The Last Unicorn

Topics: Two Hearts, Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn Pages: 5 (1968 words) Published: December 18, 2012
Thesis: Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, has many interesting themes that are not always apparent. To be ‘being’ or ‘non-being’, that is the question. To a large extent, Peter Beagle's book is considered an interesting work of fantasy because it was one of the first post-modern science fiction novels. The most salient feature of post-modern science fiction is a rebellion against the classical fantasy/science fiction novel that creates a world that is completely separate from our own. In this world the characters say and do things that are completely in line with the small universe that the author has created in his novel. The author strives to draw the reader completely in to the story. Beagle rebels against this by creating a novel that constantly pulls the reader out of the novel, back in to the real world, only to slide back into the plot. The Last Unicorn is a novel that is written in this post-modern style, of which many examples can be found. Beagle does not immediately strike you with his departure from traditional fantasy. The unicorn lives in a wood all by herself, in what is seemingly a medieval world. There are kings and wizards, and lots of peasants. But just when the reader is being drawn into this "other" world, Beagle introduces a character to disrupt it in the form of a talking butterfly. The thing that pulls the reader out of Beagle's world, back into his own, is not the butterfly's ability to talk (that, after all, is not too bizarre in a fantasy novel), but what he has to say. Among the many things that do not belong in this fantasy novel are the butterflies references to Shakespeare "you're a fishmonger", children's sing-alongs "you are my sunshine", and songs from America's pop culture "Won't you come home, Bill Bailey, won't you come home" (8). Now, a veteran of fantasy could probably come up with a list of science fiction clichés that could explain his odd knowledge. Maybe the butterfly learned these phrases by falling into a wormhole and spending time in our world. Maybe, the butterfly is in fact a traveler from our world, secretly disguised. Or, this is some bizarre post-apocalyptic world where after many millions of years and genetic mutation, the new inhabitants of our planet are uncovering our twentieth-century pop culture. But these, like other details in Beagle's novel that clearly do not fit in with the rest of the story, are not explained away. Evidence of Beagle's unorthodox style can be seen later when Schmendrick and Molly are taken captive by Captain Cully. Schmendrick tries to flatter the outlaw by pretending that he has heard of many of the outlaw's exploits. As Cully begins to fall for this, he becomes much friendlier with Schmendrick, offering the wizard a place by his fire, an invitation to talk of what people supposedly say about Cully in other countries, and with a unique twist, a taco (57). An odd food for outlaws seemingly modeled off of Robin Hood. Later, Schmendrick spends a good part of the night making up stories about the glories of Captain Cully. The reader learns later on that most of tales came from his "good grounding in Anglo-Saxon folklore"(57). Beagle uses many other small descriptions to rip the reader out of his fantasy world. At one point a prince is described “reading a magazine"(75). At another point, Prince Lir is described as having armor that is partially made of bottle caps (111). A more subtle example of post-modern fantasy is the birth of Prince Lir. The Prince was found on butcher's block, warm despite the fact that it was snowing, surrounded by stray cats (88). As Drinn, the villager that found him said; "it purred prophecy"(88). But it is at this point that Beagle breaks the spell. If this were a traditional fantasy, Drill would have become the foster parent for the boy and raised him. But this is not traditional fantasy. Drill instead scares away the cats and leaves the baby to what he expects will be death; because, he fears that the child that...
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