Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is a hard book for me to rate, and that’s because it holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve loved this story (both book and movie form) since I was a kid, and so, I decided to reread it because I was curious about how I would see it now, as an adult.
In the book, we meet the Unicorn, who exists alone in a kind of immortal stasis. She never leaves her enchanted wood, and so is long disconnected from the world of man. What eventually draws her out of her safety zone is learning that she is the last of her kind. Determined to find the others, she reenters the world of man and immediately runs into humans who can no longer see, or believe in, wonders. She meets the Magician Schmendrick, who, though a true magician, is incapable of controlling his magic, and Molly Grue, a woman who long thought herself well past her prime. However, together, the three journey to a land equally frozen in time, and find themselves coming back to life along the way.
In this way, time is one of the biggest themes in the story. The passing of time being something that is both feared, but can also bring beauty. It is something necessary for life to be appreciated. The other big themes are human greed and fear, and how they can eventually lead to one’s own downfall.
I will admit, the reason I ultimately settled on 4 stars, instead of 5, is because of the characters. I wasn’t as connected with them as I once was, though I understood their motivations and admired them all in their own way. For example, I found that I didn’t really care for Schmendrick, as his character was a bit self-centered at times. He is meant to play the fool, as he is beginning his true journey of self discovery, but I still found him a bit irritating at times. However, the harsh Molly Grue has a stronger character. She is jaded, but at the end of the story, is rejuvenated by her adventure with the Magician and Unicorn. I would have liked to know a bit more about her. The Unicorn herself learns about human emotions, like love and regret, and becomes the first of her kind to have truly lived as something else, other than a unicorn.
In all, this book is lyrically written, whimsical, and fast paced. It’s a classic read for anyone wanting a little bit of magic in their lives.