The Last Unicorn

by Peter S. Beagle

Hardcover, 1991

Status

Available

Local notes

PB Bea

Barcode

5991

Publication

Ace (1991), Edition: Reissue, 304 pages

Description

Recounts the quest of the last unicorn, who leaves the protection of the enchanted forest to search for her own kind, and who is joined by Schmedrick the Magician and Molly Grue in her search.

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1968

Physical description

304 p.; 5.2 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
When a unicorn realizes that she may be the last remaining unicorn, she leaves her peaceful home on a quest to find out what happened to all her brothers and sisters. Along the way, she picks up bumbling magician seeking his talent and a dour cook looking for her lost innocence. The unicorn soon
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discovers that the world has changed since she last ventured out. Humans have lost their youthful innocence, and they are no longer able to see things as they truly are - humans have excelled in the art of deceiving themselves.

When I originally picked up this book, I'd expected a cute young adult tale, but never expected such depth. The Last Unicorn is a multi-layered allegory: about lost innocence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-deception. But these cynical themes aren't the main point. The main point is that only in fully understanding humans can the ethereal unicorns save themselves. Only by sacrificing a piece of their ineffable essence can they form a closer bond to humans. And this closer bond can lead humans to do wonderful things.

Yes, it is a Christian allegory by my interpretation. But I think it's amazing the way Beagle didn't just throw in a Christ Figure and be done with it....The allegory of Beagle's unicorn isn't uniquely Christian - it defies religious boundaries. It is a story of love and innocence that mixes cynicism and hope. Quite extraordinary!

I was also a HUGE fan of the bumbling wizard Schmendrick who (in my opinion) was only fooling himself into believing he wasn't a capable wizard. He's like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz - just the fact that he wanted so badly to be a wizard made him into one. He could laugh at all the people who deceived themselves, as he unconsciously deceived his own self. He reminded me of myself when I'm in a glum mood thinking I'm not capable of anything when, of course, I'm quite capable if I'd stop expecting so little of myself. This book was a good reminder to have faith in yourself and think about the consequences of your beliefs.
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LibraryThing member susanbevans
The Last Unicorn is one of my all-time favorite childhood movies, but I didn't know until recently that it was based on a wonderful book by Peter S. Beagle. Full of mythical creatures and magicians, The Last Unicorn is a complex and enchanting fantasy story that wraps the reader up in it's timeless
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magic.

The novel begins in the lilac wood of the unicorn, as she listens in to two hunters arguing over the existence of unicorns in the world. After realizing that she had not seen another unicorn in some time, she begins to wonder if she may in fact be the last of her kind. Thus begins her epic quest in search of other unicorns.

During her journey she meets an entertaining cast of characters: Mommy Fortuna, owner of the Midnight Carnival; the harpy Celaeno, a great bronze bird with the face of a hag and deadly, rending talons; Schmendrick, a fairly inept magician; Molly Grue, a woman-of-the-woods, living with a band of outlaws; and of course King Haggard and his Red Bull, the captors of all of the unicorns in the world.

The unicorn's quest is as much a voyage of self-discovery as it is a journey to find her people. She must face the truth about herself and her world - whether she wants to or not - and complete her pilgrimage to save the other unicorns. The story of The Last Unicorn is a beautiful tale of love and hope, what makes a hero a hero, and the accomplishment of a "happily ever after."

