The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Reason for Reading: Group read on LibraryThing’s Green Dragon 

Review
When a unicorn realizes that she may be the last remaining unicorn, she leaves her peaceful home on a quest to find out what happened to all her brothers and sisters. Along the way, she picks up bumbling magician seeking his talent and a dour cook looking for her lost innocence. The unicorn soon discovers that the world has changed since she last ventured out. Humans have lost their youthful innocence, and they are no longer able to see things as they truly are – humans have excelled in the art of deceiving themselves. 

When I originally picked up this book, I’d expected a cute young adult tale, but never expected such depth. The Last Unicorn is a multi-layered allegory: about lost innocence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-deception. But these cynical themes aren’t the main point. The main point is that only in fully understanding humans can the ethereal unicorns save themselves. Only by sacrificing a piece of their ineffable essence can they form a closer bond to humans. And this closer bond can lead humans to do wonderful things. 

Yes, it is a Christian allegory by my interpretation. But I think it’s amazing the way Beagle didn’t just throw in a Christ Figure and be done with it….The allegory of Beagle’s unicorn isn’t uniquely Christian – it defies religious boundaries. It is a story of love and innocence that mixes cynicism and hope. Quite extraordinary! 🙂

I was also a HUGE fan of the bumbling wizard Schmendrick who (in my opinion) was only fooling himself into believing he wasn’t a capable wizard. He’s like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz – just the fact that he wanted so badly to be a wizard made him into one. He could laugh at all the people who deceived themselves, as he unconsciously deceived his own self. He reminded me of myself when I’m in a glum mood thinking I’m not capable of anything when, of course, I’m quite capable if I’d stop expecting so little of myself. 😉 This book was a good reminder to have faith in yourself and think about the consequences of your beliefs. 🙂

10 thoughts on “The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

  1. You commentary brought back a memory for me.

    Back in the 1980s, as a teenager, I would peruse the shelves of bookstores for interesting looking science and fantasy books. I physically picked this book up and almost purchased it as the cover blurb sounded great.

    Alas I did not buy it and have not thought about it since! Your description makes me want to read it now as it still sounds terrific. Perhaps I will finally give it a try!

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  2. 🙂 I really think you should read it. It sounds like you enjoy both fantastical stories and allegory…this is one of the better I've read for a while. It manages the allegory with more subtlety than I'm used to – I really appreciate subtlety in allegory.

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  3. Nice review, Rachel! It's been decades since I read The Last Unicorn, and it's been on my to-(re)read list for 6 or 8 months… it's definitely time to pick it up again(once I finish the library books and ARCs with deadlines, that is.)

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  4. I reread this one every few years. As a kid, I was fascinated by the cartoon, and then I found out it was based on a novel, so of course that became part of my favorite books shelf. the ending was great, as it wasn't a cookie cutter ending, just as the rest of the book wasn't a typical fantasy novel.

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  5. I agree about the ending. I kept trying to guess where the book was taking me, and I had so many different theories along the way…and then when it ended I figured “wow, I don't see how it could have worked out so nicely in any other way.” It had some amount of cynical realism as well as a happy-ending feel.

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