[Book Review] The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn is one of the most beautiful works of prose that I have read.  The story is both timeless and ageless, with layers and depth to appeal to both children and adults. I'm not sure why I never read this book when I was younger, some how it just never crossed my path and I never sought it out.  Whenever I read it I notice different little details, and for a book published 46 years ago remains incredibly fresh and new.

I was inspired to use The Last Unicorn as the first pick for Virtual Speculation.  It's a short book that many of us had read before, so it fit well for a short month in the opening of an experimental book club.  Only a few of us were able to meet (online) to discuss the book, and one of us was heavily medicated for a cold, but we had a great time discussing the book.

Discussion Fodder:
  • Themes to discuss: identity, humanity, reality, mortality, morality.
  • What makes it a time for unicorns?  What are unicorns for? ("Would you call this a good age for unicorns? "No, but I wonder if any man before us ever thought his time a good time for unicorns."; "Unicorns are not to be forgiven [...] Unicorns are for beginnings," he said, "for innocence and purity, for newness.  Unicorns are for young girls."  Molly was stroking the unicorn's throat as timidly as though she were blind.  She dried her grimy tears on teh white mane.  "You don't know much about unicorns,")
  • Is The Last Unicorn anachronistic?  When does it take place?  (The butterfly's song, medieval elements, Lir reading a magazine, the references to Robin Hood and John Henry.)
  • What do you think about the passage of time in the book?  It is never indicated exactly how long the unicorn travels.  "Time had always passed her by in the forest, but now it was she who passed through time as she traveled."
  • What do you think of the meta elements of The Last Unicorn?  ("The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story," "Great heros need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed.  It is all part of the fairy tale.")
  • Is Schmendrick a real magician?
  • What makes magic?  ("The truth melts her magic, always, but she cannot keep from trying to make it server her."; "Speaking of livers," the unicorn said.  "Real magic can never be made by offering up someone eles's liver.  You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back."; "Offering no true magic, he drew no magic back from them."
  • What do you make of the statement "Whatever can die is beautiful -- more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world."?
  • On various occasions the differences between the immortal unicorn and mortal humans is mentioned.  The unicorn cannot sorrow or regret.  She has lived her life apart not only from humans but from her own kind.  How does immortality change her morality?
  • Several characters are attempting to achieve immortality through memory - Mommy Fortuna will never be forgotten by a unicorn, Captain Cully creating his own legend.  What is immortality?
  • How does identity effect reality?
There is much more beyond this short list, and so many fantastic lines in the book.  I highly recommend reading The Last Unicorn if you have not, and re-reading it if you haven't read it recently.


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