Peter S. Beagle's writing is brimming with dazzlingly descriptive language, prose and wit. His characters are extremely well-written, adding to the beauty and grace of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book - first sentence to last - I didn't want the adventure to end. Enchanting - captivating - intriguing - nothing goes quite far enough to describe this enduring fairy-tale. Whether you're a fan of classic fantasy, or you just need a bit of magic in your life, you should pick up Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. You have my personal guarantee - you won't be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
A fantasy classic for the simplicity of a story that simultaneously conveys so many truths. I read this novel to my young son as a bedtime story, and he enjoyed it as such. But there are many quiet lessons in these pages that include the taking command of one's fate (Molly), the link between
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heroics and self-sacrifice (Prince Lir), compassion as the path to unlocking one's ability (Schemdrick), and facing one's fears and cynicism (the red bull) in order to defeat them. Viewing the novel as allegory, the unicorn must represent a generic ultimate ideal - something desirable that can never be obtained but must always be sought for. "I've never really understood ... what you dream of doing with me once you've caught me," the unicorn says in the opening chapter. Later we see the doomed results of attempting to make her a captive, and that it must always lead to ruin. An ideal only possesses magic so long as it is allowed to run wild and remain always just ahead of us as our guide. Idealism needn't mean naiveté: "Would you call this age a good one for unicorns?" says a man. "No, but I wonder if any man before us ever thought his time a good time for unicorns," his companion answers. I am glad there are still unicorns in the world.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is told simply enough and with no material that would be unsuitable for younger readers, but written so beautifully and evocatively it can fully hold an adult interest. In form it's a classic quest story, but unlike so many in fantasy one that feels unique and not some Tolkien retread. There's
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a mix here of the mythical and the whimsical. Set in a created world not ours own but with echoes of legends of Robin Hood and Mallory and yet with seeming anachronisms that somehow never seem jarring or throw you out of the world the author created. The unicorn herself in the short novel is a marvel. She touches the characters around her and the reader with wonder and I'm not going to soon forget her or Schmendrick the Magician or Molly Grue. There are scenes in this book that I'm certain I'll never forget--like a crying spider or visions of the surf. Just magical.
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LibraryThing member tiamatq
I grew up watching the movie based on this book, never really knowing that it was a book until I was in high school and saw a copy in the paperback rack of the school library. This is an incredible fantasy that manages to be true to classic fantasy while still being tongue-in-cheek. In that way, it
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reminds me of The Princess Bride.

This is the story of a unicorn that hears rumors that she is the last of her kind and decides to find the other unicorns. On the way, she is assisted by a bumbling magician named Schmendrick (who is, as is noted in every account, beardless, and yet, on this cover, he has a beard! Boo!), a middle-aged, tough-as-nails woman named Molly Grue, and a prince that has too much time on his hands. The concept of being unable to recognize a myth (i.e. unicorns, a wizard, or a harpy) even when we have proof in front of us is a popular theme in the book.

This is absolutely one of my all-time favorite fantasies. It has just the right mix of traditional fantasy stories (of perhaps the more girlish variety) with comedy, and memorable characters.
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LibraryThing member twilightnocturne
Peter S. Beagle's “The Last Unicorn” begins as expected, lyrically introducing us to our main character, the Unicorn. The Unicorn, described by Beagle as the color of snow falling on a moonlit night, is alone in her lilac forest when she overhears the words of passing hunters. Upon her
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eavesdropping, and after being spotted by one of them, she discovers that she is thought to be the last – the last unicorn in existence. After a bit of restlessness and worry, she eventually decides to leave the familiarity of her beautiful lilac forest in a search to find her people. For in her eyes, they simply cannot be gone. This, of course, is where the adventure begins.

Upon first look, I thought the idea of a main character being a unicorn was a bit strange..or perhaps a little too silly for my tastes. However, I can say that I was definitely mistaken, and the Unicorn in this story, was a fabulous and interesting character thanks to the excellent writing of Beagle. While there is a lot to enjoy about this story, and I will go over all that very soon, I can say that the real strength here, at least a good part of it, is in the unique characters. Not only was the unicorn incredibly likable, but the others who come in contact with her were equally interesting.

From Shmendrick, an incompetent wizard working at a bizarre carnival owned by Mommy Fortuna, to a hard edged, yet truly caring woman, named Molly Grue -- To lesser involved yet equally interesting characters such as King Haggard – A king whom' can find no happiness in anything, to a prince who thinks himself a hero. While I really enjoyed all of the characters, I personally found Schmendrick to be the most entertaining, and perhaps one of my favorites in a long time! Not only was his failed attempts at magic humorous, but he truly had heart, and completely had the reader (at least for me), caring for him. His intension were pure, his story interesting, and his personality was excellent. I quite liked Molly as well, and the chemistry between all of them was fantastic..

