I re-read this timeless tale for the nth time in January ’18, and it still shines as a solid classic. I cannot give it 5 of 5 stars, but only because of a few parts of the story that beg for action: Amalthea vs the Red Bull, or Prince Lir vs any of the monsters he slays for Amalthea’s love, never make it into the story except as teasers. Instead, we are treated to Schmendrick and Molly’s almost-encounters with thieves, a witch, and a harpy. It would be nice to see the unicorn cut loose and fight with something other than beauty, nostalgia, and bravery.
The 4 of 5 stars it nails solidly are for the beautiful, poetic language in this flawlessly written story that is the stuff of faerie tales, recalling a time when fantasy was not so divided into sub-genres as to be unrecognizable. That the wizard barely wizards, that Molly Grue is mostly growl, and that the last unicorn is a confusing symbol of lost youth, scorned love, adult regret, and lost innocence barely matters… because the song, errr, story, carries the reader along as Schmendrick casually explains (to the reader it seems) the mechanics of how faerie tales work.
“What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?” Lir asks.
“That’s what heroes are for,” Schmendrick answers.
I read this as a kid, saw the animated movie many times, and continue to love this story for its whimsy and moving language. If you have not read The Last Unicorn but consider yourself a fantasy fanatic, shame on you. This is foundational, must-read material.
Eric K Barnum is the author of Dar Tania and other fantasy books.
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