Elitist Classic: The Last Unicorn

Posted: October 9, 2018 by in Elitist Classics Meta: Peter S. Beagle, Fantasy
The Last Unicorn

Patrick Rothfuss called this “the best book I’ve ever read.” His love for THE LAST UNICORN explains the tone and texture of his THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS EBR Review, which I loved, and it was Rothfuss’s endorsement that prompted me to get in the Way Back Machine and read this classic. I’m glad I did.

This breezy gem-of-a-book is hard to describe. I find myself at a loss because anything I write will be so inferior to it and I’d like to do THE LAST UNICORN justice. There is poetry on every page. To say I identified with the characters and that they were sympathetic is like saying that a quiet cloud drifting past a shining, amber harvest moon is beautiful. (If you hated that, then skip this; you will not enjoy 1960s era whimsical fantasy.)

There are no cardboard figures, no noble savages, this being near the beginning of the anti-hero era in literature and cinema. The nuance we hope for is present throughout, so even the really-bad bad guy is fully fleshed. This classic is a primer on “How to Write Beautifully While Keeping the Plot (mostly) Moving.” Not at the pace of a modern work, especially the grimdark stuff that many seem to enjoy; and there are no bloody battle scenes, there is no graphic sex, rape, or murder, but it somehow manages to be wonderful.

There is no way to explain the “it” factor. I have tried to describe it as other-worldly, touching both writer and reader at the soul level, and a thing of inspiration, though many claim there is more of perspiration to this process. Like a really good wine, we know it when we taste it, and this is a very good wine, if a bit sweet. More complex as it is savored and it finishes well! (To completely wring out a metaphor.)

Here I break tradition and skip the synopsis for two reasons. One, a description of the plot may have discouraged me from reading this once because it sounded dumb to me, a mid-1970s teen at the time. Two, there are so many delightful surprises that any re-telling of the story might ruin some of them. It couldn’t be that I dislike writing synopses and don’t often read them. Nope. In this case, I stand by my excuses, er, reasons. It’s about a unicorn and her friends and they go on a quest and have adventures and misadventures and there is peril and beauty. And sadness. There.

So, read this book because it is on every “best” list for mid-century fantasy, it is important and historic, but mostly because it’s good. Gardener-style writing is not always this good, and its flaws are a result of too much meandering, but Beagle always gets back on track in interesting and surprising ways. I do so love being surprised, but the biggest surprise was how well this book holds up to modern sensibilities. Not all SF/F offerings from this era do, even those well-regarded in their time.

  • Recommended Age: All ages
  • Language: Nope
  • Violence: Some frightening scenes; mild violence, easily skipped to read-aloud for very young ears
  • Sex: None

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