8 Rated Books Book Reviews Smugglers Ponderings

Smuggler’s Ponderings: Thoughts on The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Warning: this post contains ALL THE SPOILERS.

This is another entry in the Ana-is-catching-up-with-the-fantasy-classics-which-were-not-available-to-her-as-a-child-growing-up-in-Brazil series.

So, The Last Unicorn. A book that has been published over 40 years ago (in fact, my edition celebrates its 40th anniversary) and which follows the story of the Last Unicorn in the world as she leaves her comfy forest in search of answers about what happened to her fellow unicorns. On her Quest, she is joined by two Companions: a frustrated magician called Schmendrick (who has a lot of potential but can’t seem to control his magic) and a middle-aged woman called Molly Grue. They go through Adventures and Perils on their way to meet a King (the Villain), his Son (the Hero) and the Red Bull – the Ultimate Danger that the Unicorn has to face. At one point, in order to save her life, the magician manages to control his magic and to transform her into a young woman which is how she learns things that as a Unicorn she is unable to (since Unicorns know nothing of mortality, of love and of loss) . She falls in love with the prince and in the end she is transformed back into a Unicorn but for better or worse she is a changed Unicorn because she experienced what it is like to be human. This is a very hasty summary which does not fully recapitulate this quite complex little book.

I feel that I don’t really have anything new to say that hasn’t already been said by other reviewers which is why I am writing a ponderings post about my feelings instead. I know that a lot of our readers have read this book so I am hoping to open up a conversation with our covenant of readers. Please feel free to leave comments!

For starters, how surprising was this book? I loved how the Unicorn was a thing of Beauty and so inhuman in its immortality and supposed indifference (because if she were truly indifferent, she wouldn’t have gone in the Quest in the first place?).

I expected it to be an old-fashioned, traditional tale given its age but I found it was rather modern and even perhaps, post-modern. For example, the Unicorn at one point meets a talking butterfly that tends to repeat things it has heard elsewhere, some of the things it repeats are lines from known books and even pop songs. At another time, Schmendrick uses Judo to fend off enemies – both of these things signify that perhaps this world is our own world and made me question WHEN exactly this story is set: perhaps in the future after the fall of our modern culture? Is this a post-apocalyptic novel?

I also thought it was extremely fun to see how incredibly self-aware the characters were about their place in the story and the role they must play in it:

The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch’s door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.

This is a fairytale that knows it is a fairytale and I found that to be quite cool. I also didn’t expect it to be funny, and yet it is quite hilarious especially when it comes to Schmendrick and his failures. I found myself chuckling all the time. Like for example in this scene that is so matter-of-fact about the different personalities of the Magician and Molly:

The magician stood erect, menacing the attackers with demons, metamorphoses, paralyzing ailments, and secret judo holds. Molly picked up a rock.

Is this a book to be loved? I think so, it is a beautiful book. I loved how the Unicorn could mean different things to different people. Schmendrick was almost reverent toward her and didn’t even dare a touch, whereas Molly not only tells the Unicorn off when she first meets her but touches her every change she gets. I loved how horrible some of the people in this book could be – like for example, the people from Hagsgate, a town trapped by a curse of such prosperity but instead of making its people happy it makes them utterly unhappy and selfish – the things they do keep their luck going are horrible but at the same time it was easy to understand their motivations.

But inasmuch as I loved it, there is something about it that makes me uneasy and I can’t quite grasp what it is…I can’t help but to think that in the end, falling in love has been portrayed as a tragic event that is more bitter than sweet and which ultimately has brought the Unicorn down? I am not sure how I feel about that or about the fact the Unicorn is female and despite the fact that it is an incredibly powerful being, it ended up literally being saved/rescued by the actions of a mortal man…

Finally, one last thought. For all intents and purposes, this is considered to be a classic Fantasy novel and a beloved one as far as I know. Am I breaking unspoken laws or rules by questioning some of its motives?

What about you? Have you read The Last Unicorn? How do you feel about it?

Buy the Book:

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  • Allison
    November 29, 2011 at 4:12 am

    I haven’t read it yet, but I bought a copy when I first saw Patrick Rothfuss declare it his favorite book of all time.

    I need to pick it up! Your thoughts leave me even more intrigued.

