‘The Last Unicorn’ enchants with its magic

  “The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.”
  These poetic words open Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn,” a wonderfully written, enchanting fairy tale.
  After overhearing the conversation between a couple of hunters, the unicorn begins to fear that her kind has gone missing. She sets out on a quest to find the other unicorns. Along the way she meets friends and enemies.
  Schmendrick is her friend, a magician whose talent frequently is reduced to parlor tricks, leaving him full of self-pity.
  “ ‘I’m no man,’ he said. ‘I’m a magician with no magic, and that’s no one at all.’ ”
  King Haggard is not a friend. The unicorn discovers the king is behind the disappearance of her people, and she and Schmendrick decide to confront the king and his evil Red Bull.
  “He was the color of blood, not the springing blood of the heart but the blood that stirs under an old wound that never really healed. A terrible light poured from him like sweat, and his roar started landslides flowing into one another. His horns were as pale as scars.”
  Beagle weaves elements of adventure and romance through “The Last Unicorn,” and a tone of melancholy and loneliness floats throughout the text as all the characters come to know their true selves.
  This year marks the 40th anniversary of “The Last Unicorn.” First published in 1968, it still is one of the best examples of fantasy at its finest. The book is a bit like “The Hobbit” in its denseness, so it might be a little difficult for young kids to read. But I think it would be a great novel for parents to read to their kids, there’s nothing too scary to keep little ones up at night. Kids also might enjoy — after reading the book I hope — watching the animated movie.
  “Is the world any the worse for losing the unicorns, and would it be any better if they were running free again?” Schmendrick asks.
  With “The Last Unicorn,” the world hasn’t lost the magical creatures. I feel sure they’ll be running through the imaginations of many young minds for years to come.

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