Sunday 7 August 2011

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

This book was so beautiful I wanted to hug it (in fact, I may have).

I looooved The Last Unicorn movie as a kid and watched it repeatedly, but I’m ashamed to say until recently I didn’t even realise it was a book. I ordered it as soon as I discovered it was, and finally got around to reading it this week. From the opening lines (The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone... she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night.) I knew I was in for an amazing read. Of course, I already knew the story, but I didn’t know just how clever and wonderful the telling of it would be.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, The Last Unicorn is, as the title suggests, about a unicorn who discovers she’s the last of her kind and leaves the safety of her lilac woods in search of the truth about what happened to her people. Along the way, she picks up some allies in the adorably incompetent magician, Schmendrick, the strong, rough but caring Molly Grue and the handsome, heroic Prince Lir. She also learns a couple of important truths about herself and the nature of humanity.

This is a fairy tale full of whimsy, warmth, comedy, action and sadness. Beagle’s use of language is exquisite, his pacing is pretty much perfect and his characters are quirky but real, each one of them flawed and dealing with their own search for meaning and purpose. So while on the surface this is an entertaining read, it’s strengthened by a deeper level. What struck me most was the poignant exploration of love, life and mortality. Unicorns are immortal but cannot feel love, while humans love deeply but must die. Then there’s Schmendrick, stuck in between – a human blessed (or cursed) with immortality until he can find his true self and access his full power. I suppose your own interpretation would determine which state was better, but to me the ultimate message of The Last Unicorn seemed to be that love is the most powerful magic of all; able to conquer mortality (or the fear of it, at least) and give meaning to life. Now that’s a message I can embrace (literally... excuse me while I go back to hugging my book).

Rating: 5/5

Eye Candy
I pictured...

Max Irons as Prince Lir

Zachary Levi as Schmendrick the Magician

Helena Bonham Carter as Molly Grue

Frida Gustavsson as the Lady Amalthia
Fine Print
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Signet
Published: 1991 (40th Anniversary Edition)


  1. Aw, I love this book too. It's so beautiful.

    Now I have the Last Unicorn song stuck in my head :P

  2. Fantasy is not my thing but this sounds like a gorgeous tale. Great review and again thanks for the eye-candy :)

  3. Belle, you have no idea how many movies were actually books and I had no clue. This sounds like a really interesting book. I've never read anything about unicorns before.

  4. Small Review - I had that in my head all week! I'm going to watch the movie soon so that could cure it (or maybe make it worse).

    Nic - Thanks! It really is lovely, and it's an easy, quick read too so even if you're not a fantasy fan, it's not too much of an investment if you want to check it out. :)

    Lan - I know, me too! I have to say, now that I think about it, this is the only book about unicorns I've read, too!

  5. Aww i loved unicorns as a kid (and still do) it sounds so lovely.
    I especially like the sound of the prince if you imagined him looking like max irons!
    great review Belle :)

  6. I just recently watched this movie again. So fantastically 80s. :) I would actually love to read the book. Thanks for the great review!

  7. This was such a great review! I loved Unicorn's growing up so of course this was my favorite movie. Like you I never read the book. Wow, that's sad. I'm going to order it form the library. Thanks for the reminder :)

    ♥ Trish

  8. Abbey - Thanks! Yeah there's not much description of him so I was like, hello Max! :D

    Smash - Haha, I'll have to watch it soon and see if it's stood the test of time!

    Trish - I highly recommend it, it's just beautiful.

  9. The book is harnessed poetry; only way I can say it. Peter somehow takes the wings of poetry and has them fly in a prose environment, in the service of story. Just finished prob my 5th read of it last night.

  10. Such a good way to put it! It's definitely a book I'll reread in the future.

  11. Saw your post on Peter Beagle's FB wall. I share the same sentiment. I loved the movie as a kid, and only read the book in my mid-twenties. And the book just left me breathless. You should read more of his books. They're magical. Try Tamsin. He writes stuff that reads lightly, but still remains deep.

  12. I can't believe Peter Beagle put it on his FB, I was so excited! I'll definitely have to read more of his books, thanks for the suggestion!

  13. Part of my literary backbone, with Tolkien and Kenneth Grahame. But nobody - NOBODY - writes like Beagle. Pick a book, any book...

  14. This is the first Beagle book I've read, but I really want to read more now!

  15. I'm sooo excited..I love to read...watched that movie with my kids..had no idea it was a book...there is nothing like devouring a newly discovered author...yea!!!!!!

    1. I didn't realise this was a book either! It's so lovely.