  • Jax Galthie (@jaxgalthie)
    November 29, 2011 at 4:45 am

    For me the one of the most poignant scenes that really transports you in the book, is the scene where Molly in desperation, asks why the Unicorn has come to her then, when she has seen so much, when her innocence is gone “When she is this”. This scene is heartbreaking to me on one level as you see this feminine embodiment of hardship and the struggle to survive. But on the other hand, she is transformed by the Unicorn, she accompanies her and while she attends to her, the relationship mimics an older sister instead of a conventional servant. Unlike traditional Unicorn stories where Unicorns can only appear to virgins (I’ll stay away from the politics of why), a real woman sees the Unicorn and more than that, she is seen. I would even venture that in this fairy tale the Unicorn does more than simply represent purity, because she is a true outsider to the world, knowing nothing of the awkwardness of human pain and emotion. Instead of ascribing simply purity to her, it’s more the state of being pure as in blank awaiting to be filled.

  • Tia Nevitt
    November 29, 2011 at 4:53 am

    I have not read it, bit of course you aren’t breaking any rules. No book should be above an honest discussion.

    Maybe the whole mortal experience is what brought her down?

    You now have me curious to read it.

  • KMont
    November 29, 2011 at 5:33 am

    I agree with Tia! Discuss away, no matter the book or its status. I haven’t read the book, though I watched the movie several times as a wee little one. So little that I barely remember it except for images of a terrifying scene between the unicorn and the red bull.

    I see what you’re saying about the female unicorn being saved by a mortal man – this isn’t rally at all how a lot of us would like to see a hopefully strong female character develop. Since I haven’t rad that scene, and can’t comment directly on it, the only thing that comes to mind is that it’s surprising that a mortal, setting aside for a moment that it’s a male, saves anyone when most books these days portray ordinary mortal humans as selfish, greedy people and the magical characters as the oppressed, downtrodden ones who ultimately triumph against them Maybe the fact that a mortal saves anyone at all in this book intrigues me a little.

    But I’d still love to read more on why that makes you uncomfortable here, so I’ll hush now and hope that thread gets picked up. ;D

  • KMont
    November 29, 2011 at 5:34 am

    Good grief, my typos and lack of punctuation – *shudder*. Sorry about that.

  • Ana
    November 29, 2011 at 6:49 am

    @Allison – I hope you like it when you do. I didn’t know it was PR’s fave book though. That’s cool to know.

    @Jax – I loved that scene as well, it was so raw wasn’t it? I really enjoyed reading your take:

    I would even venture that in this fairy tale the Unicorn does more than simply represent purity, because she is a true outsider to the world, knowing nothing of the awkwardness of human pain and emotion. Instead of ascribing simply purity to her, it’s more the state of being pure as in blank awaiting to be filled.

    VERY interesting.

    @Tia Nevitt – I hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

    @Kenda – I think what makes me uncomfortable here is that the role of “hero” is ascribed to the Prince rather too easily and almost without a second thought when there are other characters who could have saved the day (the unicorn herself, or Molly for example). Perhaps this is actually a self-aware commentary from the author but I wished that instead of playing into a certain classic model of fairytale, he had subverted it? Or maybe he did and I am missing the point.

  • Patricia
    November 29, 2011 at 7:38 am

    I have read The Last Unicorn and I’ve also seen the animated movie. Like any good book blogger, I prefer the book. The movies loses those little inner details that we see in the book and there are small scenes from the book that don’t appear in the movie that I think lessen the scope of the animation. For one thing, the wizard is a little…less in the movies, if you get my meaning. He’s more humor than the maturing character he appears to be in the book.

    My biggest irritation with The Last Unicorn is the insinuation that a mortal man’s love was all that was needed to save the unicorn. How very “damsel in distress” of the author to suggest that. Still, it is a fairy tale and I guess it was inevitable.

    Patricia @ Lady with Books

  • Ana
    November 29, 2011 at 7:50 am

    @ Patricia:

    My biggest irritation with The Last Unicorn is the insinuation that a mortal man’s love was all that was needed to save the unicorn. How very “damsel in distress” of the author to suggest that.

    yes, that is what made me uneasy as well.

  • Bell
    November 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

    I haven’t read it, I should, I love this sort of classic fantasy. I am glad you mentioned the issues you had with the unicorn having to be saved by a mortal man, I think no matter how classic/beloved a book is there should still be real discussion about problematic elements.

  • KMont
    November 29, 2011 at 9:54 am

    *the role of “hero” is ascribed to the Prince rather too easily*

    Ah, yes, the ‘ole copout move, perhaps? It’s always annoying when it seems like something’s too easily been taken care of. I hear you.

  • Diana Peterfreund
    November 29, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I saw the movie years before I read the book. When I read the book, I was surprised by the complexity of the language — the post-modernism is sadly lost in the cartoon.

    However, I get to love them both as different takes, like a song and a cover. It’s not about comparison, but about loving each for what it is.

