I remember my little sister crying by a window. She was crying because I didn’t completely believe something she’d told me. It was a few years ago, (I, of course, completely trust her now) but that scene has stuck with me: her red, wet face; my mother’s voice talking to her patiently; my older sister’s impassive expression. Trust is something which you cannot hold and cannot measure, and yet it is so important that people trust you—how can you earn it?
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, tells the story of an old she-unicorn searching for her lost kin. On her unique journey, she is joined by the inefficient magician Schmendrick and the harsh outlaw Molly Grue. But after Schmendrick makes a terrible mistake, the unicorn begins to forget her kind. Will she be able to free her kin before she forgets them entirely?
Schmendrick the Magician is an extremely interesting character. Schmendrick is so utterly inept at magic that his master, Nikos, tells him he must have huge magical powers. When Molly wonders who Schmendrick is, he replies, “I’m a magician with no magic, and that’s no one at all.” That particular phrase struck me—“And that’s no one at all.” That means our actions tell us who we are. They tell others if we can be trusted, and they tell us if we can trust ourselves.
In the first chapter of The Last Unicorn, the unicorn stops to talk with a butterfly. Nothing much comes of the conversation, but it stayed with me through the entire book. The butterfly chattered poems and nonsense, but occasionally it said in a clear, desperate voice, “Listen! Listen!” before relapsing into painful babble. I was saddened when I read it. Even when he spoke clearly, the unicorn did not trust him. Her logic was plausible, however: he had always babbled nonsense—why should she trust him then?
The Last Unicorn was a funny yet deep book. It showed me that, sadly, there is no quick, magic “Just-Add-Water” formula earn trust. Rather, it is something to be earned over time—the time that it takes, for example, for a sister to completely trust her unfortunate younger sibling.
Elementary fantasy, ages 10–14
You can buy this book here.
Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. Penguin Books, 2008.