I read The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle in a fit of childhood nostalgia. The 1982 animated movie is a one of several dimly remembered childhood movies that include the likes of The Rats of NIMH and The Dark Crystal. I have vague memories of the gawky, inept magician Schmendrick and the creepy carnival and the unicorns emerging from the ocean; the last, especially, is an image burned into my memory along with the rats raising Mrs. Frisby’s home in The Rats of NIMH and the creepy bird things from The Dark Crystal.
The book, though, just couldn’t stand up to the force of my nostalgic expectations. Perhaps because as an adult, I could see the underlying themes of the simple fairytale I remember from my childhood. The theme of lost innocence and purity and the pain of never being able to regain it: poor Molly Grue demanding to know why the unicorn waited so long to appear to her, when she was so much older and world weary, and the unicorn forgetting who she was when she fell in love, and then never being able to return to her fairy tale after her time as a human.
Story-wise, I would give it only 3 stars because of the lull in the middle when the unicorn becomes the human Amalthea and I had to force myself through those pages. It officially gets 4 for the gorgeous prose and unique imagery. I put it down with a feeling of sorrow, for lack of a better word, and though I’m glad I read it, I sort of wish I hadn’t ruined the nostalgic haze. Sometimes things are better in hindsight.