Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Last Unicorn new cover The Last Unicorn (1968)

new Roc trade paperback - 212 pages
interior illustrations by Mel Grant (left)

1970s Ballantine books paperback - 248 pages
cover art by Gervasio Gallardo (right)
Last Unicorn 1970s book cover

From the back cover of 1989 paperback (cover not shown):
       The Last Unicorn is the story of a quest, the search by the unicorn - immortal, infinitely beautiful - for her lost fellows.  She is assisted in her mission by Schmendrick the Magician, a kind of poor man's Merlin, whose devotion to the exquisite creature he follows is exceeded only by his mediocrity in magic.  A third traveler, fiercely loyal Molly Grue, tries to bring some semblance of order and practicality into the lives of her two mad charges in this wonderfully imaginative and touching tale.

Read for group discussion on August 8, 2001

Amy's Summary:  Peter S. Beagle - The Last Unicorn

An immortal unicorn leaves her grove, seeking others of her kind.  So few people have seen an unicorn, many think her merely a pretty white mare.  A butterfly says the other unicorns passed by a long time ago, with The Red Bull close behind them.

An old witch, Mommy Fortuna, captures the unicorn and puts her on display in the Midnight Carnival, a show of exotic creatures most of which are unreal.  Schmendrick, an inept magician, helps the unicorn escape.  He asks the unicorn to take him with her.

Schmendrick encounters a band of "Robin Hood and his Merry Men" wannabes, lead by Captain Cully.  Molly Grue, a tattered version of Maid Marian, is enchanted with the unicorn and joins the unicorn's quest.

They journey together to the barren lands of unhappy King Haggard.  The frightening Red Bull attempts to drive the unicorn towards Haggard's castle.  To save the unicorn, Schmendrick the transforms her into the Lady Amalthea.

Schmendrick and Molly Grue serve in the meager court of King Haggard, and look for signs of the other unicorns.  Prince Lir, King Haggard's adopted son, falls in love with Lady Amalthea and becomes a dragon slaying, poetry writing hero to win her heart.

After the other unicorns are found and freed, the land blooms into spring.

summary written by

How we each rated this book
Dan 8 Amy 7 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 8 Barb -
Aaron 7 Cynthia 7
Jackie 9 Ron 10

Aaron's Commentary   Peter S. Beagle - The Last Unicorn

You could say that the plot of this novel is not terribly involving.  You could say that the characterization is merely adequate.  The unicorn is never much of a protagonist, and the only character who generates any real interest with the reader is the ineffective magician Schmendrick.

You could say all that, but you'd be missing the point.  This book is not to be read as a compelling adventure story.  Beagle never takes the story line terribly seriously, at one point even allowing Schmendrick to break character and ask someone else, "Haven't you ever been in a fairy tale before?"

This book is to be read for the sheer enjoyment of Beagle's prose.  He always has a clever turn of phrase ready, as when Schmendrick issues the curse, "I'll change your heart into green grass, and all you love into a sheep."  Beagle has a delightful sense of whimsy, as when he gives us a brief glimpse into the life of a blue jay.  (The blue jay interrupts his wife's song to the children, promising them various regurgitated foodstuffs, to proudly tell her he has seen a unicorn.  She wryly observes, "You didn't see any supper, I notice," and soon has him on the defensive about his philandering ways.)  Beagle employs many familiar fantasy devices, but repeatedly finds a fresh way to use them.  The overtalkative skull guarding a secret passage near the end particularly struck my fancy.

Whatever extraordinary things happen in his fairy tale, Beagle always manages to make the people they happen to seem like ordinary folk.  A would-be Robin Hood's merry men wonder why they haven't given any of their spoils to the poor in recent memory.  One of them bemoans, "There may be truth somewhere, but it never gets down to me." The people of Hagsgate offer a wonderful glimpse into human nature: They are never able to enjoy their life of plenty, simply because they know it is cursed some day to end.

Let us avoid the fate of Hagsgate and appreciate what we have been given - Beagle may not be a great storyteller, but he is a terrific writer.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Last Unicorn movie The Last Unicorn (1982) - the animated movie

88 minutes, color
Produced by Rankin & Bass, screenplay by Peter S. Beagle
Voice actors: Alan Arkin (Schmendrick), Jeff Bridges (Lir), Mia Farrow (Last Unicorn / Amalthea), Paul Frees (Cat), Tammy Grimes (Molly Grue), Robert Klein (Butterfly), Angela Lansbury (Mommy Fortuna), Christopher Lee (King Haggard), Keenan Wynn (Cully)

Peter S. Beagle (1939-    ) is a US writer. His middle initial "S" is for Soyer.

He has written the fantasy novels The Last Unicorn (1968), The Folk of the Air (1986), and The Innkeeper's Song (1993) which was a New York Times Notable book and Locus Award winner.  A Fine and Private Place (1960) and Tamsin (1999) as well as being fantasy, are also ghost stories, supernatural fiction.

Short books
A Dance for Emilia (2000) is a short book dealing with lifelong friends and loss.  Unicorn Sonata (1976, not a sequel to The Last Unicorn), Lila the Werewolf (1974), and The Magician of Karakosk (1996) are short fantasy books.

Story Collections
Giant Bones (1997) is a collection of 6 novellas.  The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche (1997) is a collection of stories and essays.

As Editor
Beagle edited the anthologies Immortal Unicorn (1995) with Janet Berliner and Martin H. Greenberg , and Immortal Unicorn 2 (1997) with Janet Berliner.

Beagle wrote the screenplay for Ralph Bakshi's animated film version of Lord of the Rings (1978).

Nonfiction books
I See by My Outfit (1965) is motorscooter travel book.  The California Feeling: A Personal View (1969, with photographs by Michael Bry), and American Denim - A New Folk Art (1975) are coffee table books.  The Garden of Earthly Delights (1982) is a about the artwork of Hieronymous Bosch.

(Unofficially) Peter S. Beagle
The Last Unicorn
Book-A-Minute SF-F The Last Unicorn
The Last Unicorn - the movie Peter S. Beagle interview

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