The Last Unicorn Book, Summary, Characters, | Peter S. Beagle

The last Unicorn Book – In this post, you will get the following:

  • The last Unicorn Overview
  • The Last Unicorn Summary
  • The Last Unicorn Book Author –  Peter S. Beagle.
  • The last Unicorn Book Information
  • The Last Unicorn Characters
  • The last Unicorn Book Review
  • How to Get the Book

The Last Unicorn Book Overview

The Last Unicorn book, a fantasy novel by a distinguished American writer Peter S. Beagle.

The Last Unicorn book was published in 1968, by Viking Press in the U.S. and The Bodley Head in the U.K. 

The story in the book “The last Unicorn” follows the tale of a unicorn, who believes she is the last of her kind in the world and undertakes a quest to discover what has happened to the others. 

The Last Unicorn Book has been translated into at least twenty languages (prior to the 2007 edition). In 1987, ranked The Last Unicorn number five among the 33 “All-Time Best Fantasy Novels.” 

The Last Unicorn Book Summary

A group of human hunters pass through a forest in search of game. After days of coming up empty-handed, they begin to believe they are passing through a Unicorn’s forest, where animals are kept safe by a magical aura. They resign themselves to hunting somewhere else; but, before they leave, one of the hunters calls out a warning to the Unicorn that she may be the last of her kind. 

This revelation disturbs the Unicorn, and though she initially dismisses it, eventually doubt and worry drive her to leave her forest. She travels through the land and discovers that humans no longer even recognize her; instead they see a pretty white mare. She encounters a talking butterfly who speaks in riddles and songs and initially dodges her questions about the other unicorns. Eventually, the butterfly issues a warning that her kind have been herded to a far away land by a creature known as the Red Bull. She continues to search for other unicorns. During her journey, she is taken captive by a traveling carnival led by the witch, Mommy Fortuna, who uses magical spells to create the illusion that regular animals are in fact creatures of myth and legend. The Unicorn finds herself the only true legendary creature among the group, save for the harpy, Celaeno. Schmendrick, a magician traveling with the carnival, sees the Unicorn for what she is, and he frees her in the middle of the night. The Unicorn frees the other creatures including Celaeno, who kills Mommy Fortuna and Rukh, her hunchbacked assistant.

The Unicorn and Schmendrick continue traveling in an attempt to reach the castle of King Haggard, where the Red Bull resides. When Schmendrick is captured by bandits, the Unicorn comes to his rescue and attracts the attention of Molly Grue, the bandit leader’s wife. Together, the three continue their journey and arrive at Hagsgate, a town under Haggard’s rule and the first one he had conquered when he claimed his kingdom. A resident of Hagsgate named Drinn informs them of a curse that stated that their town would continue to share in Haggard’s fortune until such a time that someone from Hagsgate would bring Haggard’s castle down. Drinn goes on to claim that he discovered a baby boy in the town’s marketplace one night in winter. He knew that the child was the one the prophecy spoke of, but he left the baby where he found it, not wanting the prophecy to come true. King Haggard found the baby later that evening and adopted it.

Molly, Schmendrick and the Unicorn leave Hagsgate and continue toward Haggard’s castle, but on their way they are attacked by the Red Bull. The Unicorn runs, but is unable to escape the bull. In an effort to aid her, Schmendrick unwittingly turns the Unicorn into a human woman. Confused by the change, the Red Bull gives up the pursuit and disappears. The change has disastrous consequences on the Unicorn, who suffers tremendous shock at the sudden feeling of mortality in her human body. Schmendrick tells the unicorn that he is immortal and that he cannot make real magic unless he is mortal, and encourages her to continue her quest. The three continue to Haggard’s castle, where Schmendrick introduces the Unicorn as “Lady Amalthea ” to throw off Haggard’s suspicions. They manage to convince Haggard to allow them to serve him in his court, with the hopes of gathering clues as to the location of the other unicorns. During their stay, Amalthea is romanced by Haggard’s adopted son, Prince Lír. Haggard eventually reveals to Amalthea that the unicorns are trapped in the sea for his own benefit, because the unicorns are the only things that make him happy. He then openly accuses Amalthea of coming to his kingdom to save the unicorns and says that he knows who she really is, but Amalthea has seemingly forgotten about her true nature and her desire to save the other unicorns.

Following clues given to them by a cat, Molly, Schmendrick, and Amalthea find the entrance to the Red Bull’s lair. Haggard and his men-at-arms attempt to stop them, but they manage to enter the bull’s lair and are joined by Lír. When the Red Bull attacks them, Schmendrick changes Amalthea back to her original form. At this moment, Schmendrick joyfully becomes mortal. In an effort to save the Unicorn, Lír jumps into the bull’s path and is trampled. Fueled by anger and sorrow, the Unicorn drives the bull into the sea. The other unicorns are freed, and they run back to their homes, with Haggard’s castle falling in their wake. As the castle falls, its wreckage dissolves into mist before it even hits the ground, and nothing remains to indicate that a castle had ever been there.

