Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn

From the first page, it was crystal clear that I haven’t read a book like it.

There is a lyrical quality to its language that is most striking in similes. Quite unusual, fresh and interesting similes that made me rejoice and smile: a voice as naked as a baby bird, an old man, stingy as late November, horns as pale as scars, eyes as dark as hoofprints in snow, face as soft and pleasant as a marshmallow, she, silent as a jewel.. There were so many (and not a few delightfully synesthetic ones) that noting them down started to feel absurd – I’d better get myself the book. Somewhere near the end of the story, I came to this startling sentence in which the simile is almost laughing, grinning in amusement as a true trickster: Her feet were as silent as the promise she had given him, but his own heavy boots rang exactly like boots on the stone floor. Did Peter grin writing it? I would bet he did!

Then the characters… Every one of them, no matter how ‘small’ or secondary, somehow feels real, a breathing person, with a life/(hi)story of their own. It mainly comes out in their speech. The dialogues are, therefore, very strong. Some of them were particularly striking as if happening now, this very moment of reading, having an almost tangible quality and power. Two sentinels at the top castle tower, talking about the approaching travelers, for example. I can still see it.

Then, I was surprised to find, the book is autoreferential. Starting with: “Haven’t you ever been in a fairy tale before?”, the text (through Schmendrick) proceeds to tell about the order of the things, of heroes, of ends and the right timing… The fairy tale begins somewhere in the middle of the book! and once they all are in! they go where it leads for they have no choice – they must follow the fairy tale to King Haggard’s castle, and wherever else it chooses to take them… And being in this fairy tale changes them all significantly – just compare Lir having a picnic with his betrothed with Lir in love with Lady Amalthea.

A lot could be written on any of the characters, on Molly’s “How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?”, on Haggard’s “You’re losing my interest.”, on humor and sadness in the episode with Cully and his fellows, on the butterfly… There is so much in this book. It is serious, and almost like something that is not written but exists the way the depths of the ocean exist.