The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle and The Last Unicorn (1982)

The Last Unicorn is a fantasy novel that began with a natural forest scene until a pair of hunter with their dog roamed through the woods intending to hunt. However, the older hunter felt an eerie feeling as soon as they entered the curious forest and decided that the woods was guarded by the last of unicorn. Before they went back where they came from, the man let out his parting words to the eavesdropping unicorn to guard the forest for she was the last of her kind. The unicorn realizing that she’s the last of her kind and went on a journey to find what happened to the others with a clue about a tale of the Red Bull. She was captured by a witch but was rescued by a failed magician, Schmendrick who intended to follow the unicorn on her quest. They stumbled across ruined lands, corrupted villagers, greedy men and Molly Grue, a lost woman who gave up on her dreams until she saw a unicorn again. When they reached the edges of the town of Hasgate, a red bull emerged from a castle with his cold fire rumbling down the land he found his prey waiting.

I was born in the late 80s but my early childhood was filled with a bunch of 80s movies. One of them was The Last Unicorn on VHS, thanks to my unicorn obsessed sister. So when I read the book, I occasionally bring in the voices along with the character like the butterfly when I was reading the butterfly songs and King Haggard who was aptly voiced by Christopher Lee. I’ve known it long ago that The Last Unicorn was Japanese made, hence its properly considered as an anime. After a hundred times watching this anime, I thought I knew the story but I was wrong.

Contrary to what most people think, this novel is not a book for children. Although, the writing was simplistic in nature, the underlying message of it was not and maybe confusing for younger readers to appreciate the book. There was like lust at the first sight, nude scene, and if you watch the cartoon that face between the tree scene (which is in this book.. ummm),  the princess and prince scene where the prince wanted her to stop waiting for a unicorn and I suppose he wanted to marry and sleep with her… I mean. Yes, this book is quite young adult if you analyse it too much but hey, I’m not ruining your childhood for you.

I’m surprised that Unicorn is quite a flat character even in written form. Being an immortal with virtual ignorance to the matter of the world, the realization that her kind was nearly extinct and she never knew about it. She felt more connected to the natural world and the animals but with arrogance of her immortality compared with the mankind made her somehow shallow. To her, mankind were insignificant as a cockroaches except for the little girls who sing to her. She was most appalled when she found out that some mortals were unable to see her true form, instead they saw a beautiful white mare and this disturbed her greatly in many ways.

When she unwillingly became a human girl, Amalthea, I could understand her anguish of her knowing that she was trapped in a form that is dying around her. The author did impress me with her newness in her new form but her ignorance were still continued which were evidenced by her nonchalance to Prince Lír, a hero-prince charming character who tried everything to court her attention that he resolutely became a romantic character but with a prophetic destiny. She eventually let go of her immortality to embrace the idea of her having a brief mortal future.

The book did magnificently portray the Unicorn with its translucent beauty and her ever soulless immortality in every sort of way that is made possible but this also made her unreachable even to the readers. This baffled me for quite a sometime which I even understand why my eldest sister maintained that she dislike The Last Unicorn. Apparently, I soon realize that The Last Unicorn aren’t for those who wanted to see rainbows out of their butts and fairy glitters all the time.

one of the best fanart which I will link back the artist when I found that site

Surprisingly, Schmendrick the Magician was the most interesting and considerably well-rounded archetypal character in this book unlike the book’s name sake. He began as a failed magician who work with a wicked witch and spend doing sleight of hands tricks instead of real magic which he unbearably self-conscious about. Unlike the Unicorn, he is cursed with immortality until the day when he became a real magician, and he didn’t revel in his immortality, instead he still persistently maintain his objective to become a real magician even though everyone says he shouldn’t be. He was clever in some ways and eventually a decent mate to the skeptical character who was Molly Grue.

Molly Grue is a much less comical and deary character in the book unlike the anime which I’d admit, she bugs me a lot. She’s a reasonable independent and hardworking adult woman who are way smarter than Schmendrick. She’s a mother figure to everyone she met and somehow caring to everyone including the Unicorn. Reading her instead of relying on the anime character had changed my perception about her. She was one of the character that the anime simplify and didn’t do her justice at all.

The anime at most part was a faithful adaptation to the book. It was until the later half when the book started to diverge from the anime and became more serious. It became a social commentary on general humanities, talking about human corruption and female enticement and immortality vs mortality and responsibility of a kingdom and its people while maintaining a decent and quite unpredictable storyline. Its even bloody. The ending was different from its adaptation from the emotions and motives. The outlook of things and the naturalism of the world benign of a man’s greed. All these are some of the bleak noir theme things that I captured while reading which greatly confuses me.

The Last Unicorn is lyrical, mysterious and exciting while being elusive, frustrating and mature for the genre. 44 years later, the book was still significant and deserving in its stance as one of the classics of 20th century. And boy, I was surprised that this book is American novel. For years, I thought it was some German translated book.

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