Letters of Life

And Now, For Something Entirely Different

In this excerpt from Peter S Beagle’s celebrated fantasy, The Last Unicorn (1968), there is a conversation in a dream which Schmendrick the Magician has with the unicorn. It is his last.

“Whether I decide to be what men would call a wise and good magician — aiding heroes, thwarting witches, wicked lords, and unreasonable parents; making rain, curing woolsorter’s disease, getting cats down from trees —or whether I choose the retorts full of elixirs and essences, the powders and herbs and banes, the padlocked books of gramarye bound in skins better left unnamed, the muddy mist darkening in the chamber and the sweet voice lisping therein—why, life is short, and how many can I help or harm? I have my power at last, but the world is still too heavy for me to move . . . ” And he laughed again . . . , a little sadly.

[The unicorn asks Schmendrick the magician which magic he would choose, the good kind or the bad.

And Schmendrick says,] “Oh, it will be the kind magic, undoubtedly, because you would like it more. I do not think that I will ever see you again, but I will try to do what would please you if you knew. And you —where will you be for the rest of my life?”

She turned a little away from him, and the sudden starlight of her shoulders made all his talk of magic taste like sand in his throat. Moths and midges and other night insects too small to be anything in particular came and danced slowly around her bright horn, and this did not make her appear foolish, but them most wise and lovely as they celebrated her.

The conversation is a long one, overflowing with longing, regret, peace, love and friendship. This is one unbelievable book that I’ve been immersed in the past few days, and Mr Beagle’s depth of imagination and powers of story-telling are spellbinding.

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