The Last Unicorn Tour: Peter S. Beagle

Posted: October 7, 2014 in Uncategorized
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“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.” –Peter S. Beagle

On September 20 I had the good fortune to see The Last Unicorn as it was meant to be viewed: on the big screen. To add to the already considerable amount of awesome, in attendance was the book’s author (Mr. Peter S. Beagle), and it was the most amazing experience I could have imagined.

If you are even a casual fan of The Last Unicorn I urge you to check out the tour dates and find a showing near you. The basic idea is that for the next several years Peter S. Beagle is going on the road with the animation of his classic unicorn tale. With the price of your ticket you get to be there for a Q&A session with Beagle, a signing afterwards, and something that I had not expected which is a raffle ticket to win cool prizes like a T-Shirt that says, “Darn you Peter S. Beagle, it’s all your fault!” (A reference to the fact that before his book all unicorns were male. After his book all unicorns were female. The more you know. Our showing was the first one in which the recipient was a guy.)

While I do not own a copy of The Last Unicorn, my sister does, a copy I purchased for her birthday around 15 years ago. Back when my sister and I were both much younger we frequented our grade school’s library. The fantasy section was small, but it did have an intriguing worn paperback with a unicorn on the cover, one that my sister must have borrowed a hundred times in an effort to actually find out what happens in the end. My sister wasn’t a fast reader, but she was dutiful in her attempt to get through the story, starting from the beginning each time she borrowed it. Not once did she get to the end, but she kept trying without success. When her birthday came around I knew I had to buy her a copy so she could finally make it to the end.

Fifteen years down the road the love she has for the book is evident on the slightly worn binding and yellowed pages, the pen mark slashing across part of the cover from an errant pen insider her backpack. Being able to share with Beagle how much my sister enjoyed the story was the best part of the experience. I have to admit, I wish my sister’s schedule had allowed her to join me, but to be able to take that well-loved copy  to have Beagle pen his name on the inside cover meant more to me than I can put into words.

On a less sentimental note, the Q&A session was tremendously enjoyable, from the range of questions to the stories they got as a response.

The most obvious question to ask was, “How did you come up with the idea for the story”. The simple answer is that at the age of 23 he and an artist friend rented a cabin and declared that they would be “professionals” that summer. Every day Beagle’s artist friend would head out to work on an elaborate oil painting of a landscape. Beagle wasn’t too inspired but if his friend was out working he had to be, too. So he penned what would become the first line of the book and made things up from there.

The story he penned was quite different from the one we’re familiar with. In fact, I would classify it as something far closer to a comedic urban fantasy. The unicorn has adventures in Central Park and talks with a dragon who ate the police man who wrote him a ticket for double parking. Eventually, he lost sight of the story and put it away to write newspaper articles and the like instead. Away it sat until his wife told him she wanted to find out how it ended, and the story changed into the story we know.

The punchline is years later he talked with his artist friend who said that he hated going out every day to paint that landscape but he felt he had to because Beagle was churning out the pages. Clearly, it’s a great idea to get someone to make you feel accountable.

How was the experience of seeing the movie on the big screen? Like a dream. I’ve only ever seen it on my television set, so to see it so large was beautiful. The music brought tears to my eyes. I never realized how wonderful the movie is, how complex the story, until this past weekend. It brings to mind the fact that I should revisit the book of my childhood, and see it with new eyes. Then, for good measure, I should look into the novella that serves as a coda to the book, because I had no idea it existed until now, but I want to know what happens.



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