“There has never been a spell on me before,” the unicorn said. She shivered long and deep. “There has never been a world in which I was not known.”
This chapter is, on the one hand, solely about the escape of the unicorn and the magician Schmendrick from the Midnight Carnival, and in particular, the claws of the harpy Celaeno. On the other hand, it’s also about how the world no longer sees magic; or, rather, if it does, it is the dupe’s magic that Mommy Fortuna wields. Mommy Fortuna has to put a horn on a unicorn for people to see her for what she is.
On the other, other hand, nobody has trouble seeing Celaeno for what she is. Which just goes to show that some realities can’t be hidden, glossed over, or forgotten. In this world, harpies win out over unicorns.
Then there is the matter of Schmendrick, whose talents the unicorn does not quite trust, and for good reason. As she watches him do his parlor tricks for the crowd, messing them up in magical ways (turning “a rabbit into a goldfish that drowned”), she realizes that, while he does wield magic, he doesn’t have much control over it.
(Minor note: I loved that the unicorn was fond of the part where Schmendrick turns a dead rose into a seed, even if it did end up being a radish seed.)
And so through various means he nearly kills the unicorn trying to get her out with magic. At first it goes… relatively well. He creates the illusion of her forest, and she nearly leaps out, except for this bit of wordcraft from Beagle: “But she let the leap drift out of her, untaken, for she knew, although she could not see them, that the bars were still there. She was too old not to know.”
But it keeps getting worse, and worse. The movie doesn’t show the incident with the fog demon, which Celaeno frightened away, inadvertently (or not) saving their lives. Fortunately Schmendrick’s pocketed the keys from Rukh, and at this point he takes no chances and looses the unicorn with them. “Unicorns know nought of need, or shame, or doubt, or debt—but mortals, as you may have noticed, take what they can get,” says Schmendrick, and this is another theme that will haunt the book: humanity versus immortality.
Unfortunately at this point Rukh comes back and starts pounding him, while the unicorn busily releases every caged creature… even Celaeno.
Oh dear, Celaeno. There’s not a proper fight between the unicorn and the harpy in the movie, a wonder between two immortals, one beautiful and the other foul. Celaeno takes her vengeance upon Mommy Fortuna at that point, and the unicorn and Schmendrick escape.
Although there’s a lot to be unpacked in “escape.” For instance, in the terror of the harpy feasting on Mommy Fortuna:
The unicorn turned away. Close by, she heard a child’s voice telling her that she must run, she must run. It was the magician. His eyes were huge and empty, and his face—always too young—was collapsing into childhood as the unicorn looked at him.
The unicorn, on the other hand, is calm and leads him away slowly. And that is the key: running attracts the attention of immortal creatures, as Rukh finds out.
[Schmendrick] followed her, never once looking back, even when he heard the desperate scrambling and skidding of heavy feet, the boom of bronze wings, and Rukh’s interrupted scream.
“He ran,” the unicorn said. “You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.” Her voice was gentle, and without pity.
Gentle and yet without pity. Immortals are a cold set, even the unicorn.
The last sound of the carnival, the sound of a spider weeping, is a little heartbreaking.