his failed attempts at magic humorous, but he truly had heart, and completely had the reader (at least for me), caring for him. His intension were pure, his story interesting, and his personality was excellent. I quite liked Molly as well, and the chemistry between all of them was fantastic..
So in general, I really quite liked the characters in this novel – and that for me, is incredibly important. If I don’t connect with the characters, I just don’t care. Aside from THAT aspect, and equally as important, there is the story, and I thought it was great as well! Not only was this tale about a unicorn searching for her lost people, but it was story of self discovery – love – perseverance. It was a story of magic and beauty. I personally adored the fact that the world Beagle built was so magical. A world of odd creatures.. of talking animals.. of wonder..of strangeness..and oh yes, I cannot forget the poetic butterfly (loved him!), and the witty talking cat. All of these aspects together — the characters, the story, the magic, the beautiful writing – blended together perfectly, creating a truly enchanting read.
With that said, I was very impressed with this novel. While Beagle did throw in the some-what traditional fairytale format, he also tossed in just enough strangeness to keep the story fresh and unique From the bizarre carnival, to the decrepit castle and cursed kingdom – drained of all hope and happiness – to the raging red bull, King Haggards very odd companion – to the beautiful unicorn, everything here kept me interested, and after finishing the novel..I simply felt good. This is the type of book you read, in my opinion, to feel that way. Especially after a long, hectic day in such a busy world. While I won’t narrow down my recommendation for this – as I think anyone with an open imagination can quite enjoy it – I will say that it’s very possible that many fans of Gaiman will get a kick out of this – at least fans of Stardust. Really though, this is a novel that I believe anyone can enjoy..as it’s quite wonderful!