Friday, November 11, 2011

Adventure classics -- Questing for unicorns

The Last Unicorn

by Peter S. Beagle


How should I read Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn? The dreamlike imagery of the book’s language almost begs to be read while under the influence of something. But the 1960’s era quest of the last unicorn on Earth to find the surviving members of her race resonates with echoes both of the Cold War and ecological disaster.

In case that sounds too somber, Beagle lightens the mix with comic skits that might have come from the likes of Monty Python. And although he states the idea for Unicorn came during an artistic retreat in 1962, when only in his early 20’s, the finished book resonates with a lifetime’s love for fantasy.

As the book says when bumbling magician Schemdrick outwits an equally bumbling outlaw, “. . . he had a good grounding in Anglo-Saxon folklore and knew the type.”

The same thing, apparently, could be said for Beagle. The book’s stream of references to mythology keep like-minded readers laughing. Or weeping, as in the scenes of the pathetic zoo of fantastic creatures in which the witch Mommy Fortuna imprisons the unicorn.

When my daughter was a child, we watched the 1982 movie of The Last Unicorn. I’m still moved by Mia Farrow’s voicing of the doomed love story of the unicorn, transformed by Schemdrick into a woman, with the son of her enemy.

Beagle, who also wrote the screenplay, has been in a long dispute with the company controlling the film. Fortunately for fans, at the New York Comic Con last month, he announced an agreement that will include a renovation of the film in time for its 30th anniversary. Lest we forget, see the opening at YouTube The Last Unicorn, or through the link on Beagle’s Facebook page.

Also last month, at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, Beagle received a lifetime achievement award. And in Texas, fans this weekend (November 12-13) can meet him at Wizard World in the Austin Convention Center. Beagle says on his Facebook page that he’ll be at table 2505 in Artists Alley. For additional information, see

(Next Friday -- Spanish ex-war correspondent Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas gets my vote for the newest adventure classic on this blog.)


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