Pivotal Book: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

I think every writer can point to a handful of books that were pivotal in shaping her writer’s voice or her storytelling style. For me, one of those books was “The Last Unicorn.” I first encountered the story through the movie, which I probably watched hundreds of times in my childhood from the time I was 3 years old (in fact, I watched it so many times that I caught it immediately when they cut the swear words from the 25th Anniversary Edition, even though it had been YEARS since I’d seen it.) I read the book when I was 16, the time when I was writing my own first fantasy novel. Because of this book’s influence on my writing, I decided to include my review of it on this blog. (Sorry, you’ll have to go to the actual Goodreads review for the “view spoiler” link to work.)

The Last UnicornThe Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As part of my Year in Reading Suggestions, I’m supposed to re-read a book this month. Originally, I was just going to read the graphic novel version of “The Last Unicorn” and count that as my re-read — but reading it just left my hungry for more, so I pulled out the original again. It has been half my lifetime (17 years) since I first read it, and I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up.

I should have known not to worry — that my taste at 16 was as good as it is now, and that this book is a classic for a reason. As an older reader, I noticed a few things in the book this time around that tend to annoy me in books — switching point of view within a single scene (head-hopping), and sentences that, while they sound nice, don’t actually make a lot of sense if you stop to try to picture them. Still, the beauty here far surpasses these minor quibbles, overcoming me to the extent that I can still give this nothing less than five stars.

This is not a book that you read for the plotting; there are no unexpected twists, no cliff-hanger chapter endings. It’s a typical hero’s journey, and you read it to take that journey with the characters, which becomes your own soul’s journey mapped out in metaphor. This is, at its heart, a story about what it means to be human, to be mortal, and about the brushes with pain and beauty that have the power to change our hearts, our lives, our worlds. Every time I engage with this story in its myriad incarnations (and speaking of incarnation, (view spoiler)), I feel a little bit of that transformation inside of me. I can see why this book spoke so deeply to me when I was sixteen, in the midst of that life-changing transformation from girl to woman. I’m pleased to say that it still speaks to me now — and that the feeling is so familiar that I can’t believe it’s been 17 years.

View all my reviews

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