Arachne Reads The Last Unicorn: Chapter 4

Now we depart more from the movie—or rather, the movie departs more, if not entirely, from the book—and the unicorn and Schmendrick are traveling together. While this is an interstitial chapter, Beagle nevertheless makes it interesting to read (or listen—did you know that Peter S. Beagle narrates The Last Unicorn for his audiobook? I love it, usually, when authors narrate their own books).

We learn, as in the movie, that the unicorn does not regret; she can sorrow, but it’s not the same thing. I suppose, to survive as an immortal, you can’t regret, or else the unending emotional aches would be too much, especially for a younger immortal without much life experience. And probably especially for predatory immortals like harpies and griffins; unicorns, if they could regret, will probably be fine, if sadder.

There are interesting foreshadowings in this chapter. For instance, we heard of the great wizard Nikos, who once turned a male unicorn into a man to save him from hunters who would have slain him. I don’t like that he married the maiden who nearly trapped him in the first place (“she just needed a good man” is just… ugh). The unicorn is, of course, horrified, since the transformed unicorn could not be returned to his original form, and he died as a mortal.

The unicorn is terrified of becoming mortal, which is natural. It’s natural to fear death and growing old. Even when she travels with Schmendrick, she’s reminded of mortality:

There it is, the unicorn thought, feeling the first spidery touch of sorrow on the inside of her skin. That is how it will be to travel with a mortal, all the time. “No,” she replied. “I cannot turn you into something you are not, no more than the witch could. I cannot turn you into a true magician.”

“I didn’t think so,” Schmendrick said. “It’s all right. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not worrying about it,” the unicorn said.

With agelessness comes the knowledge that you can do anything, as you have enough time for it and enough magic for it (as if you are ageless you are an immortal). With mortality, your time is limited, and what you can accomplish is limited as well. The unicorn knows this, and it sorrows her.

Then there’s the section with the bluejay, and the less said about that little sexist piece the better. I did like the interlude with the deer, however. I do remember that part, for some reason.

And we know that the unicorn will survive her adventures, though how her immediate predicament will end is not known. “Ages after, the unicorn still remembered the strange, chocolate stable smell, and Schmendrick’s shadow dancing on walls and doors and chimneys in the leaping light.”

The chapter glides to its end by describing how Schmendrick and the unicorn make it through towns, until they run into a town that takes its earnings from bandits. Through a magic trick that turns wrong, Schmendrick is taken away by the bandits, and the unicorn dashes after him. I wonder why she does, but I guess he did finally get into her good graces.

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One thought on “Arachne Reads The Last Unicorn: Chapter 4

  1. There are some sexist bits in this book, for sure. But overall it holds up remarkably well for a book written in the early 1970s. It has multiple female characters including several who are complex, interesting, and/or possesses of agency. It passes the Bechdel Test. And you can argue that its final message includes the admonition that there are things more important than marrying the handsome prince. I wouldn’t rush to uphold it as a highly feminist work, but the Sexism Fairy has done no more than sprinkle a little bit of grime.

    Doug M.

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