So in general, I really quite liked the characters in this novel – and that for me, is incredibly important. If I don't connect with the characters, I just don't care. Aside from THAT aspect, and equally as important, there is the story, and I thought it was great as well! Not only was this tale about a unicorn searching for her lost people, but it was story of self discovery – love – perseverance. It was a story of magic and beauty. I personally adored the fact that the world Beagle built was so magical. A world of odd creatures.. of talking animals.. of wonder..of strangeness..and oh yes, I cannot forget the poetic butterfly (loved him!), and the witty talking cat. All of these aspects together -- the characters, the story, the magic, the beautiful writing – blended together perfectly, creating a truly enchanting read.

With that said, I was very impressed with this novel. While Beagle did throw in the some-what traditional fairytale format, he also tossed in just enough strangeness to keep the story fresh and unique From the bizarre carnival, to the decrepit castle and cursed kingdom – drained of all hope and happiness – to the raging red bull, King Haggards very odd companion – to the beautiful unicorn, everything here kept me interested, and after finishing the novel..I simply felt good. This is the type of book you read, in my opinion, to feel that way. Especially after a long, hectic day in such a busy world. While I won't narrow down my recommendation for this – as I think anyone with an open imagination can quite enjoy it – I will say that it's very possible that many fans of Gaiman will get a kick out of this – at least fans of Stardust. Really though, this is a novel that I believe anyone can enjoy..as it's quite wonderful!
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
I'm in the minority of readers of this book, I think. I liked it, but not nearly as much as many people. For its time, it was inventive fantasy, very different than Tolkien or other fantasy published in the 1960's. However, that does not make it a fantasy classic for me.
This at times feels like
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something that someone dreamed, then turned into a novel. The unicorn has a series of ever more dangerous encounters with various opponents and mythical beasts, all the while confronting the shrinking of its habitat by civilization. Must be another ecology book disguised as a fantasy novel, I guess.
Its worth reading, but be prepared for some odd flights of fantasy.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Another book that I encountered in college and fell in love with. While I have read very little in the fantasy genre the few books of this type that I have read include some of the very best. The Last Unicorn falls into that category. Abook should entice you and be memorable in some way -- Peter S.
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Beagle accomplishes that and his dream becomes yours.
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LibraryThing member nmhale
I finally read you! This has been on my shelves for a few years - not as long as some others that I have - but it's been on my mental list ever since I was in junior high. My mom had a collection of books from when she was a girl, including the ones that sparked my first all night reading sprees,
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the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Last Unicorn was wedged among these other books, but after my thrilling experience with Tolkien, I never got around to reading it. Despite the fact that I loved the movie.

Now, years later, when I'm in my thirties, I get around to reading a book that I always felt I should read and never did. In a way, I'm glad for the wait. This story is fanciful, full of allusions to old fairy tales and mythology, a bit ironic, and with a slower pace than the epic fantasy I was so keen about when I was younger, but a deeper literary appeal. Not to mislead, there is some action, but it comes second to the characters and the meaning of the story. As a kid, I probably would have wanted more boom, but my older reading tastes really enjoyed the masterful unfolding of this story.

The main character is a unicorn, and she hears an unsettling rumor - is she really the last living unicorn? - that propels her on a journey that alters her life forever. Early on in her search she is imprisoned by a woman with almost enough magic to hold her prisoner. In the traveling caravan that keeps her hostage, she meets the magician, Schmendrick the Magician, who is an inept magic weaver with sparks of brilliance. He has no delusions about his failings, and has grown increasingly bitter, having been told that he has great power in him which he has no idea how to unlock; even worse, he will never age until he comes in to his own in his craft. While attempting to free the unicorn from her prison, one of those sparks of true magic of his, completely out of his control, causes all hell to break loose, and creates enough of a distraction to allow the two to make their escape, together. They become uneasy allies as they make their way to King Haggard's castle, the supposed last resting place of all unicorns.

