Like most of the best books, The Last Unicorn is worth reading more than once and is different to me each time I read it—not because the words have changed, but because I have changed, and there’s enough substance to the book for it to appeal to me each time.
On the surface, it’s not a complicated tale. A unicorn, with two companions, completes a Joseph Campbell-esque heroic journey in fairly straightforward fashion. The beauty, depth, and magic of the tale live in its details.
I’m fumbling for a way to describe those details adequately in what is supposed to be a short review. While the book is centered around the unicorn’s journey, each of the main characters (and several of the secondary characters) have journeys of their own that they complete over the course of the book. The language of the book is lyrical, yet very concise, with some remarkably wise gems hidden where you don’t expect them.
Capturing emotions in writing is difficult, like trying to showcase all the details of a butterfly without harming it. The Last Unicorn captures each emotion of each scene (from the very simple to the very complex) with the same concise beauty that characterizes the text.
One could argue some scenes are superfluous. Some of the scenes with Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival meandered more than they needed to. We could all have lived without the scene with the overly affectionate tree, and the scenes in Hagsgate could have been condensed without harming the story at all. But even those scenes captured beautifully the emotions suited to them.
As a child, I wasn’t sure what to think of the ending. It certainly isn’t a happy-ever-after ending. As an adult, the ending might be my favorite part. While it’s not happy-ever-after, it is beautifully balanced. The unicorn achieves all the goals with which she set out, but the story doesn’t shy away from the price of achieving those goals. The ending is a bit happy, a bit sad, and thoroughly satisfying.
The Last Unicorn remains a favorite, and I recommend it highly. You should see the film, too.
Release Date: 1968 (USA)
ISBN: 0760783748 (9780760783740)
Publisher: Viking Press
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (occasional social drinking)
Language: 1 (rare mild swears and use of deity)
Sexuality: 1 (very mild innuendo)
Violence: 2 (combat, death)