Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Last Unicorn

Installment #5 in the Book Reviews for Melanie series.

Also a book review for The 48-Hour Book Challenge, though I began editing the review earlier. Obviously I'll only count the time I spent on it during the Challenge!

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Read: 12/2/11-12/4/11

The Last Unicorn is so beautiful it hurts. It's a perfect little gem of a book. (And I love the cartoon, too, which if I'm recalling correctly I actually saw before the book. In some ways, contrary to more purist ideas and my own inclination, movies before books can be a good order, because it seems it can lead more often to loving both. And wow, the cartoon is cheap right now, I should get it...)

I need to read it again. I can't do it justice here, otherwise. Reading it again is no great sacrifice. I would do it before writing this review, but I'm attempting to write my reviews much faster, and will accept no excuses delaying any of them. So, bother.

Obviously I must read it again at some point, though, if not right this instant. Not only would I want to because the book is good, but Patrick Rothfuss says I should read it again. It's right there. On the cover.

Speaking of Patrick Rothfuss, as one can tell from the cover, he, um, very very much likes it. He talks about it a lot, but this is one of my favorites that I could find... language warning, but... yeah. The part at the top, before he gets to Tad Williams, though the whole thing is good.

Oh, one other thing. So beautiful it hurts, sure. But... there's humor, whimsy, silliness, too. It's not all dignified or quite what you would expect. It's an odd blend, but again, pretty much perfect.

I mean, the incompetent magician is named Schmendrick. Yeah. It's hard to be very dignified with a name like that. And he pretty much is the incompetent magician, the standard by whom all others shall be judged. In the words of my edition's generic blurb, "...a kind of poor man's Merlin whose devotion to the exquisite creature he follows is exceeded only by his mediocrity in magic."

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book.

"'How can it be?' she wondered. 'I suppose I could understand it if men had simply forgotten unicorn [sic] 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?'

"Sometimes she thought, 'If men no longer know what they are looking at, there may well be unicorns in the world yet, unknown and glad of it.' But she knew beyond both hope and vanity that men had changed, and the world with them, because the unicorns were gone. Yet she went on along the hard road, although each day she wished a little more that she had never left her forest."

"'It's a rare man who is taken for what he truly is,' he said. 'There is much misjudgment in the world. Now I knew you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you take me for a clown, or a clod, or a betrayer, and so must I be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream. Still I have read, or heard it sung, that uncorns [sic] when time was young, could tell the difference 'twixt the two--the false shining and the true, the lips' laugh and the heart's rue.'"

And on a smaller scale, a good representative phrase I noticed and loved: "When Schmendrick looked at her again he had managed to pull his face together, but it was still struggling to escape from him."

The rest of what I'm going to quote is scented faintly of spoilers, so to those who are sensitive to those strains, read no further. They are so good (and so sideways to any true spoilers) that I can't help myself. I quote on, for the beautiful, beautiful themes.

"'Fools, fools and children! It was a lie, like all magic! There is no such person as Robin Hood!' But the outlaws, wild with loss, went crashing into the woods after the shining archers, stumbling over logs, falling through thorn bushes, wailing hungrily as they ran.

"Only Molly Grue stopped and looked back. Her face was burning white.

"'Nay, Cully, you have it backward,' she called to him. 'There's no such a person as you, or me, or any of us. Robin and Marian are real, and we are the legend!'"

"'The hero has to make a prophecy come true, and the villain is the one who has to stop him--though in another kind of story, it's more often the other way around. And a hero has to be in trouble from the moment of his birth, or he's not a real hero. It's a great relief to find out about Prince Lír. I've been waiting for this tale to turn up a leading man.'

"The unicorn was there as a star is suddenly there, moving a little way ahead of them, a sail in the dark. Molly said, 'If Lír is the hero, what is she?'

"'That's different. Haggard and Lír and Drinn and you and I--we are in a fairy tale, and must go where it goes. But she is real. She is real.'"

"'...How can anything that is going to die be real? How can it be truly beautiful?'...

"'I was born mortal, and I have been immortal for a long, foolish time, and one day I will be mortal again; so I know something that a unicorn cannot know. Whatever can die is beautiful--more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world.'"

There. It's alright, you can come out now. I'm done.

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