Ever since I was first introduced to mythical creatures such as mermaids, fairies, unicorns, and the like, I immediately fell in love with them. I remember the times when I thought of the possibility of their existence and perhaps seeing them with my own eyes and even interacting with them. Of course, they’re just a fragment of people’s imaginations, but that didn’t stop my fascination of them.
A few months ago, I discovered The Last Unicorn from the blogosphere. I’m not much of a classic book reader, but since there’s a unicorn in it, I decided to give it a try. Plus, I’ve been reading rave reviews about it, so I didn’t think twice about buying and reading the book.
Here’s the plot description from the back cover of the book:
…so she ventured out from the safety of the enchanted forest on a quest for others of her kind. Joined along the way by the bumbling magician Schmendrick and the indomitable Molly Grue, the unicorn learns all about the joys and sorrows of life and love before meeting her destiny in the castle of a despondent monarch – and confronting the creature that would drive her kind to extinction.
After reading this book, all I think of is that Peter S. Beagle did such an amazing job in writing the story. His descriptive writing perfectly captures the true nature of a unicorn, just as what the people imagine the creature to be. In the book, the unicorn is depicted as something which holds great power and possesses utter beauty beyond the ordinary. It is also evident that it brings security, serenity, and beauty to the forest where she lives. No other creature can compete with her appearance; thus, other animals would not dare to approach her, but can only admire her in awe from afar. This unicorn, an immortal creature incapable of having feelings and emotions, seems not to belong in this harsh and cruel reality of the world. Because of this, she becomes a mere spectator, detaching herself from the world.
Throughout her life, the unicorn never thinks of leaving the forest, but one day, after hearing the conversation between two hunters, something inside her convinces her to leave and find others of her same kind. As she ventures out, she encounters human beings who will bring both good and bad to her life; as well as the Red Bull who is responsible for the disappearance of the other unicorns. I won’t be giving specific details about the contents of the story to avoid any spoilers in this review.
I like how each human character affects the life of the unicorn, especially Schmendrick, Molly Grue, and Prince Lír. The three of them are able to establish strong character development as the story progresses, each having his or her unique personality – Schmendrick trying to become a great wizard, Molly Grue regarding the unicorn as her friend not just a mythical creature, and Prince Lír learning what it has to be done to become a hero. I can say that they somehow unexpectedly filled the unicorn’s heart where a hole was initially supposed to be.
The whole story can, in fact, be related to the world we’re in today. For one, Mommy Fortuna’s deceiving powers and heartless nature towards creatures remind us of the reality of how evilness can bring injustice and inequality to the world, that there is a prevalence of injustice, that the innocents helplessly become victims, and there’s this ruling class oppressing those under them. On the other hand, while this situation exists, some people, like Captain Cully, are believed to be Robin Hood versions of them. Although the ballads about them are lies, I guess readers will get the realization that it may be a form of escapism from the harsh reality. Even the curse of King Haggard’s castle is not an evil curse we often think of in fairy tales. People will actually be surprised by the nature of the curse.
Overall, I undoubtedly love everything about the book! Peter S. Beagle has his way of writing the story in lyrical prose – even including originally composed songs and poems in the book –, which I believe is a creative way to transport readers to a magical, fantasy world where they could let their imaginations run wild at its fullest.
Lessons can also be learned from the book. Readers will be enlightened by the importance of a decision between duty or sacrifice and the desire of one’s heart, as well as about the immortal and mortal condition of a being. Throughout the story, the characters get to understand and appreciate the situation of immortal beings, and vice versa. An immortal creature becoming a mortal can never understand humans as he or she may feel imprisoned or limited in the capabilities, since being immortal gives one the freedom from the constrained time and space. On the other hand, a mortal being, having to encounter an immortal being, will humbly embrace the fact that he or she is limited. In the end, it all boils down to this mystery: that no matter how limited a person may be, this acceptance and their capability of having emotions or feelings push them to savor each moment and make their lives worth living for.
I truly recommend this book to all, young and old.