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The Last Unicorn - Chapters 13 - 14 
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 The Last Unicorn - Chapters 13 - 14
The Last Unicorn
Chapters 13 - 14


Please use this thread for discussing the above chapters.



Fri Nov 23, 2018 11:35 pm
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Post Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 13 - 14
Chapter XIII - The reign is ended, long live the reign

So all is well, though marks are left on everyone. The hero conquers by being bravely defeated, and the strange new creature with powers of the magical unicorn but passions of the mortal woman turns the Bull.

It would be difficult to unpack all the references in this chapter, from the mysterious elvish riders who come on the flood to wash away the Nazgul in "Fellowship of the Ring" to Jesus defeating death by dying. Incarnation is certainly a major theme, with Amalthea the incarnated force of nature's bounty and beauty.

The confrontation is as gripping as the genre calls for - as all literature calls for - but Beagle stays true to his vision in giving the victory to mysterious symbolic forces rather than straightforward symbols like sword and armor or magical blasts.

I love that Schmendrick, who symbolizes literature itself, comes into his own by surrendering to his incapacities and his vulnerabilities. He cannot undo the incarnation, but he can restore the magical power of the unicorn. If that isn't a claim that imagination resurrected Jesus, I will eat my hat.



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geo
Sun Feb 03, 2019 3:32 am
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Post Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 13 - 14
If I think of the Red Bull as something like human determination, not ambition exactly, which we think of in social terms, but just Will in a sort of Nietzschean sense, then both Haggard, who is tied to the Bull and has no other arrow in his quiver, and Amalthea the incarnated force of Nature, begin to make more sense to me as characters.

The final chapter has an unmistakable "Let's get back to Nature" flavor to it, reminiscent (partly intentionally, it seems) of "The Scouring of the Shire" in the last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nature blooms and the unicorn returns to be present with it, but having once been human, she can never be as fully at home in nature. I think this is a kind of call for all of us to make our peace with the limits nature sets on us, and quit wielding the Red Bull compulsively as if it actually brings happiness to bend all of the world to our blighted will.

There is a variation on this in progressive Christianity these days. The "kenosis," or self-emptying path, brought to prominence by the writing of Henri Nouwen, has merged to some extent with the environmental movement to create a spirituality of friendly regard, or even intimacy, with nature. Instead of a blind commercial compulsion to take as cheaply as possible and ignore the larger effects, it calls us to a more enduring relationship with nature, which in most formulations is integrated with an enduring relationship with community and other people.

There is some question in my mind whether such a relationship is compatible with market capitalism. Maybe time to re-read Wendell Berry.



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Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:29 am
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Post Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 13 - 14
It's interesting that the unicorn is immortal, though temporarily in mortal form, while Schmendrick is immortal, trying to achieve mortal form. I like the dynamic there.

The book just didn't resonate as a Christian allegory to me. When the unicorn is in human form, she starts to lose her sense of identity. Maybe that's probably part of her ordeal, but that also reminds me of Campbell's monomyth structure. The hero who goes on an adventure, and undergoes much pain and suffering, wins a victory and is transformed, and bestows his/her gift on mankind. The unicorn's fate is much wrapped up in the lives of her human companions. The unicorn would not have succeeded in rescuing the other unicorns and making everything right in Haggard's kingdom without the help of Schmenderick, Molly Grue, and Prince Lir. There seems an almost predestination at work in the story. Schmenderick's magic is a force that comes to him almost unbidden. Is that supposed to represent faith? It seems more of an exploration about what it means to be human, much like Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I did much enjoy the novel, especially the humor and anachronisms. I loved how Prince Lir tries to impress the Lady Amalthea with monster's heads and tales of derring-do. In the scene where the talking skull tries to alert the men of the castle, he makes up a litany of crimes, including "plagiarist." Lots of funny touches.

I see on Amazon that The Last Unicorn is compared to Ursula le Guin's Earthsea series. Those books are fantastic by the way.

Wendell Berry is not for the faint of heart. His essay on Faustian Economics is fairly devastating. He is our modern day prophet, I think.


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Tue Feb 05, 2019 9:04 pm
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Post Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 13 - 14
geo wrote:
It's interesting that the unicorn is immortal, though temporarily in mortal form, while Schmendrick is immortal, trying to achieve mortal form. I like the dynamic there.
Interesting point. I tend to think "immortal" is imagery for "independent of the forces of time and history", so that Euclid is more immortal than Plato, if that makes any sense. I take Robert's point that the unicorn evokes (and maybe represents) innocent Nature, ever green and benevolent. So for such a force to become mortal, or perhaps to be channeled by a mortal, (to use a more manageable version) is a dramatic take on interaction with humanity, driven as we are to ravage nature for money.

Shmendrick's immortality is little more than a joke. He is independent of the forces of time in the way that a fool is always the same Fool as all the others. But since I am convinced he is meant to evoke the possibilities of imaginative art, and especially literature, it is saying something interesting that Nikos "condemned" him not to age until he somehow surrendered to his hidden, latent gift. Perhaps suggesting that a writer cannot jump into the stream of time until she or he has learned to accept the limitations of the art, limitations which drive the artist to find meaning in the specific, thus transcending the preoccupations of the current world. Writing which is "merely topical" is like packaged breakfast cereal - a poor substitute for the real thing.

geo wrote:
The book just didn't resonate as a Christian allegory to me.
I agree, actually. I know I have been finding resurrections and incarnations everywhere, but I think those are in both Christianity and much good fantasy (Gandalf is re-born,for example) because they are archetypes almost inescapable in the deep places of the human psyche. This is clearly a book about the tension between money/power on one hand and innocence/nature on the other. And I think Beagle does an excellent job with it.

geo wrote:
When the unicorn is in human form, she starts to lose her sense of identity.
Well, I think that is a key image in Beagle's exploration of his themes. As human Amalthea, she cares. But she risks losing touch with her true nature and her primal power. Beagle, it seems, does not think of romance as the true nature of womanhood, and certainly not as the true nature of Nature.

geo wrote:
I did much enjoy the novel, especially the humor and anachronisms. I loved how Prince Lir tries to impress the Lady Amalthea with monster's heads and tales of derring-do. In the scene where the talking skull tries to alert the men of the castle, he makes up a litany of crimes, including "plagiarist." Lots of funny touches.
Yes, the one aspect of the book that I think rises to the level of genius is his success at weaving the drollery into his grand themes of appearance vs. reality and of emotions as every bit as real as the "immortal" business of logic and reason. My favorite example of his humor is the money that cries out to the one it loves, but the skull (and its surrender to the marvelous taste of "wine") is a close second.



Sat Feb 09, 2019 2:16 pm
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