The Last Unicorn

Why is this movie so enthralling? Is it just me? Of all the people I force to sit through the thing, almost none have come away from the experience saying he or she enjoyed it. When I worked in Heartland, a daycare place inside of D&W, I donated the movie to the video drawer and watched it at least once every time I worked. The children were the only ones to ever understand my fascination with it. Schmendric the Magician and Molly, the ever taken-for-granted compainion of a backwards Robin-Hood, are The Last Unicorn's faithful sidekicks a story worth being retold daily. The Red Bull still scares me every time. And the talking skeleton is the man. Hopefully the world will learn to appreciate this masterpiece of fiction some day before I die.

The Last Unicorn was on my list of favorite movies as a child. My sister (who was six years older and completely EVIL) knew this and used it to her advantage to torment me. I can still the moment in my mind. She sat on our blue swing set in the backyard, staring down at me. “I have a secret.”
Kara, I’m the last unicorn.”
“No you aren’t.”
“Yes I am…look at my forehead. I have a mark just like the one in the movie.” Ok, so her “mark” was really a burgundy ribbon tied around her head, but this was very convincing to my 4-year-old mind. “You’re really a unicorn?”
“Yes. Now kiss my feet.”
Originally, this was a novel written by Peter S. Beagle in 1977, about the quest of the last unicorn remaining in the world to find and rescue others of her kind. The story is quite deep and magical, and written on several levels, much like the novel The Princess Bride. According to Marc Hairston's Last Unicorn page, "Peter S. Beagle himself has written that the book is sort of 'a personal I Ching, which gives me no advice, no handy warnings, but slowly tells me things I had forgotten, or hidden from myself.'"

The Last Unicorn seems to have struck a similar chord among many people. Trying various derivations of the name in a web browser or search engine brings up the expected fan pages, but also a wrought-iron fence company, two different multimedia web design companies, and a used compact disc company--and that's just from five minutes of looking. There has also been a roleplaying game company by that name, which was subsequently purchased by Wizards of the Coast.

In 1982, a Rankin-Bass animated movie based on the book was released, with a script co-written by Beagle, starring the likes of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Tammy Grimes, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Rene Auberjonois, and Brother Theodore. Though parts had to be shortened for the sake of time, the movie remained true to the spirit of the book. The soundtrack was done by America, with some help by Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow for the songs by their characters. (On the German soundtrack CD, Farrow's voice was, thankfully, replaced by that of someone who could actually carry a tune!) The title song was covered, more recently, by Kenny Loggins on his Return to Pooh Corner children's-song CD; it has also been covered by various other acts, in different ways--including a rave version, of all things.

The animated movie was recently rereleased on anamorphic Region 2 PAL DVD in Germany, and can be had from for about $32 including shipping. This requires a hacked DVD player, of course.

There is also a new Last Unicorn in the offing (which will, undoubtedly, give rise to quite a few jokes about the "next to the last" unicorn). This one is called The Last Unicorn: The Movie, and will be made as a combination of live action and CGI. Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, and Rene Auberjonois have already signed on to reprise their animated roles, and Peter S. Beagle has written a completely new script (which is available on-line at the movie's official website).

URLs of Interest:

  • Marc Hairston's Last Unicorn page:
  • Marc Hairston's Last Unicorn FAQ:
  • The Last Unicorn: The Movie official site:
Both the original book and the later film were written by Peter S. Beagle, one of the premier writers of high fantasy over the past half-century.

Briefly, The Last Unicorn is the charming tale of the Grail Quest of the last free Unicorn to find and rescue the other unicorns. She is accompanied on her journey by Schmendrick, a sad-but-wise luckless magician, and Molly Grue, former sweetheart of a corrupted Robin Hood imitator. En route, she must cope with various individuals with their own agendae, including a fellow magical creature, a merrily self-exploiting witch, and a grim king in the tradition of the Dolorous Knight or of a doomed Fisher King.

Sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignantly astute about people and life in general, The Last Unicorn also has a wealth of symbolism, a fact intensified by the film version. The unicorn, a traditional lunar figure and associated with the medieval Christian tradition, finds herself set against a preternatural bull, a traditional solar figure associated with the religion of Mithras -- with the religion which had been Christianity's most powerful rival many centuries ago. The harpy Celano, who represents lunar eclipses, is another opponent of the lunar unicorn. And so forth.

The book is a masterpiece of wry whimsy, serious insights into the human condition, and high-spirited parody which verges on silliness. Peter S. Beagle's script for the film makes it one of the two most spiritually genuine films I've ever seen - the other is The Neverending Story.

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