This week on YFYAN, the first in the new blog format, Maria Hughes – shares her thoughts on her favourite Young Adult novel, The Last Unicorn and the Silly Wizard. There have been a few formatting issues with this post due to the fact that it’s a new blog layout and I’m still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, so hopefully there shoudn’t be too many problems with the formatting.
My childhood was filled with a lot of magic from the incredible fantasy stories I was able to read at a young age, and this only lead me to provide the same magical world to my kids when I was old enough. So within the last few years, not only did I get to reread my favorite young adult novel, but I even see the movie adaptation nearly once a week at least thanks to my kids loving The Last Unicorn about as much as I did and still do.
The Last Unicorn is a fairy tale in novel form, written by Peter S. Beagle (Who my kids call Mister Dog because we have a beagle), and has been around since I was a tiny pup. It follows the adventures of a single unicorn, who happens to discover that she might be the only unicorn left in the world because of a conversation between two men in her forest. Now normally unicorns stay in their forests all the time, protecting the animals from being hunted, but because this unicorn discovered that, she wanted to prove that there were other unicorns, so she decides to venture out into the world. And that is where our story begins.
Along the way, the Unicorn meets: a butterfly, which is probably the most ridiculous character who mostly sings in poetic words; Schmendrick the Magician, who my kids call the silly wizard since he is probably the worst magician with real magic ever, and sticks to cheap tricks like juggling; Molly Grue, who is an old married maid and just wanted to see a unicorn when she was a young girl not old as she was.
There are of course plenty of other characters to be found, like the terrible villains King Haggard and the Red Bull (no relation to the drink). And that is largely the reason why I love this story, the characters. I always try to tell people that it doesn’t matter what kind of amazing and cool plot or premise you have built up, if your characters aren’t real and interesting no one is going to care about the plot! And Beagle had managed to produce some amusing and interesting characters.
Schmendrick is absolutely my favorite character of any series, because he does something that so many of us do, we constantly talk ourselves down, that we aren’t quite as useful and capable as we really are, but then he goes and proves that we are capable even if we don’t think it! Not to mention the wisdom that Schmendrick shows, as he is many years old since his master cursed him to walk the earth until he became a competent wizard. Just a couple of his quotes straight from the book: “It’s a very rare person who is taken for what he truly is” or “There are no happy endings, because nothing ends”. These quotes were also put in the movie that came out later because they were such crucial things for the character to say that made him so very real.
Even the unicorn managed to become so humanized throughout the story. At first she starts off as vain and full of herself but as the story progresses she becomes filled with all sorts of human emotions, including love, thanks to the bumbling magician eventually turning her into a human.
Despite this story being a fairy tale, it actually manages to stick to the old method of fairy tales, not the Disney created versions. It doesn’t exactly sit at a happily ever after, but it does tease stories that end that way. If I had to put it, it is the realist version of a fairy tale. It provides just enough mysticism to be a fairy tale, but also just enough realism to be something that provides a child with connection to the real world.
I have nothing against Disney’s fairy tale stories, I probably have every piece of the collection in DVDs, but to be able to expose my kids to both formats provides something you can’t always find in fairy tales without going back to their roots, even before the Grimm Brothers.
There is really hardly a bad thing I can say about this entire story, sure the ending isn’t entirely happy but it still has a romantic touch and if you are anything like my kids you’ll be cheering the unicorn on near the end, or crying your eyes out about what happens. But this just makes the story that much more moving and memorable.
This is the kind of story I would highly recommend to any age and anyone, especially those who might be more jaded to fantasy or romantic stories since they always seem like something that would never happen in real life. Yes, this story does have magic, and unicorns and witches and mythical creatures but it does it in such a realistic approach. We have all met that one person who just wants to use us for their own gain, we’ve met those wise people, and we have met those people who are lovey-dovey all the time. The realistic characters give this story all its life and that is not something that should be taken away from anyone.
I’d like to mention that I also tend not to mark stories with such high grades, which goes to show how much I love The Last Unicorn. It was something I had to share with my kids, even if it has some dark elements to it; it also has humor and light-heartedness. This is not a story you’ll be disappointed in when you pick it up, especially if you take the time to read it along with your kids (if you have any).
You can find Maria on Twitter @WritingMaria, and visit her blog in the link above. You can view the previous YFYAN entry by Jilliano Romano, here.