The Last Unicorn - Chapters 10 - 12
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Fri Nov 23, 2018 11:36 pm ]
Post subject:  The Last Unicorn - Chapters 10 - 12

The Last Unicorn
Chapters 10 - 12

Please use this thread for discussing the above chapters.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 10 - 12

Chapter 10 - Loose talk

First Lir wants to know from Molly why the feats he has performed for Amalthea do not move her (5 dragons, so far) and why she expected to be able to heal his horse who was scorched by the fiery breath of the dragon. He gives up, going out on yet a more hopeless quest.

Amalthea declares that he does not want gentle words from her, he wants her, like the Red Bull did, but with no more understanding. "But he frightens me even more than the Red Bull, for he has a kind heart." Molly declares that Amalthea will regain her power when she gets back her true form, but it seems she is forgetting why she is there. Molly reminds her, and some of her magical glow returns, but this convinces Amalthea that time is short. "But I do not know the way" to the Red Bull, "and I am lonely." What a concept.

After she leaves, the entirety of Haggard's guard enters - all four men-at-arms. They fawn over Amalthea, offering to do anything for her, even the impossible, but she flees their presence. They complain of Haggard's skinflint ways and Molly asks why they stay in his service. They give variations on the explanation of their age - all are past retirement age. When she asks about Lir, and whether he might be the one who brings doom to Haggard, they dismiss the notion. Even if he had the character, there is the Red Bull. And one volunteers that the Red Bull, who forces Haggard's will on others, is the real reason they don't leave. The youngest and most insightful declares the Bull to be a demon who will take Haggard himself as the price of his service. "Be careful of the lady" advises the eldest after the others have left, because her beauty seems to him to be souring, making things around it look worse instead of better.

After they leave, the cat speaks up. It has its own chatter about Amalthea, and then, when asked the way to the Red Bull, speaks a prophecy. "There's a trick to it, of course," the cat explains. Asked where the other unicorns are, he again speaks in riddles.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 10 - 12

Chapter 11 - Rhyme time

Prince Lir is occupied trying to make poetry, part of his determination to simply pine for Amalthea instead of actively pursuing her with feats of heroism. He may leave a poem by her door from time to time. Schmendrick and Molly attempt to make plans, while Lir sits in the background searching for lines that rhyme, ignoring information that could be dangerous if he passed it to Haggard. Lir at last leaves and runs into Amalthea on the stairs. She is disoriented and he offers to help her riddle the meaning of her "dream" about captivity in the circus of "the old woman." Piling on details, including "my legs are the legs of a beast", she brings him to the point of begging her not to say more. "A witch built this castle, and to speak of nightmares here often makes them come true."

In his dread and disorientation he speaks with the voice of a youth, wishing she would need something from him. "Sing to me," she says, with an awakening consciousness of love. He bursts forth in an old song he learned as a child from one of the soldiers, about wishing to be true to his love but habit being stronger than love. "I don't really believe it," he vows. Haggard arrives, and they run away together down a hallway of the castle.

Time passes, and one day Amalthea is looking out from the castle and Haggard joins her. "I will catch you at last if you love much more." She pretends not to know that he knows who she is and what is her quest. The Red Bull "cannot be stolen. He serves anyone who has no fear." Prince Lir arrives, returning singing from another quest. Haggard looks at the sea and sees the unicorns.

Then comes what is, for me, the most mysterious of many enigmatic passages in the book:
In the dream I looked down at four white legs, and felt the earth under split hoofs. There was a burning on my brow, as there is now. But there were no unicorns coming in on the tide. The king is mad.
Just so, with no quote marks or attribution. It is evidently the reminiscence of the unicorn, of Amalthea, and of the author, all at once. In a book of strange references and wordplay, that stands out as the most thorough dissolving of the "fourth wall" between story and audience. Yet Beagle doesn't try to unpack it for us, and refers to it as something from a dream.

It has been claimed that "we are all Frodo Baggins." Beagle seems to me to be suggesting that we are all unicorns. But that is only some kind of alternate reality, at once more imaginary than the regular one we inhabit, and more real in the sense of unlocking what choices we may have and what beliefs we may hold about ourselves. The world of dreams is the one that opens prison doors and makes the blind to see.

"It must be so, I cannot be mistaken," Haggard mutters to himself. "Yet her eyes are as stupid as his [Lirs's] -- as any eyes that never saw unicorns, never saw anything but themselves in a glass. What cheat is this, how can it be? There are no green leaves in her eyes now."

And so as we approach the end, we begin to sense the presence of the theme of seeming and reality that was with us in Mommy Fortuna's circus, in Cully's forest band, and now in the tension between Amalthea and the unicorn. What seems to be can matter more than what is, and not just because some strong-willed enchanter knows how to pull the strings of our motivated reasoning.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Wed Jan 30, 2019 7:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 10 - 12

Haggard the Haggler has had his big scene. I find him the least convincing character among those who interact. To some extent this is because he is inert by choice - bored with everything, trying new things just to be amused, more endowed with power, one might say, than with capacity or freedom.