The Unicorn revives Lír with the healing touch of her horn. Now king after Haggard’s death, he attempts to follow the Unicorn despite Schmendrick advising against it. As they pass through the now-ruined town of Hagsgate, they learn that Drinn is actually Lír’s father, and that he had abandoned him in the marketplace on purpose to fulfill the prophecy. Realizing that he has new responsibilities as king after seeing the state of Hagsgate, Lír returns to rebuild it after accompanying Schmendrick and Molly to the outskirts of his kingdom. The Unicorn returns to her forest. She tells Schmendrick that she is different from all the other unicorns now, because she knows what it’s like to feel love and regret. Schmendrick and Molly later come across a princess in trouble and he tells her to go to Lír because he is the hero to save her. Schmendrick and Molly leave this story into another as they sing a love song together.

The Last Unicorn Book Author –  Peter S. Beagle.

Peter S. Beagle - Author of the last unicorn book
Peter S. Beagle – Author of the last unicorn book

THe Last Unicorn Writer, Peter S. Beagle was born in 1939 and raised in the Bronx, where he grew up surrounded by the arts and education: both his parents were teachers, three of his uncles were world-renowned gallery painters, and his immigrant grandfather was a respected writer, in Hebrew, of Jewish fiction and folktales. Today, noted author and screenwriter Peter Beagle is a recipient of the prestigious Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Mythopoeic Awards, and a World Fantasy and Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America 2018 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, among many other literary achievements. He has given generations of readers the magic of unicorns, haunted cemeteries, lascivious trees and disgruntled gods. A prolific author, his best-known work is The Last Unicorn, a fantasy novel, which Locus Magazine subscribers voted the number five “All-Time Best Fantasy Novel” in 1987. Fellow Hugo and Nebula-award-winning author Neil Gaiman has described Beagle’s “A Fine and Private Place” as his “I-wish-I’d-written-that-first” novel. In addition to writing novels, short stories, poems, and songs, Peter S. Beagle is also known for his work on screen, including the screenplay he co-wrote for the 1978 Ralph Bakshi-animated version of The Lord of the Rings. He also wrote the teleplay for “Sarek”, one of the most critically-acclaimed and popular episodes of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The last Unicorn Book Information

Below are some of the information you may find useful about the book The Last Unicorn.

the last unicorn book
the last unicorn book
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Ace; Reissue edition (January 1, 1991)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0451450523
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0451450524
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 8.8 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.28 x 0.63 x 8.1 inches
  • Best Sellers Rank: #10,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • #98 in Teen & Young Adult Classic Literature
  • #294 in Folklore (Books)
  • #450 in Classic Literature & Fiction
  • Customer Reviews: 
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars
  • 2,187 ratings

