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review 2019-12-28 05:31
A Beautifully Written Fairy Tale that Really Didn't Do Anything For Me
The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle
The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch's door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.

This is the tale of a Unicorn—quite possibly the last in the world (hence the title). On some random day, she discovers that she might be the last of her kind, and so leaves her forest to go throughout the world, searching for others of her kind.


She falls into some trouble after a while, and is helped out by a magician she comes across who ends up traveling with her, as well as a woman associated with a band of outlaws who is looking to get away from them. They travel until they find the cause of the disappearing unicorns and seek to return them to the world.


This is some of the best prose that I read this year. The language is just beautiful. There were several times I had to stop and reread a sentence/paragraph/passage three or four times because it was so good. More than once, I had to force myself to move on or I'd never have made any progress in the book.


That little quotation at the beginning is just a taste of the meta-commentary on fairy tales (specifically) or story (in general) scattered throughout the book. I laughed a lot at some of them, and thought all were very thought-provoking. It's like a more ambitious The Princess Bride in this regard (probably others, too, now that I say it, but I don't have time to tease this idea out).


I dug the characters—Schmendrick the Magician (the world's worst) was wonderful. Molly Grue is an inspired creation, and the kind of character more people need to write. And, of course, the Unicorn herself...


There were several scenes that were just delightful—unique, entertaining. When not unique, Beagle is playing with, twisting, riffing on fantasy/fairy tale mainstays.


But when you put them all together . . . I just didn't see the point. A combination of these characters, these scenes, and the meta material alone should've been a home-run for me. Throw in that language? I should be making plans to re-read it regularly. But somehow, the whole ended up less than the sum of its parts. I just didn't care about any of it, it never connected to me. I spent so much time trying to figure out why that was the case—and I got nowhere. I'm going to have to try in a couple of years again, see if it was just bad timing or something.


This is one of those books that everyone loves—and as far as I can tell, there's plenty of reason to love it. Sadly, I didn't. If you haven't read this yet, you probably should—I just hope it works out better for you.

✔ A classic you’ve been meaning to get to
Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2019/12/27/the-last-unicorn-by-peter-s-beagle-a-beautifully-written-fairy-tale-that-really-didnt-do-anything-for-me
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review 2019-06-19 00:00
Return - Peter S. Beagle,Maurizio Manzieri The first thing to point out is that ‘Return’ is a sequel to Beagle’s 1991 novel ‘The Innkeeper’s Song’ so it might be an idea to read that before this. That said, I have not read ‘The Innkeeper’s Song’ and yet ‘Return’ was perfectly comprehensible. True, characters were mentioned who featured in that novel and some of them appear here but this work stands alone quite well. Though easily confused, I was not. The second thing to mention is that this is a novella only a hundred pages long. I point this out just in case someone doesn’t spot it in the small print.

Our first-person narrator, Soukyan, is being tracked by three Hunters who are trained assassins. Hunters have been trying to kill him for the past twenty years, ever since he escaped from that place and survived. This attack is different and the outcome makes him decide to return, hence the title, to the monastic style house that he left so long ago. The constant referral to it as that place I found mildly annoying but only because the infantile parts of the British press forever refer to that dress, one worn by Liz Hurley, and have used the italicised ‘that’ for several other celebrity things. This is hardly Peter S. Beagle’s fault. It’s not Liz Hurley’s neither, I hasten to add.

Peter S. Beagle is just about my favourite writer since I read one of his collections a while back. His prose is understated and elegant, his characters are solid and three-dimensional. Best of all, he usually tells a story, as opposed to some moody events with an inconclusive ending, and this is a good one with a few neat twists. Our hero gets in dire straits and there are great secrets to be uncovered. Tension is maintained and the conclusion is satisfying.

There are some elegant writers of fantasy who seem not at all bothered by the notion of a strong plot. There are strong plotters who write what is called workmanlike prose and I have nothing against them. A writer does what he can with the tools nature gave him. However, when you get the combination of both in one author the works are of higher quality, as here, I will rush to locate The Innkeeper’s Song so I can finish the story backwards.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2019-06-02 00:00
We Never Talk about My Brother
We Never Talk about My Brother - Peter S. Beagle We Never Talk About My Brother’ is the title story of this anthology by Peter S. Beagle. Some of the other stories herein include ‘Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke And The Angel’, ‘The Tale OF JUNKO AND Sayuri’, ‘King Pelles The Sure’ and ‘The Last And Only, Or Mr Moscowitz Becomes French’ all of which also appear in ‘Mirror Kingdoms: The Best Of Peter S. Beagle’, which I have already reviewed this month. I didn’t mention the story about a chap becoming French in that review but, while good, it is slightly too absurd for my taste. Nor did I review ‘Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke And The Angel’ again, because I did so when it appeared in ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science-Fiction but it is very good. Beagle doesn’t do bad. His range is from good to absolutely bloody marvellous.

