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The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Book Name: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Publisher(s): Viking Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: 1968

In a forest that time wouldn’t touch, was a creature who would live forever. A creature of immortal beauty and purity: a unicorn. She spent her days admiring her own loveliness and watching as the curious creatures in her forest went about their short and frantic lives. Time meant nothing to her, and the outside world was merely a dream inside the eternal spring of her forest. That was, until one day two hunters passed through searching for game, but found none. The first warned the second that they should hunt elsewhere, as this was the home of a unicorn. The second scoffed at his friend, saying there were no unicorns, they were myths that mothers told their children at bedtime, nothing more. But the first insisted that here, in this forest, was the last.

The unicorn had seen men before and listened to their stories as they traveled through her wood, but never before had she been called the last. Could it really be that she was alone in the world? That the rest of her kind had disappeared from the earth? The conversation haunted. She decided she must find out for herself. She needed to discover if she truly was the last.

She sets out into the world alone, appearing to all who see her as nothing more than a beautiful white mare. But then her path is crossed by two people who know what she truly is. The first was Schmendrick, a bumbling magician trying desperately to come into his magical talents. The second is Molly Grue, a simple peasant woman who had been waiting to see a unicorn her whole life. Together the three travel over hills and valleys looking for the others wherever they may be.

Their journey takes them into the barren country of the wicked King Haggard, whose castle holds both a curse and a secret. Will they be able to learn the whereabouts of her people before they are discovered? Or will they succumb to the curse themselves?

– – –

This is one of my favorite stories ever. It was the first fantasy book I ever read, though I had watched the movie many times before. The Last Unicorn is unique among the books I’ve read, as the main character isn’t human or even humanoid, nor does she have a name until almost halfway through the book. But the thing that amazes me every time I read this book is the prose. The way Mr. Beagle puts words together is enchanting. The sentences flowing into paragraphs are as close to poetry as you can get without actually writing a poem. But the descriptions are not out of place nor too flowery either. They just feel right and add a touch of magic to even the mundane parts of the story.

The world that this book takes place in is our world, specifically Robin Hood’s Europe. But there is real magic here and real magical beasts. The people of the world believe in them, though these creatures are almost never seen anymore and are starting to fade into fairy tales. It seems as though this may be the last generation to treat the supernatural as truth rather than myth. That gives the story a very grounded feel and makes the disappearance of the unicorns that much more upsetting.

I had a hard time writing this review, as I love this story so much. While trying not to talk your ears off or go all fangirl on this book is tricky, not giving away the story is even harder. I would do a disservice to you if I mentioned some of my favorite parts or quoted the poem that cursed the king’s castle. So in favor of letting you discover this story on your own, I will leave you with this. The Last Unicorn is a very unique dark fairy tale, the likes of which I think have yet to be written. If you enjoy fantasy, a good story, and beautiful prose, read this book. You will not be disappointed.

Also, if you have the means to watch the movie I would highly suggest it as well. The screenplay was written by Peter S. Beagle and follows very closely to the book. I would just add here, that even though it is a cartoon it is not for young children. There are some rather scary scenes and I would caution parents to watch it first and see whether their kids would mind the darker parts. I didn’t mind them, but I was a very odd child. Not that you couldn’t have guessed that part.



  1. knittingknots says:

    This is one of my most favorite fantasy books. Being older than you, I discovered it years before the movie came out (although I have watched the movie many times as well). I love how he combines satire and wonder, and in a way contrasts the two immortals in the story, The Unicorn, who gets trapped for a time in a human body, and slowly loses who she is, and Schmendrick who is trapped as a young man forever bumbling until he actually learns how to be open to his power and, learns to be the adult he has the potential to become.

    A great story.

  2. Jennifer says:

    This is a great review. This is, and has been for years my favorite story. Like you, I love the prose of this book, one of the best written fantasies I’ve ever read. So beautiful. Thank you for this review, you’ve done justice to a wonderful book that anyone who loves a great story should read. Multiple times.

  3. Red Lie says:

    I actually memorized this movie as a child. I made my parents rent it every week. Later on I wondered why they never just bought the movie lol. My favorite line that woke up the writer inside of me was when the unicorn said, “I can feel the body dying all around me!” I remember thinking about immortality all that week.

  4. This was also one of my first favorite fantasy novels. Great review, my dear!

  5. Autumn2May says:

    Thanks everyone! I’m glad you liked the review. 🙂 Also glad I got a chance to post the review here. Hopefully it will convince some who haven’t read it yet to give it a try. 🙂

  6. Bets Davies says:

    Beautiful review. Peter S. Beagle has always been one of my favorite authors. His prose is both pared down and lyric. I actually read–well–heard this book before I saw the movie. My mother read it to my brother an I not much after we could read at all. And we read early. She would read the book over and over, come to think about it. Consequently, I was a bit disappointed with the cartoon, which I also watched young. Beagle has this talent that I totally envy and try to figure out how to put in my own writing. Through the lattice work of plot and character, blooms a theme. The theme grows and spreads naturally till you finally know it is there without remembering the process by which you learned it.

    My fav. Beagle is his first fantasy–second book. “A Fine and Private Place.” It is a quiet, powerful novel that both strikes right at my heart and teaches my heart. I have a full review on my blog.

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