One formulation claims that a fantasy is only as interesting as its villain, and Beagle did an interesting thing in splitting the "villain" role between Haggard and the Bull. The blind Bull is the terrorizing force to escape from and perhaps to find a way to defeat. Haggard is more of something to be puzzled out - some aspect of human nature that functions as a villain and a wet blanket, but which contains curious depths and opportunities for neutralizing.

If I could be so bold as to compare the duo to Nuclear Weapons and the spent force of realpolitik, you could begin to feel why such a split makes sense. Haggard is Clausewitz. Haggard is Metternich. At one time these were vital forces in the world, playing a role in the dynamic evolution of human culture. But after Hiroshima they became a dead hand, grasping at power only to find it pointless. The author declares him mad, and maybe he is, but it isn't the conventional megalomania of a mad scientist.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Thu Jan 31, 2019 11:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 10 - 12

Chapter 12 - The Riddle of Destiny

This chapter felt somewhat anti-climactic to me, but I keep reminding myself that the juice is in the way it is written, the reflections and asides and playful word antics. A good part of the chapter involves the unriddling of the cat's clues, figuring out how to get to the Bull. That part is amusing, and reminded me very much of James Thurber's very odd "The Thirteen Clocks," which this whole book resembles in a surprising number of ways.

The skull in particular plays with us and scrambles the movement toward a conclusion, but in a way that is, I like to think, suggestive. This whole business of riddles and prophecies in fantasy (and religion) is interesting. Shakespeare's witches in "Macbeth" are probably the quintessential case. He suggests that literalism regarding prophecy is a trap for those who seek supernatural assistance to their own selfish ends, a view of witchcraft which has been largely lost in today's modern world. The words seem to mean one thing, but actually refer to something with almost the opposite meaning. And what is the big theme in "The Last Unicorn"? Seeming vs. reality, of course.

The skull seems to tantalize them with knowledge of the way in to the Red Bull's lair. "The only small amusement I have is to irk and exasperate the living." But Schmendrick, arguing that the riddle has been fulfilled already, moves on to the next step and some amusement ensues over changing water into wine. (That's not just a reference to Jesus, by the way, but in John's gospel it is the first miracle and the second most important image after resurrection itself.) When the skull has given away the secret, they start to follow instructions but it doesn't work.

The skull tries to tell them that the missing piece is that they must not be misled into thinking time is real. That is not just wordplay, obviously. There are deep connections to mysticism and the literature of consciousness, and clocks have long been a symbol of the futility and self-sabotage that comes with trying to tame nature. In Christianity there is a linguistic separation between ordinary passage of time, chronos, and the "right time" for something, kairos, often referred to as "God's time."

Trying to treat time as arbitrary does not go well, but when they hear the sound of guards approaching, suddenly the skull's advice seems to work. Yet, when they fail to follow its "crazy" instructions, it betrays them by sounding the alarm as they tumble hastily through the broken clock. The scene is a chaotic reference to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" but in the end our party of four finds itself on the other side, with the King shouting "Smash the clock" in the distance. Schmendrick has been wounded, another variation on standard fantasy stuff.

The whole game of prophecy, featuring Jungian forces of synchronicity, is far from understood, and it would not be going too far to claim that its very incomprehensibility is at the heart of its working. The prophecies that were supposedly "fulfilled" by Jesus were not predictions about the future, but poetic images, much like "They shall beat their swords into plowshares." The Gospel of Matthew plays one side of the game, repeatedly claiming that events happen "in order to fulfill the prophecy..." and then cites some obscure reference in the Hebrew Bible that obviously has nothing to do with predicting the future. Luke is on the other side of the curtain, claiming that only after the Resurrection did the disciples begin to understand that Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection were pointing to the true nature of a Messiah, as depicted in many prophetic writings.

The point is that prophecy is not supposed to tell you in advance how events will unfold, like Twain's "Connecticut Yankee" working out the arrival of an eclipse before it happens so he can deceive the rubes. Rather it is supposed to enable you to recognize a configuration of particular significance when that configuration actually "comes to pass". If you had known in advance, like Macbeth thought he knew, you would not be waiting expectantly for the arrival of some transcendent new pattern, but instead would be trying to make use of it like some, well, clumsy stage magician.

I'm sort of thinking that Beagle had some of this worked out, if not in fact all of it. His riddle, or prophecy, from the enigmatic mouth of a cat that could be in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland", is only the key to getting on with destiny in the sense that the intrepid adventurers face the literal part with determination but stumble into the mysterious part they could not fathom.

Supposing we were determined to pursue "beating our swords into plowshares". What steps would we follow? What breadcrumbs are laid for us to find our way into the mysteries at the heart of the human soul, and perhaps to find there some secret key that would unlock the fulfillment?

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