  • Ana
    November 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

    @Diana: I really want to see the movie too!

  • Gerd D.
    November 29, 2011 at 11:02 am

    @ Patricia: I didn’t see it as being “that a mortal man’s love” was what needed to save her, I got it rather that the whole experience, to feel love combined with the burden of mortality with it’s sense of impeding death and ultimate loss, is what gives her the needed incentive to face off against the Red Bull.
    (But then again, I only know the movie and the comic, haven’t yet tackled the book)

  • Gerd D.
    November 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I loved how the Unicorn was a thing of Beauty and so inhuman in its immortality and supposed indifference

    Well, not so indifferent as not to feel curiousity then. 🙂

    I wished that instead of playing into a certain classic model of fairytale, he had subverted it? Or maybe he did and I am missing the point.

    I think there was a subversive element to his hero role in the awareness of being part of a fairy tale, and his doing all the typical hero deeds that where there to do – and there’s a sense of futility to his actions if they can’t win him her love.
    I think that there is a subversive idea underneath, when slaying that dragon, as a example, is fulfilling no purpose other than win the token damsel in distress. It makes our hero less heroic the more we think about it.

  • Meljean
    November 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Favorite book ever here, too.

    I read the ending completely differently, I have to say — I thought it was absolutely subversive of the typical male-hero-saves-the-damsel trope. After all, the unicorn is the one who ends up actually defeating the Red Bull. Does she finally fight back because of what happens to Lir? Absolutely, but isn’t that a turn-around of the typical hero-saves-the-day-by-defeating-the-dragon?

    Typically, it’s the hero who owns that final triumph, with the princess providing the reason and the inspiration behind his actions (and usually by being a completely inactive participant, herself.) Lady Amalthea is that passive figure, in a way — but as Gerd mentions, all of the heroic deeds that Lir does to impress her end up not being heroic at all. So in the end, Lir’s heroic act is to stand and essentially let the Red Bull kill him, and to provide the motivation for the unicorn to fight back.

    So Lir is a reason, but the final action is still hers, and I absolutely love that. I also didn’t read it as the unicorn being brought down by love. She has to embrace something that no other unicorn could in order to save all of the other unicorns (and essentially all of the magic in the world.) If she hadn’t loved him, she couldn’t have done that … so I find that incredibly romantic and a celebration of love, even if there’s no HEA for them. That is sad, but love saved the world and all of the unicorns. How much better can it get?

    (Of course, I also think that the real hero and heroine are Schmendrick and Molly — but this is a fairy tale and everyone knows it, so of course the prominent love story has to be between the prince and the magical lady. I don’t think it’s any accident, though, that Schmendrick and Molly *do* get their HEA (it being a fairy tale and all.))

  • Ana
    November 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    @ Gerd – thanks, I really appreciate your feedback.

  • Ana
    November 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    @: Meljean –

    So Lir is a reason, but the final action is still hers, and I absolutely love that. I also didn’t read it as the unicorn being brought down by love. She has to embrace something that no other unicorn could in order to save all of the other unicorns (and essentially all of the magic in the world.) If she hadn’t loved him, she couldn’t have done that … so I find that incredibly romantic and a celebration of love, even if there’s no HEA for them. That is sad, but love saved the world and all of the unicorns. How much better can it get?

    (Of course, I also think that the real hero and heroine are Schmendrick and Molly — but this is a fairy tale and everyone knows it, so of course the prominent love story has to be between the prince and the magical lady. I don’t think it’s any accident, though, that Schmendrick and Molly *do* get their HEA (it being a fairy tale and all.))

    awww Meljean, that is beautiful. AND a much much better interpretation of the book than the one I had. I think I have become way cynical – which probably also explains why I haven’t been able to read a lot of Romance lately and why for all the beauty of what you just said, I keep thinking to myself: but why couldn’t she want to save the unicorns merely because she felt she HAD TO? why did it have to be because of someone else’s sacrifice? why did her motivation have to come from love? God, I know, that sounds absolutely horrendous and unfeeling. 🙁

  • Meljean
    November 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I’m on my phone now so please excuse any typos and auto-corrects – but I guess my reaction to that is she *did* go out just because she wanted to and had to find out what happen to all of them. But she couldn’t sve them without first knowing love – and maybe because it would have been not as good of a story without that?

    Aftr all, it was magic itself that turned her into a human and put her in a position to fall in love. (magic do what you will). I understand that love’s role here seems terribly conventional, but if it wasn’t love, it would be some other human emotion – friendship and love in that sense, for example, because it HAD to be. If not Lir, it would have been Molly or Schmendrick. A unicorn couldn’t defeat the Red Bull as she was – just as all of the others couldn’t. She had to feel something human first – and obviously I’m biased, but love makes for a great story.

