The second chapter is entirely about the Midnight Carnival, and I really quite love it. As sad and pathetic the seeming-spelled beasts are (I think the movie didn’t have the Cerberus-illusion dog, nor the spider whose own belief bolstered the spell) the concept is still intriguing. Maybe Mommy Fortuna’s magic is shabby, as Schmendrick says, but she still caught a harpy, however briefly.
Which brings us to the last cage: where Mommy Fortuna plays at being the anthropomorphic personification of Old Age. Man, that would have been awesome in the movie! (Maybe if they ever make another movie or even TV adaptation, they’ll put it in.) She manages to fool the unicorn into believing she’s aging and old and foul, and that has to mean something, as nasty and possessive a hag as Mommy Fortuna is.
The unicorn is established as following at least one of the rules of the Fair Folk: she’s not enamoured of iron, and it’s heartbreaking to see her pacing in the cage.
The conversation between the unicorn and Mommy Fortuna is fascinating. Mommy Fortuna actually has a backstory, or at least one that’s alluded to:
“Trudging through eternity, hauling my homemade horrors—do you think that was my dream when I was young and evil? Do you think I chose this meager magic, sprung of stupidity, because I never knew the true witchery? I play tricks with dogs and monkeys because I cannot touch the grass, but I know the difference.”
Those are beautiful words, even if they do come from the mouth of Mommy Fortuna.
There is a theme being threaded through the book, even this early on, about mortality and aging, and the contrast with immortality and… not so much eternal youth as eternal being. I just didn’t realize the theme would be as explicit as Mommy Fortuna playing Elli in her own carnival show.
There’s a companion theme about what’s real and what’s phony, too, which in The Last Unicorn is illustrated by magic. Says the unicorn to Mommy Fortuna:
“Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back. The true witches know that.”
And Mommy Fortuna weeps at this, and it makes one wonder why she’s weeping at all. What ill fortune haunts her past? Did she fail some ritual or rite that would have let her into the true magic, out of cowardice, and thus was left with her spindly illusions?
Does getting the real deal, of magic or anything else, always involve a sacrifice of your own?
And now I’m really curious about Chapter 3, and whether any of the chapters are going to become huge and unruly things or not.