Some fantasies are all about the epic journeys and magical encounters, some are about sword play and elves, some are urban settings filled with overlooked magic - actually, the variety is too immense these days to undertake in a single book review. This book is one of the sub genres that I find harder to describe. Some writers of fantasy possess the power to use words in such a way that it evokes the mystical and intangible quality of magic itself, it wraps your mind in a world outside the common world. Beagle's story has touches of that, although it is not as esoteric as some other authors that I have read, and even more, he captures the innocence and power of magic that one feels in childhood when you're reading fairy tales or nursery rhymes. At the same time, he is clearly meddling with old fantasy tropes, with a lot moments that are ironic or satirical. He manages to carry off the seriousness of his message and his characters' feelings, while still undercutting that very world with tongue-in-cheek humor.

Clearly, this story left a strong impression on me, as I found it a gripping story with masterful writing, a definite milestone in the contribution to fantasy literature. The novel is also highly readable, a lot of fun, and full of whimsy. I'm glad that I read it at last.
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LibraryThing member Radaghast
A well-written, melancholy tale about the last unicorn and her quest to find her lost brethren. Beagle is adept at putting you in the mind of a creature that is understandable, yet ultimately alien. An epic fairy-tale that is well worth the read.
LibraryThing member RogueBelle
On of the best fantasy books of all time -- don't let the subject matter fool you; this book is as enjoyable for an adult as for a kid. Even moreso, perhaps, because an adult reader will pick up on the subtleties -- themes of hope, despair, of the endurance of mystery and fantasy in the world, of
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what it means to be noble and heroic, or how to find one's place in the world -- and a few touches of truly wonderful metatheatricality. So very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member jennaelf
The Last Unicorn is beautifully crafted to read like an "old fashioned" fable or fairy tale. Beagle pulls this off very eloquently, but doesn't let his characters become flat or cardboard. He also doesn't let them be standard archetypes without injecting a little bit of personality. There's a good
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deal of tongue-in-cheek humor sprinkled into the very serious business of the story of the last unicorn in the world trying to save the rest of her kind.

On a more cerebral level: if you're at all familiar with Owen Barfield's work, or the Oxford Inklings' flavor of postmodernism, this novel has a whole other level to offer you in its reading.

Molly Grue will always be my favorite, and even at 16 years old, I well understood her when she said:

"And what good is it to me that you're here now? Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?"
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LibraryThing member JudithProctor
This is a book that I read after seeing it in the library of a friend on Library Thing (It was virtually the only book that she'd actually given a rating to. I was curious.

It's a fantasy novel, which reminds me of the 'Princess Bride' more than anything else. The narrative exists on several levels.
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The characters have a self-awareness that they live in a reality of fairy stories. Prince Lir slays dragons and presents their heads to his lady love, because that's what heros do. Cully, the outlaw, desperately hopes that his visitor is Professor Child, the (historically real) collector of ballads, as he wants all the songs that he has written about himself to be recorded for posterity. The songs, are, of course, largely cobbled together from existing folk songs about famous outlaws and bandits - Cully has no skill as a songwriter any more than he has as an outlaw.

However, the reason the novel works is because there is a second layer of awareness underlying the first. There is magic that is flummery (even though it is still what we would call magic) and magic that is real. The magic that doesn't count is simple conjuring. It may achieve things that we would regard as impossible to be done by sleight of hand, but it achieves nothing that really matters. It can create the seeming of a manticore from a lion, but it cannot make the lion actually BE a manticore. Sometimes, it verges on the edge of reality. When the spider weaving the web believes that she really is Archne, then her belief adds to the illusion cast upon her.

The second kind of magic is deeper and more real and harder to define. It isn't just tricks and appearances. It is the unicorn. She is more real than anything around her. She does not consciously set out to influence the world around her; her intererst in mortals is pretty much non-existant. She is incapable of love. Love is transient, fleeting, mortal. She is immortal and unchanging.

In a world where unicorns can exist, there is always the possibility of real magic. The outlaws play at being Robin Hood and try and adapt his legends to themselves, but the real Robin is the ultimate dream for them. To see or touch the real Robin Hood is to bring reality to their dreams and hopes for themselves. Not the cold reality that destroys dreams, but the kind of reality that says dreams have meaning and are but the shadow of an eternal verity.