    So it doesn’t really bother me that the creature of magic couldnt save herself, because magic was disappearing anyway because humans werent willing to see it – and it feels fitting that in the end it was something human that saved all of the magic.

    And I guess also because saving it ‘just because’ wouldn’t have been as emotionally affective for me, either (probably because I’m only human, too). What is she saving, after all? A bunch of unicorns. But the magic is, IMO, in the story and everything the characters go through. Saving the unicorns doesn’t *really* matter – it’s just how the story has to end, because that’s what fairy tales do. So if she saves them *just because* it’s just, I don’t know, not much of a story (and certainly wouldn’t be my favorite).

  • Meljean
    November 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Agh, back on my computer and I see my phone reply was completely incoherent, sigh.

    I do see what it was you wanted (I want that for the heroines in many books I read, including romances) — but I also think that this book couldn’t give that resolution without cheating. Which is not to invalidate your disappointment, but simply to say that if she’d been able to defeat the Red Bull because she wanted to, it would have been a lie of an ending (and made her a special pretty pony heroine, to boot.)

    We know that unicorns can’t defeat the Red Bull. There’s nothing special about our unicorn; she doesn’t even have a name and she’s not a Unicorn or anything. If she had been able to defeat the Red Bull because she wants to (and she does, she goes in search of Haggard and the Red Bull) then there’s no reason that any of the other unicorns wouldn’t have been able to. She’d have been special for some inexplicable magical reason.

    But she can’t defeat the Red Bull as a human, either. A part of me totally dislikes weepy Lady Amalthea, even as I understand exactly why she is — how awesome would it be if she just took up a sword and went to defeat the Red Bull? But she can’t. Lir can’t. Schmendrick can’t. Molly can’t. No human can, and we know that Lady Amalthea is eventually just human, with barely any unicorn left in her. If she had been able to defeat the Red Bull because she wanted to and felt she had to, it would have also been a cheat and a lie.

    So that leaves the one being that can defeat the Red Bull: a unicorn that isn’t like the others, but one that we see exactly why she’s special — because she loves. And as soon as Lir dies, we see it happen as she makes the sound no other immortal ever made, and then becomes a sword (I don’t have my copy handy, but the image of her as a scimitar is burned into my brain) and she drives back the Red Bull.

    Anything else would have been a lie according the rules he set up. So although I totally, totally understand wanting something else driving her, it can’t come from this story without cheating. If it hadn’t been Lir, it would have been some other form of love or an emotion that she couldn’t feel as a unicorn. It could never be just because she had to, because then the other unicorns would never have been trapped as they had been.

    (Which is also reason #334253 why I heart this book so much – Beagle doesn’t cheat.) 😀

  • Erin Hoffman
    November 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Ohhhhh on the contrary I don’t think there can ever be too much discussion of The Last Unicorn, especially of the critical kind. 🙂

    I agree with Meljean above, and would just add:

    There is a sadness to all of Peter’s work, and is it possible this might be what’s unsettling about the book? I don’t think it can be all of it, but with all of his stories there is something just a little out of tune — it’s part of what makes his storytelling so true. The world of The Last Unicorn has that subtle minor key, which I think the animated movie really captures… it’s deeply sad. I’m really interested in what you might think of the novella “sequel” to The Last Unicorn, “Two Hearts”, if you read it. I’d also highly highly recommend his short story collection THE LINE BETWEEN, which I think also gives a lot of context to his voice as an artist.

    I also don’t think that the story was ultimately about saving the unicorns. It’s one of the things he does — the story isn’t about the story. It’s about the characters in it. The unicorn is this primordial force, this immortality in the world that is dwindling because of the acts of mankind — and she becomes mortal mainly to show what is passing from the world. I agree with the posters above who say the story is actually about Schmendrick and Molly. And of the two of them, as in the line you quote, Molly is stronger, more practical, more whole than Schmendrick, and she too saves the unicorn when she becomes mortal. (I actually get a little choked up when I think about that scene. And also Molly’s confrontation with the unicorn the first time she sees her, as mentioned above.)

    In this context it is Lir’s sacrifice that makes the unicorn turn back. This isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. I think you can argue that her going into the sea to join the other unicorns is in fact her destiny as a unicorn — but her mortality makes her turn back. So Lir succeeds in “saving” the unicorns and returning them to the world, and the legacy that the unicorn carries with her, the memory of being human, is not completely either good or bad — it’s bittersweet.

