The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn

Infobox Book
name = The Last Unicorn
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Dust-jacket for the first edition of "The Last Unicorn"
author = Peter S. Beagle
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Fantasy novel
publisher = Viking Press
release_date = 1968
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback)
pages = 218 pp
isbn = 9870451450523
preceded_by =
followed_by = Two Hearts

"The Last Unicorn" is a fantasy novel written by Peter S. Beagle and published in 1968. It has sold more than five million copies worldwide since its original publication, and has been translated into at least twenty languages. [Beagle, Peter S.: "The Last Unicorn": dustjacket text, Roc/Penguin/Barnes & Noble, 2007]

The third-person narrative centers on a unicorn who, believing she is the last of her kind in the world, sets off on a journey to discover what has happened to the others. She encounters a host of diverse characters as her journey progresses, each of them bringing her closer to her goal.

Part fractured fairy tale and part life parable, the novel provides a social commentary through the interaction of typical fairy tale characters placed in very atypical roles. At the same time, satire and intentional anachronism are employed to provide some comic relief. The novel is widely believed to be Beagle's greatest book, and has been hailed by many criticsSpecify|date=January 2008 and readers as one of the greatest fantasy novels of the last 100 years.

Plot summary

The story begins in a lilac wood with two hunters discussing the disappearance of unicorns from the world. One is convinced that a unicorn still may exist, due to the almost magical properties of the forest and calls out to her warning her to stay in her forest to protect herself since she is most certainly the last of her kind. The unicorn does hear him and is troubled enough by his words to leave the safety of her forest to ascertain the truth.

On her journey through a world unknown to her, she encounters a varied range of characters, from a mad king and an old witch to an enigmatic butterfly and a band of outlaws. However, she is ultimately aided by a bumbling and incompetent magician, a care-worn kitchenmaid, and a love-torn prince. Through their friendship and assistance, the unicorn is able to discover what exactly has happened to her kind and ultimately, how to save them from being captured by the Red Bull.


The unicorn is the protagonist of the story. She seeks nothing more than the knowledge that other unicorns still exist in the world. Being an immortal creature, she cares little for the fates of those who surround her, and in this way is somewhat removed from the world in which she lives. This changes during her brief time as a mortal woman – given the name of Lady Amalthea by Shmendrick, who pretends to be her uncle for their stay at Haggard's castle – and she learns to care and love as a human.

The butterfly is merely a passerby in the unicorn's journey. Speaking only in poems and songs and almost never answering anything concretely, he provides some comic relief, but also gives the unicorn her first piece of concrete information in her quest, that a Red Bull drove the unicorns to the ends of the world.

Mommy Fortuna is an old enchantress who captures the unicorn for her "Midnight Carnival". When the unicorn asks her about the Red Bull, Mommy Fortuna betrays that the bull belongs to a King Haggard, and strengthens her resolve to keep the unicorn captive so that the bull will not find her.

Celaeno is a harpy kept by Mommy Fortuna in the "Midnight Carnival." Though a minor character, Celaeno is a true legendary creature, just like the unicorn whom she is caged beside.

Schmendrick is a bumbling magician and aide to Mommy Fortuna. Unlike others, he sees the unicorn for what she truly is and frees her from her cage at the carnival. From that point, Schmendrick uses his often random magic to help the unicorn persevere and eventually find the other unicorns of the world. He hopes to one day find his true gift, and become a great wizard.

Captain Cully leads a band of rather pathetic forest outlaws. He desperately craves the kind of legendary status given to noble brigands like Robin Hood; unfortunately, Cully is hardly made of star material. Schmendrick is caught by one of his men shortly after escaping the "Midnight Carnival" and it is the unicorn who repays her debt and saves him.

Molly Grue is Captain Cully's common-law wife. As a young maiden she had eloped with him, naïvely attracted to the romance of loving a woodland fugitive and sharing his life. Unfortunately, that "fairy tale" turned into years of serving Cully's ragged vagrants as their camp cook. She seeks a different reality from the one fate decided for her, and when she discovers Schmendrick leaving with the unicorn, she decides to follow them and do whatever she can to help the unicorn in her quest.

