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294 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1968
“You can’t come with us. We are on a quest.” His voice and eyes were as stern as he could make them, but he could feel his nose being bewildered. He had never been able to discipline his nose.In the words of Dr. Mardy Grothe, Beagle never metaphor he didn’t like. Occasionally it’s a bit over the top, but overall I found his writing delightful. Less engaging, at least for me, were the songs occasionally sung by the characters. They weren’t particularly inspired or inspiring, and I thought most of them were weaker links in the story. But there are some delicious ironies, such as the prince trying (and failing) to win the heart of the lady he hopelessly loves by bringing her heads of ogres and dead bodies of dangerous beast, in classic conquering hero style. And I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the ending.
Molly’s own face closed like a castle against him, trundling out the guns and slings and cauldrons of boiling lead. “And who are you to say ‘we’?”
“We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.”
“Robin Hood is a myth,” Captain Cully said nervously, “a classic example of the heroic folk figures synthesized out of need. John Henry is another. Men have to have heroes, and so a legend grows around a grain of truth, like a pearl. Not that it isn’t a remarkable trick, of course.”
“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”
“I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am full of tears and hunger and the fear of death, although I cannot weep, and I want nothing, and I cannot die. I am not like the others now, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret.”
“where you are going now, few will mean you anything but evil, and a friendly heart — however foolish — may be as welcome as water one day. take me with you, for laughs, for luck, for the unknown. take me with you.”
“we are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.” // “it’s a rare man who is taken for what he truly is.”the premise of this book is deceptively simple: in an unspecified magical world where butterflies still occasionally sing of taking the a-train, highwaymen longingly admire the legend of robin hood, and guards wear armor made of bottle-caps -- there lives a unicorn.
“you can strike your own time, and start the count anywhere. when you understand that — then any time at all will be the right time for you.”the prose in this is so hauntingly beautiful that you will find yourself scribbling down quotes every other page. for a story that barely even includes a romance, it is probably one of the most romantic books i’ve ever read.
molly laughed with her lips flat.still, all of them eventually end up with a choice: to do something that might cause them great pain, that might even file some part of their soul away; all in order to achieve something that they believe in.
“and what good is it to me that you’re here now? where were you twenty years ago, ten years ago? how dare you, how dare you come to me now, when i am this?”
with a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart.
“your name is a golden bell hung in my heart. i would break my body to pieces to call you once by your name.”there are so many little things scattered throughout this book blurring the line between reality and illusion. the unicorn has to face the fact that most people who meet her see only a pretty white mare. not who she truly is.
the unicorn was there as a star is suddenly there, moving a little way ahead of them, a sail in the dark. molly said, “if lír is the hero, what is she?”i think this is also where my focus lay as a younger reader: i appreciated the story for its deconstruction of tropes, and the witty way it spoke of wizards and mythical creatures. of not having the beautiful princess as a main character, but grouchy molly instead. of the juxtaposition of schmendrick possibly being one of the most powerful wizards in the world, but unable to access that power.
“that’s different. haggard and lír and drinn and you and i — we are in a fairy tale, and must go where it goes. but she is real. she is real.”
“my son, your ineptitude is so vast, your incompetence so profound, that i am certain you are inhabited by greater power than i have ever known.”this book is profoundly perfect to me precisely because it is not. but we review books here, so i feel compelled to include a section with its possible faults.
“as for you and your heart and the things you said and didn't say, she will remember them all when men are fairy tales in books written by rabbits.”conclusion: this is still one of the best books i’ve ever read.
“... why, life is short, and how many can i help or harm? i have my power at last, but the world is still too heavy for me to move, though my friend lír might think otherwise.” and he laughed again in his dream, a little sadly.✎ 5.0 stars.
the unicorn said, “that is true. you are a man, and men can do nothing that makes any difference.” but her voice was strangely slow and burdened. she asked, “which will you choose?”
the magician laughed for a third time. “oh, it will be the kind magic, undoubtedly, because you would like it more.”