    In this way the unicorn began untouchable by the world — she never fully connected with the animals that lived in her forest, or even with the other unicorns, which rarely see each other — but she begins her path toward a mortal understanding by leaving her forest, and completes it by turning on the Red Bull to save a mortal, something she never would have done when she started out. But I don’t think there are value judgments in the work as to whether this is good or bad. It’s both, and neither. It just is.

    I was lucky enough to be on a panel with Peter last month at World Fantasy Con. There was a bit of discussion about Schmendrick (the panel was about misfits in fantasy), and I asked him whether Schmendrick was happier at the end of The Last Unicorn than he had been at the start. I think his answer is indicative of all of the above discussion: “Well, he isn’t /happier/,” he said, “But he was more himself.”

  • S.S. White (Calico Reaction)
    November 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    If you ever get the opportunity to read the sequel, the novella “Two Hearts,” you definitely should. It makes me cry every time I read it, and it’s not easy to make me cry.

  • Kate & Zena
    November 29, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    I’ve seen only the movie, but I love that the fact that the unicorn, seeing not only her fellow kind hurt and trapped, but her friends as well, fights and defeats the Red Bull. Most of the time, it would be hero (the prince, generally), defeating the villain. In this case, a woman, or a female animal, defeats the villain. This doesn’t happen in fairy tales generally. Normally, she only plays the role of the damsel in distress, The unicorn plays both which makes things interesting; she goes from being the weakest character to the strongest. Experiencing humanity, and love, makes her stronger, during her battle and when she returns home.

    I think it speaks for how we are as humans, especially for women. I tend to see that women. In my family, I’ve only noticed that when the women in my family are in a weak or in a situation that can break anyone, they become their strongest. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I find that is true in my family.

    I totally need to read this book. It’s going to have to wait for after the four I have now!

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    November 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I watched the film of this approximately a thousand times when I was a kid, but still haven’t read the book. From memory, the film was quite eerie, though…

  • Ana
    November 30, 2011 at 4:08 am

    I really want to say thank you all for your truly insightful comments. I am so happy to have written this post. This makes me want to re-read the book again with a different frame of mind.

  • Lori Strongin
    November 30, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    This book. OMG THIS BOOK. It still remains one of my all time favorites.

    Two things have always stayed with me:

    1) When Molly, furious, yells “Where were you when I needed you?” at the unicorn. It wasn’t just about being rescued to me, but how Molly needed to believe in magic as a young girl, but none ever appeared to her. So she grew up jaded and bitter and hurting. And when the magic (i.e., the unicorn) finally shows up, Molly is angry that it’s come too late and she fears she’s too ruined by life. It’s like that Alannis Morrisette song–hope comes, but ironically, it comes too late.

    2) Amalthea’s return to being a unicorn. It’s like you pointed out–she returns to who she was, but is irrevokably changed forever. She got what she wanted (the return of the unicorns), but is now too changed/damaged to enjoy it. It’s a metaphor for coming of age, I always thought. Or like Frodo returning to the Shire. The day was won, but the hero has been so changed by their experiences that, while everyone else seemingly slots right back into their old lives and old happinesses, the hero has changed to much to ever fit in with their old life. And that’s where the tragedy of the book lies–the unicorn has grown up and lost her innocence, and there is no one among her kind who will ever understand that or be able to help her with that.


  • Sam
    April 24, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I absolutely adore this story, and it remains one of my favourites since I was little. Despite the fact that it was beautifully written and the characters were brilliant and well-developed, I still had some issues with it.

    I remember reading and watching the cartoon when I was little, and can always remember thae feeling I had when the Unicorn is transformed into a human. The feel that it was a fantasy story suddenly disappeared into thin air. Lir wasn’t really a likeable character to me, the only one I wanted to strangle every time I read the story through. It may be that he was the one to really screw up the Unicorn’s mind through the continual push of pathetic human feelings towards her, or it may have been that he really was just that irritating for being there and getting in the way of the plotline.
    To me, it seemed like he was actually the villain figure along with Haggard for destroying the Unicorn’s innocence and belief in the magic around her. If I remember correctly, when Lir started to show her how he felt, distratcting her mind from her own quest in finding the rest of her kind, that was when she stopped seeing the unicorns in the sea, or at least sensing their presence somehow. Haggard commented that her ‘eyes were empty as Lir’s’, so it sort of showed that he had been the one to cause this shutting off of the Unicorn’s mind from the magical innocence around her; she was unable to see her way back to the peaceful and care free life that she had led before meeting this (rather pointless) man.