King Haggard is the old king of a desolate castle on the barren countryside. The main antagonist, he has captured all of the unicorns in the world but one with the aid of the Red Bull, the cruel creature of magic and brute force who serves him. The king cares for nothing and no one except the unicorns, whom he greedily hoards for his personal delight.

Prince Lir is the adopted son of King Haggard: good-hearted, but something of a buffoon. He falls in love with the unicorn while she is in human guise as Lady Amalthea, and will do anything to earn her love in return. In the process of winning Amalthea's love, he transforms himself from a fool into a hero.

Writing the book

Background information

The final version of "The Last Unicorn" differs greatly from its original incarnation in many ways. Though the first few paragraphs remain the same (almost word-for-word), it differs greatly from there. It is a dragon that takes the place of the hunters and first interacts with the unicorn. The conversation with the butterfly is largely the same, but it is the "black road," not the Red Bull, that runs behind the unicorns and covers their footsteps. After the butterfly encounter, instead of Mommy Fortuna, the unicorn meets a two-headed demon from Hell called Azazel and Webster, and the original draft of the story ends not too much later.

In the introduction to the current American hardcover edition of the novel, Beagle states that this book was the most difficult to write of all his novels.

Film adaptations


In 1982 the novel was made into an animated film directed and produced by Rankin/Bass for ITC Entertainment, with a screenplay written by Beagle himself. The music was composed and written by Jimmy Webb and performed by America. The voice talents include Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Mia Farrow.

The film version is widely acclaimed for its extremely accurate portrayal of the events in the novel.

Continent Films

In addition, a live-action adaptation of the original book has been announced as in development for several years, but it is not clear what progress (if any) has been made towards production. A minor controversy erupted in 2005 over the producers' plans to create their screen unicorn by filming trained horses and then using CGI to modify them. This runs directly counter to the physical description of the unicorn in the book, which explicitly states that the unicorn looks nothing at all like "a horned horse," and has thus upset the book's fans.Fact|date=January 2008

In February 2006, Continent Films unveiled a new official website for the project which made clear that the film was still in development, not pre-production. It was not yet funded, did not have a shooting script, and had not been cast. In the new website, all actor names but Christopher Lee's had been removed; and even Mr. Lee's involvement was revealed to be nothing more than a promise to appear in the film if he was available and if terms could be worked out with his agent.

On March 8, 2006, the Internet Movie Database shut down their page for the project because they were unable to verify that the film was actually being made.Fact|date=January 2008

Peter S. Beagle has stated on his own website and in interviewsSpecify|date=January 2008 that he is seeking to reacquire the live-action rights to his story, enabling the production of a single unified multi-film franchise. This announcement may explain why the new Continent Films website for their effort dropped the title "Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn" in favor of simply "The Last Unicorn".Or|date=January 2008


In 2005, Beagle published a coda story to the "Last Unicorn" titled "Two Hearts" in the October/November issue of "Fantasy and Science Fiction" magazine. Though beginning with a new narrator, four main characters from the original story appear again. The story is also included in the short story anthology, "The Line Between", published in July 2006.


In 2005, Beagle recorded an unabridged audiobook of his novel for Conlan Press. The audiobook is sold in three formats with varying prices. It can be purchased as downloadable MP3 files, an MP3 CD, and as an eight-CD collector's set (containing the audiobook on seven audio CDs and an exclusive interview with Beagle on the eighth).

Those who purchase the "Last Unicorn" audiobook from Conlan Press will be sent a free autographed 3,000-copy limited hardcover edition of "Two Hearts" when it is published. [cite web | last =
first = | title = Two Hearts | work | date = | url= | accessdate = 2007-09-09
] Preorders began in late 2004, but as of the beginning of 2008, the book is finished but not yet manufactured. [ [ Conlan Press - Updates ] ] It is slated to ship by the end of 2008.


Cited references

Other references

*cite web| title=Library of Congress Online Catalog | url= |accessdate=2007-02-08

External links

* [ Official Peter Beagle website]
* [ Conlan Press] , Beagle's affiliated American publisher and source for autographed Peter S. Beagle books, audiobooks, media, etc.
* [ Conlan Press champions Beagle's fight for his royalties]
* [ Peter S. Beagle's fans speak out in support of his legal fight]
* [ The Last Unicorn's Development Website] - the development website for the proposed new adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn"

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