Monday, December 15, 2014

The Last Unicorn

I just finished The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. It was first published by Viking in 1968, though I know it through its Ballantine edition, shown in the picture to the right. Would that fantasy might again be so fanciful and free as it was in those days, before it was defined and delineated!

The Last Unicorn is a curious and beautiful work, full of whimsy and self-reference, but not limited to them. Normally I detest such things, but their presence in this book is simple, humorous, and woven into the cloth of the story. The story itself has the childish convolution and arbitrariness of the fairy tale, but also its economy and power. It's really like no other fantasy I've read, which might be said of many entries in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Its general tone is perhaps a bit like T. H. White's Once and Future King, but it has more power and heart and beauty, to my mind at least.

In this particular "reading" I actually listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author in a 2005 recording. I'd been hesitant to try it, for the reviews I'd read of Mr. Beagle's performance were mixed, but I really can't understand what the naysayers don't like. It's delightfully read, with some first-rate comic voices and an excellent Gypsy. Mr. Beagle has a pleasant reading voice, and he makes his characters talk the way one feels they must when reading the book in print.

Now I'll have to watch the Rankin/Bass animated film version, whose screenplay was also written by Mr. Beagle.


  1. I've never read this though I've owned it for years. I remember liking the movie when it came out (except for the songs). I'd love to try to get to the book over the next month.

    1. Hm, songs. I'm allergic to songs. Hope you get to the book and enjoy it.