    All in all, he wasn’t really needed (I don’t care whether he fulfilled the conventions of a fairytale or not, because the unpredictableness for me was going perfectly fine).
    Although, he was pretty good at showing a representation of how humans view the world: we only care for our own, and any innocence or purity left is heartlessly destroyed by the reality of the ageing process and moving forward in life.

    Anyway, Lir rant over…

    Affter re-reading it this month, I don’t believe that Haggard was as evil a character as he is thought to be. Unlike Lir, who does not care whether the Unicorns are saved or not at the end, showing that he does not care if magic is in the world or not, Haggard sought to almost protect the Unicorns’ magic and purity from teh rest of the world, which would merely seek to corrupt and take advantage of their magic and care for the world, their innocence. Haggard I don not see as a bad character, rather that his methods perhaps needed to be changed a little, say, maybe opening a private pasture?

    Other than my little issues, mostly with the men in this book (just a coincidence that the annoying ones to me happened to be male – sorry), I would still highly recommend this to anyone 😀

  • Anthony Bill
    September 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    This must be my favorite fantasy story in the world. I, too, cry each time I pick up and read this intensely sad, bittersweet, and ultimately, human novel. What a magnificent writer Peter S. Beagle is. A living legend, as they say.

  • flak-viper
    August 5, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Prince Lir, I cannot help but think he suffered the most. I have seen the movie many times but only read the book once. Think about it… this guy lost his father, lost his home and lost a lady the likes of wich he will never find again. I also don’t think the unicorn was as indifferent as we think. Remember she did free all the other animals from Mommy Fortuna including the Harpy. Even if she did turn on her. Just my thoughts.. Truly Flak Viper

  • Cait Bourbon
    February 22, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I think the Unicorn is somewhat supposed to represent purity in this work. Most people don’t know it for what it is. Characters like Mommy Fortuna and Haggard want to posess it, Shmendrik reveres it, Molly laments it and Lir literally throws himself at it. It’s also what has to be given up by Amalthea if she wants to see the others back in the world. She goes through a change that teaches her mortality and she uses that to subdue the red bull. But she had to sacrifice her purity in order to do it. I’m curious as to what the red bull represents for others. I see it as desire (which Haggard himself lacks but uses externally to drive purity from the world). For Amalthea to overcome a rampant desire she had to give up her own purity, which was holding her back from understanding and confronting desire. Thoughts?

  • Krissy Watson
    March 6, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    So, I just got finished watching The Last Unicorn, for the 2nd time today ( I have a toddler) and I have seen it as a kid a million times before. Now that I have “grown up” and I believe what I believe, I wanted to see if anyone had the same view I did about some things by chance. So, I am going to go a little deeper than some comments. I think what Erin Hoffman said is where I will begin, and I haven’t thought out everything with this perception so just keep that in mind.

    “It’s about the characters in it. The unicorn is this primordial force, this immortality in the world that is dwindling because of the acts of mankind — and she becomes mortal mainly to show what is passing from the world.”

    This couldn’t have been said any better than that. While I agree with that, I will also add that the Unicorn could symbolize not only Immortality or purity, but also…our consciousness. Our “souls,” how once we were free to shine and live in peace and one day “evil” or The Red Bull came to drive it out. Because us humans live in a world with duality, you can’t have love without hate right? Any way, although I haven’t read the book & I am a reader so I understand the little details are important so that’s why books will always be better than the movie, but what I got from the comments, the movie didn’t leave out much from the book when it comes to the message. When she becomes Lady Amalthea, or “human”, Consciousness was then “trapped” in a form where we have human emotions, and I am with Erin with getting choked up in the scene where Molly asks the Schmendrick, “what have you done?” because once consciousness takes human form, it is no longer free or in it’s true “home” or form, it is forever changed or trapped in a body that is limited by death. So just as Lady Amalthea “forgot” she was a unicorn, that could be symbolic in a way that consciousness or “souls” because of the mind, the human body and outside influences of the world, we can no longer “remember” the true reason of why we are here in this world. And maybe, when she wasn’t able to “see” the unicorns in the sea, that could symbolize how as humans we are only subjected to this 3 dimensional world we live in because of the human brain and how little it is actually used. Think about it, if we were actually able to “turn on” and use our entire brain, don’t you think our sight and what we perceive, as the world, would change? I think Sam said it best:

    “Although, he was pretty good at showing a representation of how humans view the world: we only care for our own, and any innocence or purity left is heartlessly destroyed by the reality of the ageing process and moving forward in life.”

