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The Last Unicorn

by Peter S. Beagle
304 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Jenny

A well-constructed fantasy story with some sexual and violent content.

Plot

Two hunters, failing at their hunting, determine that the wood through which they ride must be guarded by a unicorn - the last unicorn. Why else would it never be winter there? Why else would the leaves always be green and the wildlife so well hidden? The unicorn, hearing their discourse, becomes dismayed and sets out to discover what became of all the other unicorns, to find out if they still live, or if she really is the last.

Morality

While the morality is debatable, the lines are rarely so blurred as to cause trouble. Wicked characters are punished and good triumphs. Against the king’s selfish and introvert nature is set the prince’s gentle, loving spirit; against the connivance and deception of enemies is set the unicorn’s steadfast purity. This may be construed as dualism but, again, good triumphs in the end.

Spiritual Content

The story both has spiritual content and pokes fun at the spiritual. One of the characters is a magician, another is a witch; characters are turned into different shapes, skeletons and cats talk, the unicorn brings someone back to life, and other magical activities occur. Juxtaposed to the magician’s silly tricks and the witch’s evil enchantments is a bigger type of magic embodied in the unicorn and her enemy the Red Bull.

Violence

Characters are captured and put in cages. The witch mistreats animals. A harpy kills the witch and her assistant; a magical red bull attempts to kill the unicorn. There is a remarkable amount of violence in the story, which may or may not turn people off; little of it is graphic, and all of it makes the story more engrossing as the protagonists struggle through.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine is consumed. A skeleton is given magic wine and becomes a little tipsy.

Sexual Content

It is assumed that Molly Grue was ‘with’ someone, but this is never directly addressed. A young woman is unclothed in a non-sexual situation. The prince tries in a sweetly bumbling, chivalrous way to win the young lady’s heart. In an attempt to free himself from a tree to which he is tied, the magician accidentally brings the tree to life, whereupon it falls in love with him, which makes for some awkward moments.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

None.

Conclusion

This is perhaps one of the craziest fantasies I have ever read. The story is peppered with hilarious anachronistic remarks, and characters such as the magician and the prince are charming as well as funny. Underneath that is the unicorn’s own dilemma and her fight against the king and his dangerous Red Bull. Characters such as the witch, the king, the Red Bull, may make this story dark in some aspects, but the skill with which the author brings the unicorn shining through makes up for the darkness. Uniquely layered in complexity, yet simple to read, The Last Unicorn is one of those odd little mind-bending treasures.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: 13+

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