The Last Unicorn - Chapters 4 - 6
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Fri Nov 23, 2018 11:40 pm ]
Post subject:  The Last Unicorn - Chapters 4 - 6

The Last Unicorn
Chapters 4 - 6

Please use this thread for discussing the above chapters.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sun Jan 20, 2019 3:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 4 - 6

Chapter 4, might be entitled "The World of Men"

The magician and the unicorn set out to find Haggard, because that is where the unicorn must go to seek her kind, and Schmendrick asks her to take him with her as reward for his help freeing her. Tales of Haggard and the Red Bull are daunting, but the reader has just dealt with the Midnight Carnival where seeming is as important as reality, so it is hard not to mistrust this dread.

In one of the asides that we are learning to consider the burden bearers of this story, a jay remarks to his mate that he saw a unicorn. "You didn't see any supper, I see. I hate a man who talks with his mouth empty," she says. Pragmatism has its humorous side. A buck deer (reeking of symbolism in the world of fantasy) sidles up on a dare and tells her how beautiful she is. She does not reply, knowing he expects no answer. My reading of that vignette is that the point was to dare to speak openly of her beauty to her, but she is too high and distant for him to actually think of engaging with her. There are a series of references to the interaction between Male and Female that adorn this story like pearls on a necklace.

Schmendrick performs for his supper in villages along the way, and they come to a plump, comfortable town ("even the mice waddle") where the mayor welcomes the magician in spite of his provocative pronouncements, or perhaps because of them. The townsfolk don't recognize the unicorn, but their animals do, and gather in a sort of worship of the unicorn. (What an image, really. As if worship is an animal thing, that happens at a level below our conscious thought.)

Then Jack Jingly rides in, with his rough buddies, upsetting things and bullying people, but in the end he pays tribute to the mayor, and not the other way around. The mayor, it seems, is tougher and fiercer than the inordinately tall and fierce-looking Jack. Schmendrick asks for his hat back, which was snatched by one of the raiders, and when Jack taunts him, he calls for it with magic. The hat heads for the horse trough and fills with water, but, perhaps as Schmendrick's resolve cools, it dumps the water on the mayor rather than on Jack. Schmendrick is scooped up and unceremoniously hauled out of town on the back of Jack Jingly's horse, to save him from the mayor's wrath. Townsmen sent to rope his "mount" the "white mare" instead see her jump the fence and ride away, and each privately is struck by some vision of awe.

The point seems to be the reversal of the Cowboy Western motif of robbers who intimidate the town. Chapter 5 delivers the payoff for this little sleight of hand. The threat posed to magic by civilized towns will play a role later, but I haven't read ahead enough yet to know just how.

Beagle doesn't seem to have a consistent scheme of symbolism about his rendering of magic. On the one hand he treats it as a set of illusions, which overlap heavily with what people want to see. On the other hand he weaves in archetypal themes, particularly in terms of the innocence of girls, reflected through the lens of any person's sense of her or his own unique identity which is somehow mystically entangled with the fact that others (at least if they are interested in the eternal and the magical) have an identity equally unique and equally magical.

Schmendrick, I am convinced, is two parts symbol for writers, and only one part a character in his own part. More on that in discussing the fascinating Chapter 5, but the unruly behavior of the hat is a hint of things to come, and an echo of the strange process of weaving stories, in which, as Annie Dillard says, the story makes its way out of the ideal scheme that started it, needing to remain consistent with its embodied self, and in the end the bastard child that results still steals the author's heart.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 4 - 6

Chapter 5: The magic knows what it wants to do

Jack takes Schmendrick to the wood where Cully and his band of outlaws live. Cully, and his presumable mistress Molly Grue, greet him in opposite fashion. Cully sees the potential for Schmendrick spreading his reputation as courageous, fair-handed outlaw avenger, but Molly sees him as another mouth sharing soup already "thin as sweat."

There follows a bizarre and intriguing sequence about ballads and folk heroes. The minstrel Willie Gentle plays a ballad celebrating Cully's courage with old words and themes mixed into a somewhat modern sensibility and skeptical wordplay like
'I am nae scabbit, whatever that means,' and Cully asks Schmendrick if he is Child, the one collecting ballads for posterity. This refers to Francis James Child, whose collection is apparently famous (though I had never heard of it):
An amusing interchange about Cully's desire to be immortalized follows (I'll not spoil everything, but it captures the essence of the late 60s sensibility of the book), in which Cully persists in calling Schmendrick "Child" and the outlaws begin to rumble with discontent at the gap between legend and reality. In truth they are poor, bedraggled, and given to robbing the poor at the behest of the rich.