    Children’s realities are a lot different than ours. Because they have their youth, pureness, innocence, They know not of the cruel, deceptive world we live in so they have a different perspective on life and the world. They believe in the “magic.” The world has forgotten that evil( hate, greed) is not the way of the world. We need to unite (maybe that was the saving of all the unicorns) & need to fight back for our peace in life, and that we should stand up or what is right ( i.e the battle with The Red Bull at the end) to transform into the people we were meant to be and experience love so we can fully understand how important it is. In the end, she was changed, but isn’t better to have loved & lost, than to never have loved at all? I think so, because that is all a soul is, is love. We need to live a life of love to know happiness, to know peace, to truly be “free.”

    I know this will sound a little out there for some people but I was just throwing out my thoughts or ponders ( that probably could have been said better, sorry) from watching this movie with a different perspective I had as a kid just watching a fairytale, not going deep into or thinking twice about what the meaning could be, to now watching it again with the outlook on life and “reality” I have now. It was just interesting to see how some things could have been symbolic in a way to that view. =)

    Lots of love to you all, I did enjoy reading all the different opinions about the movie, I am going to buy the book now so I can read it & experience the little details because that is what makes books better than the movies. I do love a good book, and this movie is one of the greats!


  • Krissy Watson
    March 6, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Oh, and I know once I watch it again I will have “Oh, YEAH” moments, because there was specific things the characters said to go along with this depiction of the movie, so if that happens, I will be back! =D

  • Krissy Watson
    March 6, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Sorry, one thing I thought of is when I was talking about children seeing the world differently because they still have their purity and innocence…don’t we as adults wish we could go back to our childhood? Why? Because isn’t that where we were truly HAPPY? No worries or a care in the world, your only responsibility was to just be. That was a blissful time. That could mean what Haggard was talking about and why he wanted to capture all of the unicorns, because they brought him happiness, magic…love back into his life where as an adult it faded away. He went about it the wrong way, like what Sam mentioned, but I agree, I don’t see him as completely evil, just lost because he doesn’t know true happiness anymore. And if you don’t have any love or happiness in life, then you’re just going to have anger and resentment and greed? And that could be what the Unicorn symbolizes. Our TRUE selves, our freedom to just be. =D

  • Mert Erten
    April 30, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    When will I stop loving coming-of-age novel/movies? 🙂

    Lovely post, great comments. I am so happy that I’ve read these, but mostly I would like to thank Erin Hoffman for mentioning the sadness in this work. It cleared this unexplainable feeling for me. It was extremely well put, thank you.

  • Carrie
    January 13, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    I love this story, both the movie and book. I think the ending is in fact a reversal of the mortal man saves the damsel trope. If you will recall, while unicorn is human, Lir tries all manner of things to “become a hero” or “win” her, and she responds to them all with scorn. When she eventually falls in love with him, it is because he is being open and honest with her. It is the unicorn who ultimately is the hero. She defeats the bull, leads Lir to become a true hero willing to sacrifice himself, leads Schmendrick to become a true wizard, and leads Molly to find her self worth.

  • Kitty
    April 9, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I love this movie and enjoyed reading some of the insightful comments posted here, it has really broadened my perception of the story! I’ve watched the movie but have never actually read the book. After recently re-watching The Last Unicorn, my siblings and i realized we had very strange memories of its ending. For some reason we all believed that the unicorn returned to the sea with her kind and they disappeared from the world. I have no idea how this twisted version came about, but i must now absolutely read the book!! Thanks again for all the lovely posts and comments! Much appreciated!!

  • Anonymous
    May 1, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    this is the edition I used to have, bought it in Sussex University Bookshop in the early 70s, alas what happened to it? love the animation but long to read the book again, Amazon offers me a graphic novel or a kindle version, both at inflated prices, who let this go out of print?

  • D
    August 17, 2015 at 3:04 am

    I’ve read this book, seen the movie, own the dvd, the blu ray, the 25th edition – met the author twice… and I keep forgetting to ask him one thing: (Spoiler alert)

    “So…. why doesn’t Schmendrick just change her back into a human again *after* the big rescue has been completed…?” – if anyone has an answer… lemme know!

    Also… interesting to read the book as I age – the line with Molly “How dare you come to me now… when I am THIS” – didn’t really get it so much as a kid – as an adult, and after understanding the whole unicorn-and-the-Virgin business – right. Makes far more sense now.

    The movie btw… screenplay was written by the author, Mr. Beagle himself – so excellent movie as well.