The Last Unicorn Characters

  • The Unicorn is the protagonist of the story. She leaves the safety of her forest upon learning that she is the last unicorn in the world, with information about the Red Bull as her only clue. When she first encounters the Red Bull, Schmendrick manages to inadvertently change the Unicorn into a human female to confuse the Red Bull and force its withdrawal. Schmendrick calls her “Lady Amalthea” so as not to arouse King Haggard’s suspicions. Beagle notes that he took the name “Amalthea” from a Greek deity with the same name.
  • The butterfly is an eccentric character who happens upon the Unicorn at the beginning of the story. While speaking in riddles and songs, he manages to give the Unicorn some vital information about the other unicorns’ whereabouts. Beagle stated that the butterfly’s dialogue is drawn from things that amused him and his childhood friend, Phil Sigunick, during a trip to Berkshire Hills where Beagle began writing the novel.
  • Mommy Fortuna is a wicked old witch, who uses her dark magic to run a sideshow carnival for profit. The carnival features what appear to be mythical creatures, but are actually just normal animals that have been enchanted, with the exception of the harpy, Celaeno. According to Beagle, the name “Fortuna” was taken from the Roman goddess of fortune, and German mythical hero Fortunatus.
  • Schmendrick is a bumbling magician who travels with Mommy Fortuna’s traveling carnival out of pure necessity. Reduced to entertaining the sightseers who come to the carnival, Schmendrick wants nothing more than to become a true, powerful magician who does not rely on card tricks and cheap illusions. He sees Mommy Fortuna as an opportunity to gain experience, but when he sees the captured Unicorn for what she is, he decides to free her and join her on her quest. Schmendrick was a character Beagle had initially made up for his children’s bedtime stories, and was called “the world’s worst magician”. The name “Schmendrick the Magician” is a parody of the character “Mandrake the Magician”, and is also drawn from a Yiddish word that Beagle defines as “somebody out of his depth, the boy sent to do a man’s job, someone who has expanded to the limits of his incapacity.”
  • Captain Cully is the leader of a second-rate band of outlaws in direct opposition to King Haggard. Although he attempts to be dashing and hospitable, Cully falls victim to his own jealousy of famous mythical outlaws such as Robin Hood, an illusion of whom Schmendrick inadvertently conjures. According to Beagle, Captain Cully’s name is drawn from an old English slang word for “buddy”.
  • Molly Grue is Captain Cully’s common-law wife. As a young woman she had eloped with him, naively attracted to the romance of loving a woodland fugitive and sharing his life. Unfortunately, this turned into years of serving Cully’s ragged vagrants as their camp cook. She seeks a different reality from the one fate decided for her, and when she discovers Schmendrick leaving with the unicorn, she decides to follow them and do whatever she can to help the unicorn in her quest. Molly Grue’s name is drawn from a French word meaning “crane”. While never initially making the connection, Beagle notes that it is possible that the name was also inspired by Molly Epstein, his “favorite writing teacher in high school”.
  • The Red Bull is a magical creature, blind but powerful, which is sensitive to the presence of any unicorn and tries to intimidate it into submission, then driving it into the sea. Neither the Red Bull’s affiliation with King Haggard nor its pattern of behavior is explained, but these both end when finally the Last Unicorn stands up to it.
  • King Haggard is a miserable and cruel King who cares for no one, not even his adopted son Prince Lír. His loneliness and misery is only alleviated by the sight of unicorns, and this drove him to capture all of them for his own pleasure. He commands the powerful Red Bull, who has driven all the unicorns into the sea underneath his castle by his own decree. The name “Haggard” is based on the actual word. Beagle stated that “on the one hand, it is a particular look, but on the other it’s also a falconer’s term. It’s what you call an undomesticated hawk, a bird that knows the rudiments but is not reliable. If you fly a haggard, you might never see it again, it might go back to the wild.” He also went on to say that he has “never really been able to see [Haggard] as a villain”, explaining that he saw much of his own character in Haggard to the point that he “felt sorry for him”.
  • Prince Lír is a skilled hero who was adopted by King Haggard, who found him in the town of Hagsgate. Despite living with Haggard, Prince Lír is the opposite of his adopted father, living his life with valor, honor, and compassion for others. He falls in love with Lady Amalthea, not realizing what she is until the very end. For all of her arrogance towards humankind, the Unicorn falls in love with Lír. Beagle stated that he “knew that the prince’s name had to be one syllable”, and that he made a long list of one-syllable names to choose from. He chose “Lír” because he liked the sound of it, but later on noted that he had borrowed the name of a Celtic sea god, Llyr, and that the fact that Lír became “King Lír” after succeeding his adoptive father “echoed Shakespeare”.

The last Unicorn Book Review (Amazon)

Becca Lynn

5.0 out of 5 stars

Much more richly detailed than the movie!

Reviewed in the United States on July 21, 2021

Verified Purchase

A quick, light read and yet still so full of HEART!

I grew up watching the animated film of this book and never actually read the book it was based on until now. I must say, the film is a VERY faithful adaptation, but the book adds a really special nuance to the otherwise familiar story. The characters are more richly detailed, more deeply REAL than even the film portrays. The book adds details that would never have translated to film as well, and yet the story does not drag or seem to stall at such additions. In fact, I would argue the novel has a distinctly smooth pace that marches ever on toward its conclusion without once feeling like it is simply plodding or going through the motions. Truly lyrical in its narrative style, it becomes obvious in just a page or two why the animated film had such a beautiful soundtrack.

tl:dr – if you ever loved the film, read the book – you will NOT regret the time spent

Karen Molenaar Terrell

5.0 out of 5 stars
It was a wonderful read. There were passages that left me laughing …

Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2016

Verified Purchase

I read Peter S. Beagle’s *The Last Unicorn* for the first time when I was a university student – a long, long time ago. It was a wonderful read. There were passages that left me laughing out loud, and passages that filled me with courage and hope. Beagle’s writing is witty, playful, poetic, and beautiful. *The Last Unicorn* left me feeling heart-filled and sort of… nobler, I guess.

A few days ago – when I’d read up to page 100 of another book (one set during the Holocaust) – I realized I was too fragile at the moment to go on, and set it aside. The thought entered my noggin (and where this thought came from, I still do not know – I hadn’t thought about this book for a long time) that I needed to read *The Last Unicorn* again. And so I did.