The unicorn is an abstract. She is pure beauty, moonlight in darkness. She is springtime. To once see a unicorn is to carry something of beauty with you for the rest of your life. She is hope. She is pure and untouchable. She is the sure knowledge that there is something unsullied in the world.

She is the last of her kind.

When she sets forth from her eternal springtime forest to seek other unicorns, then she sets the story in motion. (I'm not going to talk about the people she meets, as I don't believe in giving away plots in advance.)

The novel has both strengths and weaknesses. The greatest strength is the sense of beauty and magic behind the veil of myth and fairy tale.

The weakness (for me at least) is when the parody is slightly over-done. The anachronisms are probably deliberate to make the contrasts sharper, but I still find medieval outlaws eating tacos to be a little disconcerting.

The other great strength lies in Beagle's descriptive writing. He has a real gift for phrases that come to life: "following the fleeing darkness into a wind that tasted like nails". I can feel and taste the entire rainstorm in that single phrase.
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LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
Moving, enjoyable and reads fast. Beagle asks questions about what fairy tales are and what they're supposed to do while telling the story of a unicorn in search of more of her kind. I enjoyed it as a light read with a slightly darker edge.
LibraryThing member Bramwolf
The movie was one of my favorites as a child, I literally wore the tape out watching it so often. So while I was reading the book I could hear everything that was being said from the movie script instead of really using the full scope of my imagination. Though that might annoy me with other books,
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it was sort of a comfort on this one, since I don't have the DVD to watch yet anyhow. It's really not too much different from the movie, a lot of the dialogue is the same and there's only about two added parts, though you get to learn a little bit more about King Haggard and the curse on his land. Beagle does really have a bit of a gift for description as well, so that was a treat. In book or movie form, it's one of my favorite tragic romances, so I really enjoyed revisiting it again.
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LibraryThing member gregoryfunaro
Simply magnificent. Ashamed that it has taken me so long to read this. Lyrical and sublime from a true master of the genre.
LibraryThing member charlie68
Not that great but good. Some good writing and adequate plot but the denouement seemed a little too easy. Perhaps aimed at younger readers.
LibraryThing member reading_fox
Not quite as charming or as whimsical as it needs to be. Something about this didn't quite work for me, although there were some excellant passages. I think it was the somewhat arbitary magic that worked least well for me. The songs weren't much better.

Although usually isolated an imortal unicorn
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decides one day that the time has come to find out what has happened to the rest of her kind, because it has been a while since she heard from them - immortals being a little hazy on the concept of time in the best of years. She goes on a trek and finds they've all been driven away by The Red Bull in lands far away. She meets a couple of companions en route. Evenyone who can see her is amazed by the most beautiful creature in the world, but to far too many in these jaded times she is just another white mare.

Simplistic at times, the magician gets more abilites than it originally seemed he deserved. The prince Lir also seems totally both overpowered able to destroy dragons at will, and underpowered, unable to change his situation in the least manner. In a foreward, and afterward, Peter talks about how forced the writing was. This doesn't really come through, but at the same time it doesn't flow. There are jumps in location that just don't really work, and none of the side characters interact together. I think it's the voice of a universal narrator that works least well. The tale would be much better told either by the Unicorn herself, or from one of her companions. But as it is there is no connection the Unicorn (perhaps as it should be), but no real engagemenbt with the characters either who bever appear more than add ons.

Hailed as a classic, it isn't really that good. Inspirational ast the time, maybe but hese days there are far better works around Gaiman's Stardust springs immediately to mind.
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LibraryThing member SR510
The prose is nice, and I confess I have a soft spot for the bandit who wants above all else to be immortalized in verse, but I have issues with books where things happen because they were fated to happen that way, even though there's otherwise no discernible reason why they should. This is such a
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book. (And it's a pity, because it didn't have to be that way. For much of the way, I thought it might not be.)