    Oh and if anyone’s read “Two Hearts” – the SEQUEL… Mr. Beagle is apparently promising to write further adventures of the Unicorn… (although he is rather aged now, I hope he’s well enough to do so!).

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  • Charles
    March 22, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    wow what great comments!! Awesome perspectives truly!! I’m reading these as I’m a 32 yo man. I never read the book but I have the movie and still watch it to this day.

    Everybody has opened my mind to so many different perspectives. Though I have to say as a young boy I never noticed gender roles(prince being the hero though I never saw Lir as the hero at all) It is Unicorn who is the hero in this story for me. Like Frodo(someone mentioned him) Unicorn sets out on a journey/adventure not knowing what she might find or if she was brave enough to beat the odds.( Heroes are normally depicted as arriving on a White Horse(which Unicorn is; Instantly making her the heroine in my young mind) I never saw Unicorn as blank or indifferent but other worldly, detached from human dilemma. She set out to find her people this makes her not indifferent in my eyes.

    Considering I watched this movie as a very young boy I instantly understood Molly Grue’s frustration with Unicorn when she sees her. If I may state this I identified with Molly’s resentment towards Unicorn. I see this creature as many things; Jesus, Salvation, Innocents(He who is like a child will enter the kingdom of The Father) This childlike purity.

    Schmendrick’s reverence for Unicorn was a curiosity to me as I often asked my mom and sister why he showed pause at touching her. I liked his becoming; He used his intuition to be a conduit for the magic. In doing so he began to understand the magic and its workings(Knowing that Amalthea could learn of what became of her people in human form)

    I now see Lir as a boy. He did all the things we are told we must do as boys to win the attention of the girl we desire. I thought he was gentlemanly to some point. I liked Lir’s effort to win her affections and I liked how he came to realize Unicorn finding and freeing her people was more important than his desire for her. In return Unicorn restored his life.(powerful; She Saved Him) He was dead when he first saw her walking up to the castle and remained dead until she brought him to life.

    King Haggard was not evil to me but deeply lonely and to his credit did what he had to in order to regain his happiness. Most of us wouldn’t dare, though we “dare to deny ourselves”. His end in the movie I always thought was the way he would have chosen to go if he no longer could behold the unicorns.

    This is such a great story not only for its Minor Chord feel;Gloom. Its great cuz its truly the only story we have and we repeat Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark(See the movie Legend with Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, and of course Two Unicorns) This story is the only story there really is and its more than just a story. Every movie we see from Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, Legend , Avatar etc are all Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil, God vs Lucifer. The Red bull was like Satan. Cloven hoofed, Red, menacing, in flames but ultimately a liar a bluff cuz once Unicorn fought back he was not so menacing. Lucifer is called The Father of Lies..Bluffs… Don’t mean to get too religious on yall. Just the things that come to mind.

    Awesome movie!!

  • Anonymous
    February 27, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    It is her love for a mortal man, not his for her, that makes her stand up to the Bull?

  • Kevin
    June 22, 2017 at 9:37 am

    If you aren’t aware, Peter Beagle is suing his ex manager for physical elder abuse and fraud. This is the guy who swooped in on Peter’s career, promising to save him from being cheated when he wasn’t getting paid for the Last Unicorn movie. The abuser used Peter as a front to take the rights for the movie. Now he’s withholding all the money from Peter.

    It gets much, much worse than that. The abuser is teamed up with a crooked former lawyer who got kicked out of the profession. They tried to have Peter declared senile to get their hands on his estate. They tried to fake evidence. It didn’t fly because the doctor said it was BS. They even tried to sue Peter’s lawyer but that got thrown out with a hefty fine for frivolous litigation.

    All of Peter’s social media is controlled by the abuser, including for the Last Unicorn movie. So you will only hear the fake side there, and any contradictory info will be covered up/banned. But Peter does have an official Facebook and Twitter, and this site where you can read his lawsuit. Please do.


    Only his new publisher is paying him for his work, that’s Tachyon – definitely don’t pay for ANYTHING from Conlan Press, Amazon’s ebook editions of Peter’s work, or for Last Unicorn related goods either. If you see any movie screenings without Peter’s express approval, please raise holy hell about it.

    There is more about this on Google, give it a try.

  • Lotus
    July 2, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for sharing this info, I hadn’t heard about it.

  • Lotus
    July 2, 2017 at 11:59 am

    I love the image on your copy of the book Ana, the modern image has nothing on it. My copy is a hardback from a science fiction book club and contains A Fine and Private Place as well. I was wondering, for any of you that have read an old copy and the newer anniversary one, there were some corrections apparently – so I am wondering were they anything that changed the story or just minor grammatical stuff?

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