The Last Unicorn
The Last Unicorn (1968) is a fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle about a unicorn who learns that she is the last unicorn in the world and sets out from her enchanted forest to find what has happened to all the others, which have been hunted and driven away from the forests of the world by a creature known as the Red Bull.
- See also:
- To the memory of Dr. Olfert Dapper, who saw a wild unicorn in the Maine woods in 1673, and for Robert Nathan, who has seen one or two in Los Angeles.
- The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.
- Ch. I
- "How can it be?" she wondered. "I suppose I could understand it if men had simply forgotten unicorns or if they had changed so that they hated all unicorns now and tried to kill them when they saw them. But not to see them at all, to look at them and see something else — what do they look like to one another, then? What do trees look like to them, or houses, or real horses, or their own children?"
- Ch. I
- No, no, listen. Don't listen to me, listen. You can find your people if you are brave. They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints.
- Ch. I
- It's a rare man who is taken for what he truly is … There is much misjudgment in the world. … We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.
- Chap. II
- He was not lying, merely organizing events more sensibly.
- Chap. IV
- "Where you are going now," Schmendrick answered, "few will mean you anything but evil, and a friendly heart — however foolish — may be as welcome as water one day. Take me with you, for laughs, for luck, for the unknown. Take me with you."
- Chap. IV
- We do lead a good life here, or if we don't, I don't know anything about it. I sometimes think that a little fear, a little hunger, might be good for us — sharpen our souls, so to speak.
- Chap. IV
- But Molly pushed him aside and went up to the unicorn, scolding her as though she were a strayed milk cow. "Where have you been?" Before the whiteness and the shining horn, Molly shrank to a shining beetle, but this time it was the unicorn's old dark eyes that looked down. "I am here now," she said at last. Molly laughed with her lips flat. "And what good is that to me that you're here now? Where were you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you come to me now, when I am this?" ... The unicorn made no reply, and Schmendrick said, "She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world." "She would be." Molly sniffed. "It would be the last unicorn in the world that comes to Molly Grue."
- Ch. VI
- That's a good curse, that's a professional job. I always say, whatever you're having done, go to an expert. It pays in the long run.
- Ch. VII
- The most professional curse ever snarled or croaked or thundered can have no effect on a pure heart.
- Ch. VII
- "I will tell you a story," Schmendrick said. "As a child I was apprenticed to the mightiest magician of all, the great Nikos, whom I have spoken of before. But even Nikos, who could turn cats into cattle, snowflakes into snowdrops, and unicorns into men, could not change me into so much as a carnival cardsharp. A last he said to me, 'My son, your ineptitude is so vast, your incompetence so profound, that I am certain you are inhabited by greater power than I have ever known. Unfortunately, it seems to work backwards at the moment, and even I can find no way to set it right. It must be that you are meant to find your own way to reach your power in time; but frankly, you should live so long as that will take you. Therefore I grant it that you shall not age from this day forth, but will travel the world round and round, eternally inefficient, until at last you come to yourself and know what you are. Don't thank me. I tremble at your doom."
- Ch. VIII
- Molly Grue gathered her courage to answer, even though she suspected that it was impossible to speak the truth to King Haggard. Something in his winter presence blighted all words, tangled meanings, and bent honest intentions into shapes as tormented as the towers of his castle.
- Chap. IX
- "But what's left on earth that I haven't tried?" Prince Lír demanded. "I have swum four rivers, each in full flood and some more than a mile wide. I have climbed seven mountains never before climbed, slept three nights in the march of the Hanged Men, and walked alive out of that forest where the flowers burn your eyes and the nightingales sing poison. I have ended my betrothal to the princess I had agreed to marry — and if you don't think that was a heroic deed, you don't know her mother. I have vanquished exactly fifteen black knights, waiting by the ford in their black pavillion, challenging all who came to cross. And I've long since lost count of the witches in the thorny woods, the giants, the demons disguised as damsels, the glass hills, the fatal riddles, and terrible tasks; the magic apples, rings, lamps, potions, swords, cloaks, boots, neckties, and nightcaps. Not to mention the winged horses, the basillisks and sea serpents, and all the rest of the livestock."
- Ch X
- "I like being brave well enough, but I will be a lazy coward again if you think that would be better. The sight of her makes me want to do battle with all evil and ugliness, but it also makes me want to sit still and be unhappy."
- Ch X.
- The prince said, "Who is she Molly? What kind of woman is it who believes — who knows, for I saw her face — that she can cure wounds with a touch, and who weeps without tears?" Molly went on about her work, still humming to herself. "Any woman can weep without tears," she answered over her shoulder, "and most can heal with her hands. It depends on the wound. She is a woman, Your Highness, and that's riddle enough."
- Ch X.
- "I must go. There is a ogre of some sort devouring village maidens two day's ride from here. It is said that he can be slain only by one who wields the Great Ax of Duke Alban. Unfortunately, Duke Alban himself was one of the first consumed — he was dressed as a village maiden at the time, to deceive the monster — and there is little doubt who holds the Great Ax now. If I do not return, think of me. Farewell."
- Ch X
- "Cruel?" she asked. "How can I be cruel? That is for mortals." But then she did raise her eyes, and they were great with sorrow, and with something very near to mockery. She said, "So is kindness."
- Chap. X
- I am what I am. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.
- Ch. X.
- "Do you like the first poem?" "It certainly had a lot of feeling," she said. "Can you really rhyme 'bloomed' and 'ruined'?" "It needs a bit of smoothing out," Prince Lír admitted, "'Miracle' is the word I'm worried about." "I was wondering about 'grackle' myself."
