Monday, June 10, 2013

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The shape of my latest books-I-want-to-read list keeps changing. I start anew periodically with databases or spreadsheets or posts on social media. My latest is a wish list on the library's online catalog. I never seem to complete a list before I begin another. Somewhere along the line, I am sure that I identified The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle for reading. When my friend George linked from Facebook to an essential fantasy book list recently, I was reminded of my intention and finally borrowed the book to take on a vacation. I finally started it on the flight home.

As so often happens, I had the right book at the right time. At the Cloisters in New York, Bonnie and I saw a very famous series of unicorn tapestries. They tell a story about the plight of unicorns hunted for the pleasure of kings, a theme that appears in The Last Unicorn. What separates Beagle's story from other humans in conflict with nature stories is that the author does not vilify anyone. A few humans and mythical creatures do cruel things intentionally, but most of the characters are just trying to survive. Conflict is inevitable, and those guilty of misdeeds seem to anticipate and accept the consequences. The heroes that prevail mourn for those defeated. Celebrations are tempered with sadness for losses.

Peter Beagle must be an interesting man. He is certainly a talented writer who has spun a fairy tale that is at times comic, philosophical, and compassionate. The story of The Last Unicorn will surprise readers to the end.

Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. 40th anniversary ed. ROC, 2008. 294p. ISBN 9780451450524.

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