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Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn is a fantasy novel by American author Peter S. Beagle and published in 1968, by Viking Press in the U.S. and The Bodley Head in the U.K. It follows the tale of a unicorn, who believes she is the last of her kind in the world and undertakes a quest to discover what has happened to the other unicorns.[1] It has sold more than six million copies[3] worldwide since its original publication, and has been translated into at least twenty-five languages (prior to the 2007 edition).

Last Unicorn


A group of human hunters pass through a forest in search of game. After days of coming up empty-handed, they begin to believe they are passing through a Unicorn's forest, where animals are kept safe by a magical aura. They resign themselves to hunting somewhere else; but, before they leave, one of the hunters calls out a warning to the Unicorn that she may be the last of her kind. This revelation disturbs the Unicorn, and though she initially dismisses it, eventually doubt and worry drive her to leave her forest. She travels through the land and discovers that humans no longer even recognize her; instead they see a pretty white mare. She encounters a talking butterfly who speaks in riddles and songs and initially dodges her questions about the other unicorns. Eventually, the butterfly issues a warning that her kind have been herded to a far away land by a creature known as the Red Bull. She continues to search for other unicorns. During her journey, she is taken captive by a traveling carnival led by the witch, Mommy Fortuna, who uses magical spells to create the illusion that regular animals are in fact creatures of myth and legend. The Unicorn finds herself the only true legendary creature among the group, save for the harpy, Celaeno. Schmendrick, a magician traveling with the carnival, sees the Unicorn for what she is, and he frees her in the middle of the night. The Unicorn frees the other creatures including Celaeno, who kills Mommy Fortuna and Rukh, her hunchbacked assistant.

Molly, Schmendrick and the Unicorn leave Hagsgate and continue toward Haggard's castle, but on their way they are attacked by the Red Bull. The Unicorn runs, but is unable to escape the bull. In an effort to aid her, Schmendrick unwittingly turns the Unicorn into a human woman. Confused by the change, the Red Bull gives up the pursuit and disappears. The change has disastrous consequences on the Unicorn, who suffers tremendous shock at the sudden feeling of mortality in her human body. Schmendrick tells the unicorn that he is immortal and that he cannot make real magic unless he is mortal, and encourages her to continue her quest. The three continue to Haggard's castle, where Schmendrick introduces the Unicorn as "Lady Amalthea" to throw off Haggard's suspicions. They manage to convince Haggard to allow them to serve him in his court, with the hopes of gathering clues as to the location of the other unicorns. During their stay, Amalthea is romanced by Haggard's adopted son, Prince Lír. Haggard eventually reveals to Amalthea that the unicorns are trapped in the sea for his own benefit, because the unicorns are the only things that make him happy. He then openly accuses Amalthea of coming to his kingdom to save the unicorns and says that he knows who she really is, but Amalthea has seemingly forgotten about her true nature and her desire to save the other unicorns.

Following clues given to them by a cat, Molly, Schmendrick, and Amalthea find the entrance to the Red Bull's lair. Haggard and his men-at-arms attempt to stop them, but they manage to enter the bull's lair and are joined by Lír. When the Red Bull attacks them, Schmendrick changes Amalthea back to her original form. At this moment, Schmendrick joyfully becomes mortal. In an effort to save the Unicorn, Lír jumps into the bull's path and is trampled. Fueled by anger and sorrow, the Unicorn drives the bull into the sea. The other unicorns are freed, and they run back to their homes, with Haggard's castle falling in their wake. As the castle falls, its wreckage dissolves into mist before it even hits the ground, and nothing remains to indicate that a castle had ever been there.

The Unicorn revives Lír with the healing touch of her horn. Now king after Haggard's death, he attempts to follow the Unicorn despite Schmendrick advising against it. As they pass through the now-ruined town of Hagsgate, they learn that Drinn is actually Lír's father, and that he had abandoned him in the marketplace on purpose to fulfill the prophecy. Realizing that he has new responsibilities as king after seeing the state of Hagsgate, Lír returns to rebuild it after accompanying Schmendrick and Molly to the outskirts of his kingdom. The Unicorn returns to her forest. She tells Schmendrick that she is different from all the other unicorns now, because she knows what it's like to feel love and regret. Schmendrick and Molly later come across a princess in trouble and he tells her to go to Lír because he is the hero to save her. Schmendrick and Molly leave this story into another as they sing a love song together.

