The Last Unicorn Read-along, Week Two

Last UnicornWe’re back for the second half of The Last Unicorn!  You can read my post about the first half, and check out host Lynn’s thoughts for the second half of the book.

Let’s jump straight in, shall we?

Chapter 8 is a pivotal chapter. Not only does the story bound forward, but we learn more of Schmendrick’s origins. How does this knowledge affect your view of the character? What are your thoughts on the means he uses to save the unicorn from the Red Bull?

I waxed on about this a bit responding on Lynn’s blog, so let me just pick up those thoughts…  I really liked finding out more about Schmendrick’s past.  I think that was when I began to connect to him on a deeper level, where I hadn’t been connecting on the surface. The copy I read describes him on the backflap as a “bumbling magician,” and I have to laugh, because I feel like that doesn’t capture it AT ALL. I think on the surface, I was looking for a comical, bumbling magician, and he’s not that. It was when we got into the depths, when it became clear why he isn’t comedic (mostly), and why the “bumbling” is so much more complex…then I was more able to relate to the character.

Lynn also made some very interesting points about Schmendrick’s use of deception, and how he is willing to present a false personality but not a false identity.  It made me think about the idea of a “false personality.”  Is it a kind of lying or illusion to pretend to, for example, mirth when you’re sad, or confidence when you’re scared?  Or to pretend to be an entirely different kind of person than who you feel you really are?  I feel like there’s a point where the answer is yes, but also a long stretch of gray where the answer is…not exactly.  Ish.  Comparatively, lying about a name, a specific identity, is incredibly straight-forward!

And then of course, the question of identity and illusion comes up again in the unicorn’s transformation…but let me get to that point more later on.

Beagle has chosen to tell the story of how Lír became a hero as a dialogue between Lír and Molly. This isn’t the first time in the book that Beagle has drawn our attention to the way stories interact with one another. What do you think of this choice? How does treating Lír’s growth as a story-within-a-story affect your perception of the tale as a whole?

Making this dialogue, instead of present action, gave a huge amount of distance to that part of the story.  In some ways it minimized it.  Maybe that was to keep the focus on the unicorn.  Maybe it was to keep the fairy tale feel, where great deeds are commonplace and vague.  I think this book would feel completely different if there was a stronger focus on Lir’s adventures–and that last word may be the key.  The book would become an adventure story, instead of the layered fable it is.  Maybe.  Or maybe Beagle would have found some way to tell layered, fable-like adventures!

This method of distancing us from Lir’s heroics also gives us a different perspective on his change.  His transformation is hugely dramatic, yet unlike other characters (Amalthea, really), it seems to be presented not as a loss of identity, but as growth.  I have to wonder, though.  He decides to become a hero, a poet, and/or a secret admirer, and it seems to have less to do with who he is, and more to do with what he thinks will impress Amalthea.  Is it genuine growth, then, or is he also experiencing a loss of identity as he tries to mold himself into what he thinks she wants?  And does it make any difference if he becomes someone (arguably) better in the process?

I don’t have an answer to those questions…

In chapter 11, we see Lír giving up his courtship of the lady Amalthea to become a secret admirer. He’s mulling over what name to use when he runs into Amalthea again. She’s suffering from nightmares about her past and, once more, Beagle highlights the theme of story versus reality and the theme of identity. How do you think he’s shown these themes in the latter half of the book?

Oh…I just talked about that, didn’t I?  Well, taking the angle from Amalthea/the unicorn’s point of view again, I was thinking about this part last week relative to Schmendrick’s comment that the unicorn is the only one who’s real.  That’s a curious statement, considering it’s placed just as she was about to undergo a transformation that caused her to nearly lose her identity.  Maybe.  Back on the subject of reality and illusion, was Amalthea an illusion?  Or was she another truth of the unicorn’s identity?  Different, but also real.

I feel like the answer to that one is that Amalthea was truth, because her existence altered the unicorn’s identity, once she was returned to her original shape.  What she felt for Lir didn’t simply disappear, suggesting it too was real.  And look, that brings us to the next question…

What did you make of the ending? Was it everything you wished it would be? (Will you be back for Two Hearts?) How do you feel about Schmendrick’s ending? Did you think the ending was long enough?

There’s a definite bittersweetness to the ending for the unicorn and for Lir, but while I normally like a happy ending, I don’t see how this one could have been satisfying a different way.  And I liked the ending for Schmendrick and Molly, so I got a happier piece there!  I find it so intriguing that the unicorn started out the most certain of her identity, but then ended up more conflicted.  Schmendrick and Molly seem to be much more comfortable and confident in who they are by the end, and I love that they had that journey.  And I never object when two people get to have a happy ending together. 🙂

And… of course, what did you think of the book as a whole? Did you enjoy it?

I did enjoy the book, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed the discussion even more!  The book was interesting, but it was sitting down and thinking through all these different elements of it that I really enjoyed, and that has made me appreciate the book much more deeply.  So, Lynn, thank you for hosting!

And now that I got my book-thoughts written out, I’m ready to go on to the movie…

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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One Response to The Last Unicorn Read-along, Week Two

  1. Is it a kind of lying or illusion to pretend to, for example, mirth when you’re sad, or confidence when you’re scared? Or to pretend to be an entirely different kind of person than who you feel you really are? I feel like there’s a point where the answer is yes, but also a long stretch of gray where the answer is…not exactly.

    Definitely. You know how they say that you’re someone else depending on the circumstances? That idea that you’re not, quite, the same person with your friends that you are with your colleagues. There’s an element of that as well. And that’s without/before we get into the question of whether the persona we’re pretending to be affects us and changes us, which ties back in to what the unicorn experiences too. Flurb. I wish I had all the words to write an essay on what TLU does with identity and illusions and perception because there’s so much that it does.

    For added philosophical fun, we can go meta and consider the implications of someone known to be working under a pen name and pseudonym trying to find words for a discussion on pretending. XD

    And does it make any difference if he becomes someone (arguably) better in the process?

    And if he does become that person we get to ask the question of whether this person was always in him and Amalthea just inspired him to it or whether he became something entirely new. You know, like all those sappy-romantic Hallmark moments of “You make me want to be a better person” and “You bring out the best in me” and such. Two Hearts certainly hints at an answer to that one, so I don’t really want to get stuck on it too much, but lots of food for thought. It’s actually very easy, I think, to underestimate Lír’s own growth because the book makes it such an understated event. Makes a point out of letting us know it’s an understated event, one could argue. None of which answers your questions, but hopefully does augment them.

    Schmendrick and Molly seem to be much more comfortable and confident in who they are by the end, and I love that they had that journey.

    Even Lír is more certain of his identity and his role at the end of the book. He might not (yet) be quite comfortable with it, but he’s well on his way to getting there. Of course, out of all of them, the unicorn is the only one to truly have her sense of self so thoroughly… rattled over the course of the story. Schmendrick comes closest, since Nikos made him immortal, but even then he’s never felt the sense of identity loss that the unicorn did and he’s already had a long time to get used to being immortal. (And isn’t it interesting to note how we’re talking about the unicorn and Amalthea as two different beings?)

    I hope you’ll enjoy the movie! It’s been a lot of fun hosting the read-along, so thank you for participating and making it such an enjoyable experience. ❤

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