As a diversion, Schmendrick offers to perform some magic, and Cully lets himself be persuaded to allow it, though he is much more concerned with ballads being recorded. But the crowd is not much impressed - polite applause. "Offering no true magic," the author concludes, "he drew no magic back from them." This is a light paraphrase from some of the standard advice given to authors: no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. It refers to the need to go into the subconscious when writing, to tap into emotions about what matters.

The result is a scene which, I am guessing, is a key to following the bizarre twists and turns of the book, in which symbolism is ever-present and it is never clear what is being symbolized. Schmendrick "let go all his hated skills, and closed his eyes. 'Do as you will,' he whispered to the magic." Something moves through him, and out of the forest come Robin Hood and his merry men, not omitting Maid Marian, of course. But Cully "debunks them" ("Robin Hood is a myth" he says) while his men follow them into the darkness anyway.

Sitting alone, Cully and Jack Jingly discuss this disappointing turn of events. Jack identifies Schmendrick as Lir, the son of Haggard, and asserts that the men will return from their vain quest to catch up with the legends. The second comes true, but the first is left hanging as a possibility, a Schrodinger's cat of sorts.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Wed Jan 23, 2019 1:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Last Unicorn - Chapters 4 - 6

Chapter 6. You don't know much about unicorns

Molly gets herself included with the unicorn and Schmendrick, despite his efforts to exclude her. "You don't know much about unicorns," she tells Schmendrick as he attempts to give reasons why she would not be welcome or appropriate. ("You know nothing, Jon Snow.")

It's a good thing Molly comes, because she knows the way to Haggard's castle. The byplay over who deserves to be included is intricate with a sad beauty, including a line worth remembering: "she [the unicorn] regarded him with piercing gentleness," in the middle of Schmendrick's self-important imaginings.

They pass the returning band of Cully's men, and another interesting bit of commentary focuses on the man who declares that the vision of Robin Hood was just a lie of the senses, and how you can't even trust what you see and hear and even smell. But he had followed along like the rest.

The story cuts to an interlude with a prince and princess out calling for a unicorn. She is going through the motions, he is having trouble being patient. Finally she gives up, consoling herself that she did what she was supposed to do. "You satisfy custom. You don't satisfy my father, but then, neither do I. That would take a unicorn," the prince laments.

After they leave, the unicorn with the two others emerges from the woods. "Why didn't you go to her?" Molly asks. "If I had shown myself, and she had known me, she would have been more frightened than if she had seen a dragon, for no one makes promises to a dragon." The unicorn "has no time" for modern princesses or kitchenmaids, and Molly counters that the unicorn doesn't understand the press of time on women.

Here we have, I suspect, the key metaphor in the story. The unicorn seems to me to embody the eternal soul, the awareness of oneself and one's life as a precious gift to be savored and to turn to good use. A girl anxious to be on with marrying and raising a family before her attractiveness wanes will lose the innocence of just being herself, of knowing the beauty all around her and gathering bits of it to bring beauty into the lives of everyone.

Molly mournfully sings a snatch of the song that Mommy Fortuna, the witch who posed as "Old Age," had sung. "What is gone is gone." She doesn't remember where she learned it, she says.

As they travel on, she seems to grow livelier and even younger, while Schmendrick grows parched and "deserted". The unicorn could have brought him back from death, declares the author, but over despair she has no power. The land grows similarly parched as they come to "Haggard's Country". The people are pinched and sullen, with hearts "as sour as boiled beer."

They catch sight of Haggard's castle. "A witch built it for him, but he wouldn't pay her for her work, so she put a curse on him. One day when his greed caused the sea to overflow, the castle would sink into the sea with Haggard." The town at its outer edge, Hagsgate, was the first town he dominated and "there is something evil there." Mommy Fortuna wouldn't go there, and it is said that even Haggard isn't safe while Hagsgate stands.

In an echo of Macbeth, the saying that it is "the town that no man knows" is dissected, with Molly hoping she might be the exception for being a woman, while Schmendrick declares he is no man, since he is a magician with no magic.

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