That Beagle actually named a character "Schmendrick the Magician" without any apparent ironic intent didn't help any, either.
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LibraryThing member booksandwine
In prepping for Unicorns Vs. Zombies Week, which was a long time in the making, I had taken it upon myself to make a list of books to read featuring unicorns. Of course, The Last Unicorn topped the list. Seriously, I cannot think about unicorns without thinking about this book. And no, the unicorn
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in this book is not bloodthirsty. Although I had made up my mind earlier to be Team Unicorn, I think had I been on the fence, this book would definitely have pushed me onto Team Unicorn.

The Last Unicorn is a truly beautiful, breathtaking book. It is very short, but quite a bit is packed into those pages. We open with a unicorn walking through the forest she protects. She overhears some hunters talking about how they can never kill anything in the forest, because it is protected by the unicorn. The hunters go on to state how there are no other unicorns left in the world. The unicorn then takes it upon herself to discover just what happened to the other unicorns. Along the way adventures are had, friends are made, evil is faced, yet good is also discovered.

You know that feeling you get when reading a fairy tale and you have the perfect narrator? I got while reading The Last Unicorn. I felt like magic could be real. Of course, my emotions ran the gamut. At times I felt melancholy. I was not really sure what I wanted for the unicorn, as she had to make this hard decision, but if you read the book or have seen the movie, you'll know what I mean.

The Last Unicorn is a simple tale. I am sure that there is a deeper meaning, however, I haven't really figured it out. That's okay though, we can't all be brilliant at uncovering the underlying message. What I did enjoy was how imaginative the book was. I could picture everything as I was reading it. However, maybe that is due to seeing the movie in childhood. Or maybe I could attribute it to Beagle's writing. His prose is gorgeous. It is never too flowery, but still retains beauty.

The Last Unicorn is definitely a fantasy classic. It absolutely had me craving more fantasy, and I could see why the brilliant Patrick Rothfuss said it was one of his favorite books.

Here are a few quotes which made my spirit sing:

"I know exactly how you feel," Schmendrick said eagerly. The unicorn looked at him out of dark, endless eyes, and he smiled nervously and looked at his hands. "It's a rare man who is taken for what he truly is," he said. "There is much misjudgement in the world....we are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream." pg. 29-30

"Men have to have heroes, but no man can ever be as big as that need, and so a legend grows around a grain of truth, like a pearl." pg. 64
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LibraryThing member Sean191
Good job Peter S. Beagle! I read his bio at the conclusion - I think he was about 28 when he wrote this book and was only 22 when A Fine and Private Place was published. He's three for three with books I've really enjoyed and I'll definitely be picking up his other novels.

Getting down to this book
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- the Last Unicorn is a classic fairytale which also lampoons the classic fairytale is a bright, witty way. The main characters evolve brilliantly and enough mystery remains (in a good way) by the novel's conclusion that you feel there's still plenty of magic to be had in Beagle's world.

Almost forgot to mention Beagle's writing itself...pure poetry. Really.
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LibraryThing member 06nwingert
The Last Unicorn is an epic fantasy and compares to The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and many other fantasy novels. And it's not hard to see why.

A unicorn leaves the sanctity of her forest home in order to find others like her. Along the way, she encounters myriad characters, and
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she learns valuable lessons.

While The Last Unicorn is a good fantasy, I wouldn't rank it alongside The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Beagle's prose is above average, yet there is something about the book that doesn't add up.
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LibraryThing member wrighton-time
The_Last_Unicorn" This book has become a classic and is a must for the believers at heart. If you were not a believer, the book will make you wonder, and it does cause you to yearn for that first site of a Unicorn. Would we be able to recognise one or would we be more like the unbelievers and only
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see what we expect. This is a fabulous book for both young and old and I have not been without a copy since I first read it when it came out. This book is a fabulous read, and leaves you Yearning.......
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LibraryThing member heidilove
Am I the only one who knows that the mythical unicorn beast is male? This book did more damage than any that I have seen to undo the true mythological understanding.
LibraryThing member UberTumbleweed
Absolutely enchanting! The book definitely is better than the movie. The writing was excellent, and complimented the gorgeous story in every way. Very highly recommended!

Pages

304

Rating

(1999 ratings; 4.2)
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