BOOK REVIEW: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is the penultimate fairy tale.

This book is now one of my favorites.

As a child who was obsessed with unicorns and pegasi, including The Last Unicorn film, I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book until now. Though, it wasn’t until recently that I learned the movie was based on a book. I don’t think my mom knew about this book and so I didn’t either. My fetish was fed by her…one of the few things we had in common (that and our love of Cher, but that’s for another time).

This book is like poetry — more like a prose poem than any book I have ever read. It is gentle and comforting, yet quirky and often ridiculous — throwing in words like “Taco” and “Giraffe” that don’t seem to fit. It leaves you laughing because you wonder if this is supposed to be set in a medieval time period or not. Renaissance? Dark ages? Not sure that it matters, really, because it’s so self-referential that these quirks come off as more delightful than jarring. It knows it is a fairy tale, with characters saying so in lines like “…we are in a fairy tale…” and “You’re in the story with the rest of us now,” and “It’s all part of the fairy tale.”

I think all of those lines are from the magician, actually. Maybe he’s the only one who realizes he’s a character.

And Peter Beagle even takes a chance to talk about Rhinoceri, which is how the hole unicorn myth “got started.” This book is so conscious of itself — I never knew how postmodern it really was.

I’m also amazed at how much the film stayed true to the book. Scene by scene and capturing much the same feel.  I will admit that parts of the movie are cheesy, but that’s just due to the time period and animation (in my opinion). Beagle has even said in an interview that he was shocked that the film was so true to the book.

I always said that this story was kind of like someone watched the cartoon version of LOTR and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And come to find out, Beagle actually wrote the screenplay of LOTR.  No wonder!

I found the book sadder than the film — perhaps because I’m now and adult and viewing the thing with fresh eyes. The book lends itself to more subtlety. In the film, you are distracted by the pictures, but here you can pick up on things like the fact when the Unicorn becomes human, she is slowly no longer called The Unicorn — not by the narrator, even. She’s The Girl and then Amalthea. I haven’t viewed the film in many years, but I didn’t remember her forgetting that she was a unicorn. I didn’t recall that.

I also have friends that hate the film because “why the f*ck is there a random talking cat?!?” Well, let me tell you, that is explained in the book much better than in the film.

I do think that if you didn’t like the movie as a kid, you might not like the book as much I do as an adult. It’s likely you just don’t like meta fairy tales or unicorns?


2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is the penultimate fairy tale.

  1. Amanda,
    I just discovered your website, so I’ve just read your review for “The Last Unicorn”. Years ago (30? 40? …I’m showing my age…) I found it on a used book shelf somewhere and was entranced by it. Several years later, I discovered it again, this time forgotten on my own bookshelf; I re-read it and loved it a second time. Now, your review has reminded me that I haven’t read it in years. I just retrieved my now-tattered copy to enjoy again.

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