The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Fri Nov 23, 2018 11:37 pm ]
Post subject:  The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

The Last Unicorn
Chapters 7 - 9

Please use this thread for discussing the above chapters.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Thu Jan 24, 2019 9:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

Chapter 7. You whom Haggard holds in thrall

They come to Hagsgate and find it a smooth and glowing place, but suspicious of them. Drinn, the leader who greets them uncivilly but then welcomes them to a feast, explains the curse the town is under. They will prosper so long as Haggard does, but when his reign ends, so will their prosperity. And none but one of Hagsgate town can bring the castle down. As a result they avoid all attachments because the days of their success are numbered, and they take no joy from all their prosperity, because joy is just one more thing to lose. "Misery, misery, we" declare the richly but drably dressed townspeople.

Drinn explains that they have no children, since one from Hagsgate may end their prosperity. They allow no strangers to settle, and spread the tales of Hagsgate being a blighted and miserable place, in order to keep such visitors away. But there was an exception: twenty-one years before, he had found a child at night on a butcher's block in the town, and left it to starve because a group of cats hanging around were clearly marking it as a mythic birth. He wishes he had been more direct - he returned in the morning to find it gone. The next day Haggard's messenger rode in to declare the birth of the King's son - Lir.

Drinn offers Schmendrick gold to poison Lir. Schmendrick agrees, slowly winking at the aghast Molly Grue. But on their way to the castle, they are followed by three men who want to harm them. "They mustn't escape and betray us" they say. Having been warned by the unicorn, Schmendrick and Molly are hiding in the brush, but one of the men calls out to the gold that Schmendrick accepted. He repeats a rhyming spell and the gold calls out "Drinndrinndrinndrinn" giving them away. The unicorn emerges from hiding and frightens the assassins, but it turns out its flashing hooves were all about a more serious threat emerging on the horizon, a bellowing red brightness before whom Drinn's men flee.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sat Jan 26, 2019 4:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

Chapter 8 - The Red Bull makes its move

"He was the color of blood, not the springing blood of the heart but the blood that stirs under an old wound that never really healed." Ever on the edge of excess, Beagle still has a way with words. The unicorn had never been afraid of anything, but she turns and runs from this. It chases her over the landscape and gains on her despite her otherworldly speed. The two people recover from the shock of its passage and try to watch, but they are dumbfounded by its power and ferocity.

Suddenly the Bull is in front of her instead of behind. She does not run, and as the Bull searches for her with its sense of smell, she realizes it is blind. But as it comes toward her in its vastness ("she could not imagine all of him") she loses her nerve and runs again. As she tries vainly to twist away from its pursuit they realize it is herding her toward Haggard.

"Please do something" Molly begs Schmendrick. He pleads that he is a phony magician and she insists he has done real magic. He has to confess that the magic is not in his control but simply uses him. "If I were a great magician like Nikos, who taught me, I would change her into some other creature, too humble for the Bull to be concerned with." Schmendrick tries to take a stand, blocking the Bull and telling the unicorn to run, but it is in the power of the stronger beast. He closes his eyes and lets his hopelessness march through him, the magic awakens, and the unicorn is transformed into a girl. "You are an idiot" Molly tells him.

But the Bull has left off, and the girl tries to come to grips with not being a unicorn. "Her trapped terror was more lovely than any joy that Molly had ever seen, and that was the most terrible thing about it." The white girl says, "Why didn't you let it kill me? That would have been kinder than closing me in this cage." She can hardly stand to be in a body that is dying, and that thinks itself beautiful when in fact it is ugly.

Schmendrick promises that when it is possible, the magic will restore her. She is still miserable, and he tells the story of Nikos trying mightily to make him a magician, but eventually giving up. "My son, your ineptitude is so vast, your incompetence so profound, that I am certain you are inhabited by greater power than I have ever known." Nikos cast a spell not allowing Schmendrick to age until he comes to himself and knows what he is.

The unicorn wishes to go back to her forest, but the magician says he can't restore her shape. "You are in a fairy tale," he insists, so she must go and find a princess. He is also bound in the quest fated for them. At last the humans sleep, and the white girl watches over them in frustration. Very faintly, the smell of the sea came to her for the first time.

This reminds me heavily of Ursula LeGuin's "Wizard of Earthsea." It may have been meant to be some sort of twisted version of it at first, although probably not since they were published in the same year - 1968. The pursuit of the Red Bull brings to mind Ged's flight from his shadow self. Schmendrick's latent, ungovernable power is a variation on a familiar theme as well, (LeGuin uses it in "Tehanu," the feminist sequel to the Earthsea Trilogy, written long after the Last Unicorn) and Beagle gets considerable comic effect from its unpredictability.

But if the Bull is some sort of Jungian shadow, it is a terrifying version of it, more akin to Darth Vader and the Dark Side of the Force than to Ged's silent, menacing but curiously inert shadow. It is clearly a different sort of threat from the iron bars that caged her before. What is evoked is something relentless and vast, perhaps death, perhaps the fear of it, perhaps something more like blood lust, which can also be blind. It's curious to observe the pursuit through the eyes of the unicorn's companions, like those watching the relentlessness of the American brutality in Vietnam or Israel's in Gaza, screaming "do something!" when nothing can be done. The murder of innocence is fated, decreed since the beginning of time, and there is no magic to turn it back.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sun Jan 27, 2019 1:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

Who are these people? The question hangs over the story, as no doubt it is meant to. Who is Lir, originally? Why is Schmendrick on this quest, and why is Molly tagging along? Everyone seems to have a mysterious past, including Haggard himself.

