by Peter S. Beagle
so i set the mood for rereading The Last Unicorn by putting together a nifty mix of woodstock era classics, heavily featuring the likes of jethro tull & canned heat & richie havens & a lot of early pink floyd. i put on my comfy clothes. i brewed some tea. i picked my sunniest room and my cat - sensing my mood - snuggled in close. however, i did not smoke any weed. perhaps this was my mistake? nonetheless, the mood was definitely set and the enjoyment swiftly commenced.
this is a nice little book. it's sweet and cheeky and full of a kind of idealistic purity. it is very counter-culture in its quiet way. i was reminded constantly of things like Harold & Maude and King of Hearts and the Yellow Submarine and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. and of laying out on the grass with my friends during college in the 90s, happily on drugs and talking about life. it made me think of flowers and sunshine and animals that i like. this is certainly not a trippy book, but it is a pleasantly mellow one in tone and outlook. the writing is similarly warm and fuzzy. characterization is relaxed; living metaphors for freedom & authority & purity & greed & experience are mixed and matched in a loose, breathable fashion. the entire endeavor is what one would call a warm and human experience. i can see why this book has so many admirers and why it has apparently never been out of print. reading it is like reading a modern fable - it feels instantly classic, automatically timeless. and hopefully its beautiful messages about life and how to live it will never go out of style.
my favorite parts came early and then at the very end. the final standoff between our heroes and the Red Bull was very well done and genuinely gripping. even better was the time spent in Mommy Fortuna's horrible caravan. that was awesome! the descriptions of the different ensorcelled beasts, the dreaming spider, Schmendrick's introduction, Mommy Fortuna herself (such a poisonous yet rather sad & pathetic character), Mommy Fortuna as Old Age, and of course the terrifying, brilliantly rendered harpy... all quite delectable.
it's interesting to me to think about my two different reactions to the book: now and then. "then" was back in junior high, i think. i LOVED Schmendrick and found Molly Grue to be an annoying, tedious character. despite her, i loved the book from beginning to end. the beauty of its ultimate meaning (whatever that may have been to my 14-year old self) had me thinking about life and how to live it. many, many years later - yesterday! - i found Schmendrick to be distinctly annoying and Molly Grue to be the secret hero of the novel. this grouchy, critical, often overbearing middle-aged lady is also brave, honest, decent, completely down to earth - and such an unusual character to find as a lead in a fantasy novel. go, Molly, go! unfortunately, i also found myself to be positively un-charmed by all the anachronisms and whimsy. all that stuff just felt dated, goofy, sorta cheap. like that fookin butterfly for chrissakes. so unfunny. and judo. and "last of the red-hot swamis". and much more. ugh!
still, a lovely book with a timeless message. although i found those whimsical anachronisms to be obnoxiously precious & cutesy-poo, overall they didn't end up being too dire and my experience was not remotely ruined. hell, i roll my eyes at my closest friends and i still enjoy their company. so i did like The Last Unicorn quite a bit. it is sweetly appealing and genuinely charming.