Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle

Title: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1968
Formats: Hardback/Paperback

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

I have seen the "The Last Unicorn" animated film many times over my life, mainly due to my younger sister having a slight obsession with it. However, when I joined up to the Year of the Fantasy Classic Challenge I decided that maybe now was the time for me to read the book that inspired the movie. I had hoped to unearth some deeper information on the characters and other things. What I discovered however was that the film is actually a very good adaptation of the book and there was very little extra I really gained from reading it.

For those of you that don't know the story, it follows a unicorn that embarks on a quest to try and find out what has happened to the rest of her species. During this quest she joins up with two companions; the wizard Schmendrick and a woman named Molly Grue. Together they continue onwards so that they can face the Red Bull who is supposedly the very reason that the unicorn's kinfolk have disappeared.

I have to admit that I didn't really find the plot itself to be anything remarkable and I did find myself struggling to keep on reading at times. Perhaps the problem was that I already knew most of the plot from watching the film but whatever the reason, I just felt like something was missing. However, what Beagle has done is inject some emotion and humour into the telling of the story which managed keep me reading even with the weak plot. The way in which he would switch the narrative from being one of comic parody to one of profound thought was actually quite interesting to behold.

The characters themselves were a little bit flat at times with very little development which was probably due to the short length of the novel. In regards to the Unicorn herself, I actually found her to be quite unlikeable, due to the fact that Beagle has done quite a good job in making her come across as being unhuman. However, despite all of this I did find that the various supporting characters were still reasonably interesting and in particular the relationship between Schmendrick and Molly Grue was quite enjoyable to follow as it developed from jealousy to friendship.

One other comment I really need to make is that if like me you don't really have time for flowery language, poetic paragraphs and surreal descriptions then you may have some issues with this book. Beagle has captured an almost whimsical and dreamy fairy tale feel to the novel due to his use of the English language which will probably delight those who enjoy literary exposition, but I just found it all rather distracting.

In summary, I have to admit that I don't really understand why so many people seem to make a big fuss about this book. It was enjoyable enough but I honestly don't see how someone could say it ranks alongside the works of Tolkien etc. Maybe I am some sort of heathen when it comes to understanding "good" books but this novel just didn't really grab me. Perhaps if I was someone who enjoyed understanding and delving into the use of language in a book, I would have a different option. However, I prefer to let the plot be the tool that engages me with a book and I think the plot itself is probably the weakest part of this novel.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Year of the Fantasy Classic Challenge


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