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The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

#163: Nov. - Jan. 2019 (Fiction)
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Robert Tulip

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Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

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Chapter Two: The unicorn has been caged by the witch, surrounded by iron bars that it cannot touch for fear of losing its magical vitality. The symbolism here reflects ancient legends of the unicorn as a symbol of wild nature captured by civilization. So too the British Royal coat of arms, the symbol of power of the British state, showing the unicorn in chains, with the royal motto honi soit qui mal y pense (loosely translated Fuck Off).

The caging of the unicorn typifies the alienation of humanity from nature, that a creature of such beauty and wisdom can be reduced to an object of amusement for wandering gawks, a proof of the superiority of culture over nature. Beagle emphasises this sorry theme by enabling the witch to cast spells that deceive onlookers into thinking a mangy dog is Cerberus, a crocodile is a dragon and a lion is a manticore. This is a crazed freak show, with the unicorn alongside a highly resentful harpy as the only real exhibit, but ironically most people see the unicorn as a horse. The implicit Buddhistic message is that the great power of delusion is the primary source of suffering in the world, intensified by the evil magic that enables people to become deluded en masse about things that should be obvious.

A glimmer of hope is that the magician Schmendrick may be able to free the unicorn. The iron bars of the cage seem to shimmer and dissolve, but their power of control is maintained solely by the force of will of the witch.

Oh, and then there is Ragnarok. In this Midnight Carnival, the end of the world fast approaches, hardly surprising when a unicorn can be treated so badly. “On that day, when the gods fall, the Serpent of the Midgard will spit a storm of venom at great Thor himself, till he tumbles over like a poisoned fly.”
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Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

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I seem to have lost a post. Oof.

So, about Ragnarok. Before your comment, Robert, I took that bit of illusionary mythology as just another bit of folderol, similar to the spider who just keeps weaving through it all. But I see that Beagle is urging us to consider the end of enchantment, with all this talk of last unicorns, so the Ragnarok reference probably matters. It certainly fit the time it was written, with the whole system of colonialism and domination of small countries being challenged by Vietnam, and all the mythology that went into racism being ripped away. And sex was suddenly out in the open in a way it hadn't been before. Disenchantment everywhere.

One might say it speaks to the current time, with all the reforms put in place after Watergate, to put a check on runaway power, now falling by the wayside. The determined counter-attack of plutocracy has succeeded bigly, and ordinary people once again seem to be chaff blown by the wind. But Beagle's book addresses a loss of spiritual innocence, not just a Haggard-ly seizure of power. Not many on opioids today would see a spiritual problem in the current crunch.
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Robert Tulip

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Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

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Chapter Three is disturbing, with the magician freeing the unicorn and the unicorn then freeing the rest of the animals in the sad midnight zoo. Then the terrible harpy wreaks exultant fateful havoc, hair swinging like a sword, withering the moon, killing the witch and her partner and wrecking the zoo.

This story reminds me of the Narnia tales of CS Lewis, with the deep magic corralled by the forces of evil, but the certainty that the power of good will prevail. The unicorn shivers with dark endless eyes at how the evil spell could have happened, in a world where magic trust is broken.

The first magical breaking of the cage seems so easy, giving the appearance of freedom, but is just an illusion and must be followed up with reality, showing the constant interweaving of dream and truth and seeming. The invisible bars are like the eight of swords in the tarot deck, psychologically binding by imaginary barriers. Schmendrick the magician is like Bullwinkle needing a new hat, as his various efforts to free the unicorn fail, even including words that sound like bells under the sea.

But of course at the end the key to freedom is found.
Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Jan 25, 2019 2:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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geo

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Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

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The unicorn's experience with Mommy Fortuna and the dark carnival does not show humans in a very positive light. And, yet, the human Schmendrick shows his mettle by helping the unicorn to escape. He seems to see that imprisoning the unicorn is wrong and risks much in helping her.

The unicorn clearly represents good in the story. And the harpy represents pure evil. And, yet, after releasing all the other captive animals, the unicorn also releases the harpy (despite Schmendrick's pleas). Perhaps it takes evil to destroy evil because at the end of the chapter Mommy Fortuna is dead and the carnival is no more.

As Robert says, the unicorn seems very similar to Aslan the Lion in C.S. Lewis' work, though I'm not sure if Beagle meant the unicorn to be seen as a messianic figure. It's interesting to note that the unicorn sees the harpy as something of a kindred spirit because both are immortal creatures.

And, yet, at the end of the chapter, it's Schmendrick who is a "friend" and now--reluctantly--her traveling companion.
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Robert Tulip

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Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

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geo wrote:the harpy represents pure evil.
No, harpies are agents of fate, delivering evildoers to the Erinyes or Furies, who are female chthonic deities of vengeance, and so together these delightful ladies bring calamity upon those who deserve it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpy

I thought Momma was tempting fate by trying to keep Celaeno in a cage, and so it turned out.

Another good harpy reference is https://search.credoreference.com/conte ... _mythology
Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Jan 25, 2019 10:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 1 - 3

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I just created a thread asking for suggestions on how we can have a great fiction discussion. Your ideas are valuable so please join that thread.
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