And oh, it was perfect – the exactly right book for me right now! If you’ve never read *The Last Unicorn* I highly recommend. If you’ve already read it, I recommend you read it again. It is as timely now as it was when I first read it 40 years ago. I don’t know how anyone could read this little book and not come away from it feeling braver and nobler and more hopeful about the world.

Ryan Sean O’Reilly

5.0 out of 5 stars

Magical prose that flows in lyrical quality and somber notes in deft creation of a profound myth.

Reviewed in the United States on September 17, 2019

Verified Purchase

Magical prose that flows in lyrical quality and somber notes in deft creation of a profound myth that is familiar and yet completely unique. Hope and regret and joy and sadness–a complete and wondrous tale! The Last Unicorn is a quest story. With all the dire implications that its title bears, the protagonist is indeed the last unicorn left in the world. She lives in joyful ignorance of this fact until cruel riddles from the sibyl whisperings of a magical creature hint at her true plight. She is alone.So begins a journey out of the safety of the immortal world of the Unicorn and into the wider world of men and all the wicked and good that comes with that. 

The story has an air of a sort of coming of age tale mixed in with a winking nod at the classic hero’s journey. An unusual balance is achieved in the prose that intermixes whimsy and humor with a subtle sort of sadness. There is a strong voice throughout that manages this equilibrium with all the craft mastery of a mad genius.Humor is a hard thing to write. To do it well is very rare. I would not label this book as a work of comedy similar to the efforts of other humorists in the fantasy or science fiction genre. Yet, whimsy is there and it works well to counterbalance the more serious contexts that are being worked through with the overarching plot. There are high stakes playing out. Folks risk themselves for worthy causes. The darkness threatens to dispel hope (as it so often does), and, of course, the characters must carry on and dutifully fulfill their fates.The author’s writing is airy and light which makes for a fast read, but it maintains a certain weight to it throughout the book. There is also a lyrical quality to the voice and some actual bits of verse. I’m not usually a huge fan of song lyrics intermixed with prose, but they are done here well enough. This musical aspect sometimes compliments the dialog in an almost metered voice. The characters occasionally repeat themselves as if their words were pairing couplets at the end of a sonnet. That being said, there is none of it that is overwrought or reaching. Everything flows through to the end and is well paced in both rhythm, rhyme, meaning, and context.The main characters in this story are all extremely memorable, however brief their appearance they are cast out onto the plot with grandiose colors and vivacious display leaping to life as they fret about with each of their own individual conflicts and concerns. The author cleverly weaves them into the protagonist’s mission. Whether they seek to thwart or aid, they are all a delight.

I was not surprised that this book has been turned into an animated feature, it reads very much like one. The whole while I read I could imagine the scenes being enacted and the songs being sung. To an extent, most books do that, however this one had the feel of animation. I can’t remember if I saw the film years ago, but if I did I can’t quite recall it. The words themselves have a particular quality of levity that is different from the usual fare. Still, I was drawn into this story all the same and did not feel that these qualities undercut any of my empathy for the characters or their desires and needs and struggles.

The ending of the novel is also unique and very satisfying. It completes with the same air of familiarity as the characters and subject matter, but also something different. Things wrap up as they ought, yet with the right hints of joyful sadness that should come when there is a price paid to fight for what is right. A lesson of sacrifices and real consequences akin to old world faery tales. This harkening back to myths and legends is what makes the story feel familiar and the author’s playful use of language fits like a glove (or rather a chainmail gauntlet). In contrast, he also moves the narrative into untapped crevices and neglected niches of these classic genres managing to gain a unique and authentic hold of the monomyth.It’s all done with a fresh and playful air and profound sincerity which has insured this story its place as an utter classic of the genre. The author has bespoke the dreams and aspirations of generations before and those yet to come creating a modern fairy tale enjoyable for all ages.Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”.

Mrs. J. Proctor

4.0 out of 5 stars

There are two kinds of magic

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 7, 2008

Verified Purchase

The Last Unicorn is a fantasy novel, which reminds me of the ‘Princess Bride’ more than anything else. The narrative exists on several levels. 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 Arachne, 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 interest in mortals is pretty much non-existent. 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 to 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 variety.

The unicorn is an abstract. She is pure beauty, moonlight in darkness. It is springtime. To once see a unicorn is to carry something of beauty with you for the rest of your life. She is hopeful. She is pure and untouchable. She is sure 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 overdone. 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.

How to Get The Last Unicorn Book

You can get the Last Unicorn pdf and Paperback from:

The Last Unicorn: Beagle, Peter S. – Amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.