If you have, then you’ll understand what a pleasure it was to visit with him and watch a screening of The Last Unicorn a couple of nights ago. That’s him in front of the screen taking questions from the audience. The Last Unicorn is the novel that made his reputation, but he’s written other works, especially short fiction in the last 20 years, that are all fantastic.
The Last Unicorn was published by Ballantine Books in 1968. It wasn’t part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, but it’s generally considered a precursor of the series, and later editions have the unicorn head colophon.
The story concerns a young female unicorn, the first female unicorn in literature it turns out, who begins to wonder where the other unicorns are. She learns that they were chased by the Red Bull to the end of the Earth and sets out to find them. Along the way she picks up a couple of companions, Schmendrick the Magician and Molly Grue, a camp follower from a group of outlaws who take after Robin Hood (for all that they deny Robin’s existence). It’s a wonderful story with some truly moving moments as well as some fun humor. It’s also got some dark and tragic underpinnings. I have no trouble understanding why it’s a classic.
In 1982 an animated film was released based on the book. Unlike most adaptations of books into film, this one was true to the book. The reason for this is that Beagle wrote the screenplay.
I first saw the movie in its theatrical release. I saw it for the second time two nights ago. My son is a couple of years younger than I was when I saw it, so I took him. He enjoyed the movie very much.
Peter S. Beagle, with the help of a few friends, has been making tours of the country, showing the film in small, independent theaters and art houses. I’m on his emailing list, and when I saw he was coming to town, I made it a point to be there.
My son had an after-school activity, so I picked him up and took him to the theater, which was the Alamo Draft House. It was convenient, because we were able to have dinner there. We were also the first people in line.
And by line, I mean the receiving line. There was a roped-off area where a number of items were available for purchase, including artwork, apparel, jewelry, and books. At the end of the line was Peter S. Beagle, signing items and chatting with his fans. I’d brought copies of The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place (both Ballantine editions, unfortunately not firsts), The Best of Peter S. Beagle, and Sleight of Hand. All his other works I’ve already got signed copies of.
Because I was first, I got to chat with him for a few minutes, discussing books, some friends we have in common, and just whatever he felt like talking about. (Topics included Avram Davidson, a writer who deserves to be better remembered.) This was the third time I’d met him, the most recent having been at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention.
Beagle was very friendly, and he made a point of talking to my son and including him in the conversation. I really appreciated that, and Mr. Beagle, if you read this, thank you very much for the kindness you showed him.
We moved on when the line really began forming, found our seats, and ordered dinner. (The Alamo Draft House is reserved seating.) Before the movie Beagle held a brief Q&A with the audience, there were some drawings for prizes, and then the show started. The thing that stuck with me the most was a line he quoted his uncle, an artist, has having frequently said, “If the Muse is late, start without her.” Good advice for an artist.
For two hours I was a teenager again. Not having seen the movie, nor reread the book, in years, there was much I had forgotten. I got to experience the story all over again. It was great.
When the movie was over, I would have liked to have spoken with Peter S. Beagle again. However the line was snaking through the lobby. It was late, and a certain young man needed to get to bed, so we left. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.