That leaves me with only four stories to critique. ‘Spook’ is a Joe Farrell adventure. He’s the cook who featured in ‘Julie’s Unicorn’ and here finds a desirable new apartment haunted by a ghost who is convinced that Joe is his killer. As he was murdered over a hundred years ago, this isn’t so but spooks are stubborn even when wrong. It had me laughing out loud and is the finest thing here. If you ask me it should have featured in The Best Of Peter S. Beagle, but no one did ask.

‘The Stickball Witch’ is set in the Bronx in the 50s but has some universal characteristics or at least some common to western cultures and perhaps others. Every neighbourhood has that feared old person into whose garden children dare not tread, even to get the ball back. When the Stickball Witch comes out to join in the game, things get interesting. Especially nostalgic fun, no doubt, for those who share ‘Mr. Beagle’s New York’ origins.

‘By Moonlight’ is a tale of Oberon and Titania, the Queen of Faery. As, so often with Beagle, it is told to someone else, a highwayman in this case, by the person to whom it all happened, a Reverend in this case. On a lonely Yorkshire moor, the clergyman went wandering one night looking for his cat and wandered into the magic kingdom. The story was narrated in the usual seemingly effortless prose and passed the time pleasantly. I am unable to describe Beagle’s writing but it is so natural, so easy, so unforced that it seems to have come into being almost organically by itself. Even with the best of writers, you can see, occasionally, the craftsman at work, sometimes badly. A jerky transition, a bad simile, something will bring the writer to your attention. Beagle is invisible, perhaps because he uses his narrators so well.

‘Chandail’ the last story, is about telepathic sea monsters who get inside your head and play with your memories and make you cry. It is told by Lalkhamsin-khamsolal, an old lady now, who did not enjoy the sea monsters’ attention because her memories were mostly bad. She was sold into slavery as a child and raped. A moving revenge story with a lot of soul searching by the teller.

The problem for the purchaser of short story collections is to avoid wasting money buying the same ones twice. As mentioned, half of this collection is included in ‘Mirror Kingdoms: The Best Of Peter S. Beagle’ and, hand on heart, that is the better book, if only because it contains more of Peter S. Beagle. However, it is a limited edition and might not be available or affordable and you would miss out on ‘Spook’, which is marvellous. The canny reader will scour the contents pages of the various anthologies and decide which ones best fit the finances. Having read these two, I am sorely tempted to chase up every single word Peter S. Beagle has ever written and devour them at my leisure.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2019-05-20 23:10
The Folk of the Air
The Folk Of The Air - Peter S. Beagle

This book is decades old, out of print, and has been reviewed and picked apart many times over, so I'll try to keep my review short.


This is my second Peter Beagle book, and once again I'm struck by his language. This book in particular is 90% mood and atmosphere, 10% story. There is a plot, and there are characters (well drawn ones at that), but that all comes secondary to evoking a strong sense of place and mood. In fact, I'd say this book is just one big Mood. And that's kind of wonderful. Fantasy from this era has such a distinct feel - it drew me back in time to my youth, reading books much like this one and being transported.


It's also worth remarking upon how gentle this book is. There's a core of compassion that I haven't seen often in books of any genre. It hits upon bittersweetness, youth, optimism, and naivety. It paints people lovingly, even when they aren't perhaps the most lovable. It has also aged, in my opinion, very well in the treatment of women. The ladies in this book have agency and strength, and are probably the most compelling and well-rounded characters in the story.


I don't particularly have any criticisms of this book - the only reason my rating isn't higher is because I prefer a swifter story. This book is like laying in a lazy river, slowly being pulled downstream, and watching the sun wink through the tree branches overhead. It's a lovely journey. I just happen to like a few more rapids in my rivers.

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review 2019-04-24 14:53
The Last Unicorn - Ray Dillon,Peter S. Beagle,Peter Gillis,Renae De Liz
For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

This is a tricky one for me to rate. I remember I used to watch the movie all the time when I was little. I don't remember if I liked it; I vividly remember being terrified by the Red Bull and the harpy, but I'm assuming I liked it if I remember watching it so many times. Anyway, I have not read the book yet, so all I had to work with was my childhood memories of the movie.

Overall, this adaption was good. I realize it is difficult to reduce such a long and complicated novel into a single graphic novel. The story itself seemed kind of loose and not very engaging. It just kind of flowed onward to its end point. I didn't feel very engaged with it. The characters were okay, but again, I just didn't engage with them. I watched them carry out their parts, but didn't feel like I was really in the story.

Having said all of that, the artwork in this book is spectacular. Absolutely gorgeous. The style and colors are just amazing. I loved marveling over the pages as I was reading (especially the color contrast between the unicorn and the Red Bull). I have read a few graphic novels where I read the words and just like of gloss over the pictures because they aren't that exciting, but this one halts you in your tracks and forces you to examine all of the intricacies. Phenomenal. 

I can see this being a great book for those who love the story and have already read the book and seen the movie to really appreciate it. It definitely helps having a basic idea of the story before going into the book, because the adaptation is kind of loose. Someone who has knowledge of the story can more easily enjoy the artwork in this book. 

I dug up my old VHS copy of the movie and am planning to watch it again as well as get my hands on the actual novel. I'll probably reread this adaptation again after that and see if my opinion changed at all.
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