Kitty's Reviews > The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
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's review
Dec 01, 10

bookshelves: fantasy, one-hand-one-heart
Read in April, 2003

This book has haunted me ever since I first finished it years, and years ago. I'll be driving down the freeway and the slant of sunlight off of a trucks rear window will suddenly remind me of a line in one of these chapters and a fever will grab hold of me all of a sudden and it won't be quelled until I get home and reread that passage, which turns into rereading that chapter which turns into rereading this book. I'm not safe anywhere, I was sick to death recently and the first thing I reached for was this. How do I immunize myself against it? I don't know. I find myself at even a greater loss when I ask myself if I really want to be free.

There comes a time in everyone's life, if they are so lucky, where they happen across a book that just turns their life inside out and upside down. This is one such book. To the uninterested observer it appears as a silly book about unicorns that seems like it has no interest in obtaining a demographic beyond that of tween girls and basement nerds. But to these people I express my sorrow that they will live their lives with the incredible loss that is never having read this book.

The Last Unicorn is about remembering the past and foreseeing the future and about accepting our losses and defeats when they are handed to us, and it is about learning to treasure the bright spots within them. It is about what it means to posses and to be possessed. Two characters passing through a wood early in the novel debate the existence of unicorns at first jokingly, then heatedly and then at last with a bit of trepidation, sorrow and fear at the passing of the unknown while they were not watching. "I wonder if any man before us would have thought his time a good time for unicorns?" one of the woodsmen asks and soon we see quite clearly that the answer is, and always will be, a resounding and cold hearted no as our unicorn is put in damp, dark cages both literal and figurative.

Not much happens in this book in the traditional story telling sense. The unicorns quest ends rather abruptly by the time we reach the castle and that happens less than half way through the book. After that the characters mill around in a stagnant environment and the battle of wits that any other author might have substituted here as the main course of action is instead replaced by a battle of reflection and remembrance, of memory and time. The main action in this book is not played out in gallant sword fights, daring chases, and grand acts of wizardry (although there is plenty of that, make no mistake at times this can be a very violent and bloody book), but rather the choices and changes the characters go through in their lives.

Finally, to speak of the few criticisms directed at the text - without giving too much away, for the second half of the book there is indeed a romance in the pages and some others have spoken about how it lacks a heart gripping quality and to this I'd have to agree. But you have to remember that the romance really isn't meant to be viewed as such and so people seeking a grand romantic adventure will be advised to look elsewhere. The Lady Amalthea throws herself at Liir with an unnatural devotion that quite frankly obliterates all that she is, even admitting to herself that she allows him to construct everything she is as a person and as a result their romance is very light, very lovely but it hasn't been earned at all. And because you can not claim something you haven't gained the right to earn in the end they are the only ones left with nothing to posses.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Sabrina I liked that the romance was light and sweet, but I wish it was developed more, because it's so important to why the unicorn chooses to stand and fight the Red Bull in the end. But I'm with you on loving this book. It really is life-changing.

message 2: by Ron (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ron "This book has haunted me ever since I first finished it years, and years ago."

I had a similar reaction. The first time I read it, I thought, 'well, this is good, but I don't get why it's placed on such a pedestal.' Then I kept thinking about it. And kept thinking about it. I reread it about six months later, and have read it several times since then. It's THAT kind of book: it gets under your skin, and it haunts you with its themes and its images.

As for the romance, I think it works best if you think about Liir and Amalthea as a critique of the stock "the handsome prince rescues the princess and gets the girl" fairytale romance. I think the point is that, no, those kinds of romances DON'T always end "happily ever after."

I think you hit the nail on the head with the scene between the two woodsmen: it's a book about unicorns, but it's not the kind of book about unicorns that readers expect. It's a serious book about love and loss and memory and moving forward--but it's "disguised" as a children's book about unicorns and fairy tales.

Anyways, enough rambling. Great review!

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