So perhaps a person should consider, especially in the presence of preternatural beauty and innocence, or in the presence of jaded power and aimless ruthlessness, what one's origins mean. Does it matter who our people were? Does it matter what our parents cared about? Does it matter which of our limitations we have been taught to believe in and submit to, as if we were under someone's spell?

Destiny is a tricky notion. I have been reading a bit of the latest biography of Churchill, and it is uncanny how much he was driven by his sense of his own destiny, deeper than any observation of either himself or his setting can account for. He was a descendant of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, whose "Blenheim Palace" near Oxford is the only non-royal, non-episcopal "palace" in Britain. Blenheim was the battle that confirmed the British policy of balance of power in the War of Spanish Succession, a mostly-forgotten war which checked the ambitions of Louis XIV of France. Churchill's father was an ambitious and slightly unruly MP who flirted with high office and left Winston with a passion for power politics and the effects of rhetoric. But Winston also pursued fame with a single-minded determination matched only by his willingness to take risks for both his own position and the policies he believed in. Trying to sort out the tricky interaction between personality and background which gave Churchill his sense of destiny seems impossible.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, in "Team of Rivals", made a decent case that Lincoln was endowed with a similar sense of destiny. He wanted to make a mark equal to the achievements of the founding fathers, and when saving the Union beckoned as such an achievement, he was ready to devote himself to it, to give everything he had. It seems the willingness to give oneself to a cause, combined with the discernment to know which causes are really worth giving oneself to, amounts to destiny.

We are gradually seeing the destinies of these characters uncovered, revealed in relation to the unicorn, which Schmendrick has assured us is alone "real" of the characters in the story. Somehow those destinies are tied up with the mysterious back stories of the characters, and it seems we are meant to puzzle about these in relation to the singularity and magical power of the unicorn. The unicorn, too, is meant to uncover the story of its people, to learn what it means, even, to be a unicorn by discovering why Haggard is pursuing them.

And of course the question of "Who are these characters?" comes round full circle to who they are to us. Are they meant to symbolize something archetypal? What does Haggard represent, in his bored, cramped rejection of all joy but determination nonetheless to raise some child as the prince and to look for something, perhaps something undefinable, from the future? Western decadence? Pursuit of power for its own sake? The desiccated obsession with cost and benefit that sucks the joy out of everything? I have the feeling that answering who Haggard symbolizes may tell me who all the others are.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Mon Jan 28, 2019 6:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

Chapter 9 - the lady Amalthea

I am going to resist the temptation to re-tell the story. If anyone has been cheating by tagging along with my summaries, they have to get serious and read the book now. My main reason for doing this is that the asides really are the "content" of the book. The story is okay, but what makes the book special is the other business, with people trying to make sense of things. It isn't mainly irony or smart-aleck witticism.

Quick summary, the group arrives at the Palace with the unicorn transformed into the white lady, Amalthea. Prince Lir is infatuated with her. Schmendrick applies for the job of wizard, and Haggard fires his former wizard, Mabruk, for obscure reasons despite Mabruk's assurance that he would regret it. Mabruk tries a punitive spell but Amalthea breaks it without even trying.

"Who is she?" demands Haggard. "Why do I see green leaves when I look in her eyes?" No one answers. "Whether they are my doom or not, I will look at them for a while. A pleasant air of disaster accompanies them. Perhaps that is what I want." Prince Lir welcomes them and offers to find creature comforts.

Haggard is looking more and more like he has bored himself to death. His death wish is too vague for him to come to grips with. But seeing Lir fall for Amalthea seems to bring him to resignation. Sex may be death, but only vaguely and the powers that be can't deal with such vague notions.

The green leaves in her eyes suggests that the unicorn may be the eternal regenerative powers of Nature, a sort of Gaia-figure. This of course sets up its own set of possible interpretations about the others, including the Red Bull.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Mon Jan 28, 2019 8:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

The unicorn is the free grace of wild nature. The bull is the efforts of humans to control the world. The transformation of the unicorn into a girl under the pressure of human control presents the redeeming pressure of nature in culture. The world of nature outside human power is entirely magical in this vision of the unicorn as a channel of the universe in the world, with green leaves in her eyes. Like marble from limestone, the geomorphic forces working upon the unicorn turn her into something new.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Mon Jan 28, 2019 10:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

Chapter Seven is a satire of the mean rich heartless barren world of modern America, living under the curse of its own lack of generosity. Like the Midnight Carnival, the town of Hagsgate has sick values. It reminds me of the science fiction story Shikasta by the Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing, where aliens from Canopus who possess ancient universal wisdom must watch in despair as humanity hurtles toward doom.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue Jan 29, 2019 4:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 7 - 9

Robert Tulip wrote:
Chapter Seven is a satire of the mean rich heartless barren world of modern America, living under the curse of its own lack of generosity. Like the Midnight Carnival, the town of Hagsgate has sick values.

This is well put, I think. Beagle's playful and whimsical style takes on quite an edge when he sets up a scene of people in the grip of some foolish excess we can see in our own society. The absurdity here, where Hagsgate will not have children for fear of losing their money, is paradoxically integral to the ancient view of children as a resource to be held in tight control (like women, the source of children). This power-based patriarchy could not have real children, who have their own thoughts and make their own choices, for fear of losing them as a resource.

The folks songs of the time were replete with the ironies that Beagle mines. "If God is on our side, he'll stop the next war," "You treated my woman to a flake of your life, and when she came home she was nobody's wife," "and he knows he shouldn't kill, and he knows he always will...and he thinks he'll put an end to war this way," "Teach your parents well".

If it sometimes seems I miss the spirit of the Sixties, that's because I do.

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