It took Beagle "close to two years" to write The Last Unicorn, and he states that "it was hard every step of the way". Beagle came up with the idea for the novel in 1962 while on an "artistic retreat" in Berkshire Hills after Viking Press rejected his novel The Mirror Kingdom. He stated that though the idea for the novel was "just suddenly there", he also said that he had "read tons of fantasy and mythology" from childhood, and that his mother told him that he had shared a story about unicorns during a visit to one of the elementary school classes she taught. He also mentioned that he loved the 1941 book The Colt from Moon Mountain by Dorothy P. Lathrop (a story about a unicorn in Kansas) as a child, and that Spanish artist Marcial Rodriguez had given him a painting of unicorns fighting bulls when he was seventeen. Once he had the idea, he did research on unicorns at the Pittsfield Library.[6]

The 85-page manuscript that Beagle first wrote differs greatly from the current version of the book. Though the unicorn "is much the same", the story is set in modern times, and the unicorn is accompanied by a two-headed demon named Webster and Azazel. This original version was published as a limited edition hardcover by Subterranean Press titled The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version in 2006.[6][7] Beagle stopped working on this initial manuscript in 1963, stating that "[i]t was a dead end", but picked the project up again in 1965.[6]

At the end of December 2008, Peter S. Beagle announced that he had written several new stories which were directly or indirectly linked to The Last Unicorn. These included three unicorn stories ("The Story of Kao Yu" about a Chinese ki-lin, "My Son Heydari and the Karkadann", and "Olfert Dapper's Day", a fictional account of the Dutch physician and writer's encounter with a unicorn in the Maine woods) and two Schmendrick stories ("The Green-Eyed Boy" and "Schmendrick Alone"). In 2017, these stories were gathered in a short story collection titled The Overneath. "The Green-Eyed Boy", which earlier appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, describes the early days of Schmendrick's apprenticeship under Nikos. A third completed Schmendrick story was also mentioned by Beagle in December 2008.

The Last Unicorn is a 1982 American animated fantasy film about a unicorn who, upon learning that she is the last of her species on Earth, goes on a quest to find out what has happened to others of her kind. Based on the 1968 novel The Last Unicorn written by Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote the film's screenplay, the film was directed and produced by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass.[5] It was produced by Rankin/Bass Productions for ITC Entertainment and animated by Topcraft.

A female unicorn learns from two hunters and a butterfly that she is the last of her kind since a malevolent entity called the Red Bull has herded unicorns to the ends of the earth. The Unicorn journeys to find them.

The Unicorn is captured by the witch Mommy Fortuna and displayed in her Midnight Carnival. Most of the attractions are normal animals enhanced by illusions to appear as mythical beasts. Fortuna uses a spell to create another horn on the unicorn's head, as the carnival visitors cannot see her real form. Fortuna keeps the immortal harpy Celaeno captive as well, deeming the risk secondary to the deed's prestige. The unicorn is befriended by Schmendrick,[7] an incompetent magician in the service of Mommy Fortuna. With the help of Schmendrick, the Unicorn escapes, in the process freeing Celaeno, who kills Fortuna. The Unicorn and Schmendrick gain a second traveling companion with Molly Grue, the careworn lover of Captain Cully (the disappointing reality behind the myth of Robin Hood).

Schmendrick, Molly Grue, and the now-human Unicorn proceed to the castle. Haggard is at first unwelcoming. Schmendrick introduces the Unicorn as Lady Amalthea, and requests that they become members of Haggard's court, only to be told that the only occupants of the castle are Haggard, his adopted son Prince Lír and four ancient men-at-arms. Haggard consents to lodge the trio, replacing his more competent wizard, Mabruk, with Schmendrick, and setting Molly Grue to work in his scullery. Mabruk leaves after recognizing "Amalthea" for what she truly is, jeering that by allowing her into his castle Haggard has invited his doom. Due to her new human emotions, Amalthea begins forgetting her true self and falls in love with Prince Lír, and considers abandoning her quest in favor of mortal love. Haggard confronts Amalthea, hinting at the location of the unicorns, yet from the waning magic in her eyes, has doubts regarding his suspicions that she is more than she seems.

Molly finally learns the location of the Red Bull's lair from the castle's cat. Molly, Schmendrick, and Amalthea are joined by Lír as they enter the bull's den, and are trapped there by Haggard. Schmendrick explains to Lír what they are looking for and reveals Amalthea's true identity. Lír declares that he loves her anyway. This makes Amalthea want to abandon the quest and marry Lír, but Lír dissuades her. The Red Bull appears, no longer deceived by Amalthea's human form, and chases after her. Schmendrick turns Amalthea back into the Unicorn, but she is unwilling to leave Lír's side. The Bull begins driving her toward the ocean just as he had driven the other unicorns. Lír tries defending her, but is killed by the Bull. Enraged, the Unicorn turns on the Bull and forces him into the sea. As the beast is engulfed by the water, the missing hundreds of unicorns emerge from the raging sea, carried on the incoming tides. With their release, Haggard's castle collapses into the sea, and Haggard, watching all from the battlements, falls to his death. 041b061a72


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