- Ch. XI
- But the skull was laughing again; this time making a thoughtful, almost kindly noise. "Remember what I told you about time," it said. "When I was alive, I believed — as you do — that time was at least as real and solid as myself, and probably more so. I said 'one o'clock' as though I could see it, and 'Monday' as though I could find it on the map; and I let myself be hurried along from minute to minute, day to day, year to year, as though I were actually moving from one place to another. Like everyone else, I lived in a house bricked up with seconds and minutes, weekends and New Year's Days, and I never went outside until I died, because there was no other door. Now I know that I could've walked through the walls."
- Ch. XII
- But at the same moment, Prince Lír said, "No." The word escaped him as suddenly as a sneeze, emerging in a questioning squeak — the voice of a silly young man mortally embarressed by a rich and terrible gift. "No," he repeated, and this time the word tolled in another voice, a kings's voice; not Haggard, but a king whose grief was not for what he did not have, but for what he could not give. "My lady," he said, "I am a hero. It is a trade, no more, like weaving or brewing, and like them it has its own tricks and knacks and small arts. There are ways of perceiving witches, and knowing of poison streams; there are certain weak spots that all dragons tend to have, and certain riddles that hooded strangers tend to set you. But 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."
- Ch. XIII
- Prince Lír stood between her body and the Bull, weaponless, but with his hands up as though he thought he still held a sword and shield. Once more in that endless night the prince said, "No." He looked very foolish, and he was about to be trampled flat. The Red Bull could not see him, and would kill him without ever knowing that he had been in the way. Wonder and love and great sorrow shook Schmendrick the Magician then, and came together inside him and filled him, filled him until he felt himself brimming and flowing with something that was none of these. He did not believe it, but it came to him anyway, as it had touched him twice before and left him more barren than he had been. This time, there was too much of it for him to hold; it spilled through his fingers and toes, welled up equally in his eyes and his hair and the hollows of his shoulders. There was too much to hold — too much ever to use; and still he found himself weeping with the pain of his impossible greed. He thought, or said, or sang, I did not know that I was so empty, to be so full.
- Ch. XIII
- Then Schmendrick stepped out into the open and said a few words. They were short words, undistinguished either by melody or harshness, and Schmendrick himself could not hear them for the Red Bull's dreadful bawling. But he knew what they meant, and he knew exactly how to say them, and he knew that he could say them again when he wanted to, in the same way or in a different way. Now he spoke them gently and with joy, and as did so he felt his immortality fall from him like an armour, or like a shroud.
- Ch. XIII
- Your true task has just begun, and you may not know in your life if you have succeeded in it, but only if you fail.
- Chap. XIV
- As for you and the things you said and didn't say, she will remember them all, when men are fairy tales in books written by rabbits.
- Ch. XIV
- "You are a true and mortal wizard now, as you always wished. Does it make you happy?"
"Yes," he replied with a quiet laugh. "I'm not poor Haggard, to lose my heart's desire in the having of it. But there are wizards and wizards; there is black magic and white magic, and the infinite shades of gray between — and I see now that it is all the same. Whether I decide to be what men would call a wise and good magician — aiding heroes, thwarting witches, wicked lords, and unreasonable parents; making rain, curing woolsorter's disease and the mad staggers, getting cats down from trees — or whether I choose the retorts full of elixirs and essences, the powders and herbs and banes, the padlocked books of gramarye bound in skins better left unnamed, the muddy mist darkening in the chamber and the sweet voice lisping therein — why, life is short, and how many can I help or harm? I have my power at last, but the world is still too heavy for me to move, though my friend Lír might think otherwise." And he laughed again in his dream, a little sadly.
The unicorn said, "That is true. You are a man, and men can do nothing that makes any difference." But her voice was strangely slow and burdened. She asked, "Which will you choose?"
The magician laughed for a third time. "Oh, it will be the kind magic, undoubtedly, because you would like it more. I do not think that I will ever see you again, but I will try to do what would please you if you knew...."
- Ch.XIV, The Unicorn and Schmendrick
- My people are in the world again. No sorrow will live in my heart as long as that joy — save one, and I thank you for that, too. Farewell, good magician. I will try to go home.
Quotes about The Last Unicorn
- Doing good, like love, cannot be valued for what it accomplishes, since the unicorn flatly declares, "You are a man, and men can do nothing that makes any difference." Loving and doing good must be chosen, as Lir and Schmendrick choose them, for the beauty and pleasure and wonder of doing good.
- Harold Bloom, in a review of the novel in Twentieth-Century American Literature (1988)
- In the long-ago year of 1968, post-Tolkien fantasy was just entering its first great bloom — suddenly you could find fantasy novels everywhere, old classics as well as bright new stuff. I bought The Last Unicorn because the cover was a lovely take on the medieval unicorn tapestries — I was unsure about the title, because it seemed a distinct possibility that it would be a sticky, fluffy, rhinestone sort of book and I didn't like those. I'd been introduced to fantasy through Tolkien and Mervyn Peake and E. R. Eddison, and I liked some power in my fantasy.
The Last Unicorn proceeded to run 220 volts through my little 110-volt brain.
- Official Peter Beagle website
- Conlan Press, Beagle's affiliated American publisher and source for autographed Peter S. Beagle books, audiobooks, media, etc.
- Peter S. Beagle's fans speak out in support of his legal fight
- Conlan Press champions Beagle's fight for his royalties
- The Last Unicorn development website