The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle 2.5 - 3 stars

Another read for the the Tolkien Professor’s Faerie & Fantasy podcast seminar.

This book gets a *lot* of love on Goodreads, and I kind of see where people are coming from, but I have to admit that I didn’t have quite the same rapturous experience of this book as most. Don’t get me wrong, Beagle definitely has a way with words. His descriptive prose is very evocative and there are some moments of real lyricism here, but overall I think he did himself a disservice in a major element of his approach to this story. My main beef with Beagle is in his anacronisms. We have a story that seems to take place in some sort of pseudo-medieval Fairy Tale version of our world, and yet he is constantly inserting anachronistic elements that just didn’t ring true to me. Usually these were undertaken in his attempts at humour. I say “attempts” with reason. Whether it is Schmendrick (couldn’t he have come up with a better name that still denoted the character’s incompetence?) calling himself “the last of the red hot swamis” or Captain Cully’s constant references to “Mr. Child” when he meets Schmendrick the “humour” managed to throw me out of the story instead of bring me further in. It is for similar reasons that I have still avoided White’s _The Once & Future King_. Now let me clarify something here: I am not against humour in fantasy per se, but I think there are cases where a writer needs to decide what it is he wants to write. William Goldman, for example, did an excellent job in _The Princess Bride_ of writing a humourous, and even farcical fantasy. Perhaps he just has a defter hand with his humour than Beagle? I'm not 100% sure myself, all I know is that Beagle's work didn't seamlessly combine the humour with the fantasy and I kept feeling like I was being jarred back and forth between a "humourous" ribbing of fantasy and a lyrical fairy tale about love and loss.

Surprisingly to me, given Beagle’s kind of humour, the Unicorn manages to remain sufficiently numinous without falling into cutesy magic-horsey territory. The Red Bull is a sufficiently frightening antagonist who, despite the obvious emblematic ties to King Haggard’s persona, manages to avoid falling completely into allegory. The final fates of Lir and the other characters were sufficiently satisfying given the conventions of Fairy Tale. That seems to sum it up for me though, sufficient. I didn’t love the book. It wasn't great. It was “good enough”.

My biggest complaint may be with the climax of the story which left me feeling a bit deflated. I mean what really happened there? It didn’t seem like any natural resolution occurred because of the actions of the Unicorn, or any other character. What the story “had to” end with just seemed to happen. Though maybe that was Beagle making a somewhat unwieldy point about Fairy Tales? It just seemed as though the Bull had received the message, via authorial fiat, about what he was supposed to do now and did it. Even Schmendrick’s subsequent explanation to Molly about this didn’t really seem to make it any more satisfying.

All in all, it’s still a book worth reading. There’s some great prose and moments of lyrical beauty, but for me at least it just didn’t quite hang together as a whole. I hope that Beagle’s other stuff is a little less uneven.