The Last Unicorn, Two Hearts • 1968, 2005 • Fantasy novel and novelette by Peter S. Beagle

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

This bestseller (5 mio copies sold, translated to 20 languages) counts to my favorites – as a movie.
The 1982 animated film accompanied me my whole life since a teenager – music from the 80s, Christopher Lee, Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow as voices and the lyrical, comical style was a similar experience like Star Wars has been for others. Since then, I watched it a couple of times with my children and it doesn’t get out of my mind: Every time they play the title song from America in the radio or some 80s revival show I remember and have to smile.

How delighted I was when I read the book now for the first time and discovered that both resemble each other perfectly. It is not often the case that a movie gets content and atmosphere of a book so well.

There are some things that I dislike about both: That annoying butterfly at the beginning or lots of the songs which moves it more to a musical. The complete lack of worldbuilding or complexity in the plot. The irritating notions of contemporary hints (“Take a taco!”).

For those, I subtract one star. It doesn’t get six stars anymore, only five.

My (German) edition also contains the award winning novelette Two Hearts.

Beagle wrote the sequel novelette decades after The Last Unicorn.
Those who loved the last unicorn will like this as well – we meet Shmendrick, Molly, Lir and the unicorn (this time in a less exposed role) again and find out that Lir is now old and senile.

The story is told from the POV of a nine year old girl whose village is devastated by a griffin. That’s why the girl asks King Lir to help and he has to set out for his last heroic deed. Of course, he knows that griffins have two hearts which is the obvious explanation of the novelette’s title. A different interpretation would be that Molly and Shmendrick are meant or Lir and the unicorn.

You see, it is a story involving sad emotions. Beagle didn’t manage to bring over the distant feeling of the last unicorn. The novelette is more down-to-earth, anchored in the reality. It is similarly touching but doesn’t transport the magic of the older novel.

Meta: This is a copied review from GR; I’ve read it in 2014. Isn’t it ridiculous that this novel didn’t win any awards? At least, it made the fifth place in Locus’s 1987 All-Time Best Fantasy Novel award, after LotR, Hobbit, Wizard of Earthsea, and Shadow of the Torturer. Two Hearts in contrast won Hugo and Nebula, and made the second place of Locus. It’s available online at the author’s homepage.

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11 Responses to The Last Unicorn, Two Hearts • 1968, 2005 • Fantasy novel and novelette by Peter S. Beagle

  1. I read The Last Unicorn while I was doing an internship in the Philippines and my brain was tripping on anti malaria pills. I was very moved, emotionally, by the book and I thought it was very clever, but it might have been the pills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      It is in parts very near to hallucinations. Did you see the film?
      And what did you do in the Philippines. I guess „having a good time“ doesn’t cover it fully given your sickness.

      Like

      • Oh I wasn’t sick. I was staying in the countryside and so had to take preventive anti-malaria pills as par for the course. I was taking Lariam which nowadays isn’t given anymore because of the psychological side effects but in 2009 that wasn’t fully accepted yet, even by the Dutch doctors that gave it to me. The nurse was all “nah nonsense people are just experiencing culture shock” but she was talking out of her ass. Anyway. It was a conservation biology internship. Scientist try to breed and save the indigenous Philippine crocodile, the rarest crocodile in the world, and I was there to make science communication material to get the support of the local villagers to preserve this species. We had to take hiking trips for days into the jungle to find and tag the animals. I can talk for hours about it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Andreas says:

          That sounds adventurous: hunting a predator while on a trip.
          Last year, I‘ve been in Florida‘s Everglades, one of two places where alligators and crocodiles live in the same place.
          Are those Philippine‘s very different? And what became of them in the last ten years?

          Like

          • We had to search for the crocodiles at night, using a flashlight to shine over the rivers to see their eyes light up. As far as I know, the Philippine crocodile is still struggling, even after 10 years of western scientists trying to save them. They bred 2000 crocodiles and used army helicopters to settle them in a far-off lake. I don’t know what became of them. The locals don’t like them because they eat the piglets and chickens, but philippine crocodiles are a small species, adults no more than 2 meters long.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. piotrek says:

    It’s a wonderful novel, I loved it, although I both watched the movie and read the book well into my twenties… but I’ve never heard about the Two Hearts, that’s something to get & read.

    Liked by 2 people

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