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Peter S. Beagle – The Last Unicorn: The Graphic Novel

October 12, 2012

112. The Last Unicorn: The Graphic Novel by Peter S. Beagle, adapted by Peter B. Gillis, illustrated by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon (2011)

Length: 168 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Started/Finished: 08 October 2012

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Random browsing, and I recognized the author and title.

One small unicorn
against a giant flaming
red bull? Not quite fair.

Summary: A unicorn discovers that she may be the last of her kind, so she sets out from her enchanted forest to discover if the unicorns really are gone from the world, and if so, where did they go? She encounters both perils and allies, including the wizard Schmendrick, but the ultimate confrontation is waiting for her in the blighted lands of King Haggard and his Red Bull.

Review: Okay, first things first. Confession time: I have not actually read The Last Unicorn novel. I know, I know! And I call myself a fantasy fan. It’s shameful, and something I really should rectify sooner than later. In partial defense, I did watch the animated version over and over as a little kid. The image of the red bull chasing them through the tunnels, and then backing the unicorn into the waves was pretty firmly seared on my six-year-old psyche (filed under “nightmare fodder”), but it’s been two decades since I’ve seen the movie, so my memory of any of the rest of the story is nearly non-existent.

I suspect that this state of affairs was probably not the ideal one in which to come to the graphic novel. The notes at the back suggest that Gillis used Beagle’s own words as much as possible, but that he necessarily had to condense and tweak parts to get it to fit in the graphic novel format. As such, I wonder how many of the places where I found the story unclear or thin, or the transitions rough were due to the adaptation, and how many were issues with the source material. Judging by other reviews, it seems most likely to be an issue with format, not with story, but I had zero knowledge of the original book to fill in any gaps in the adapted version. Thus, from my perspective, there were a number of times when I wasn’t clear as to a character’s motivation, or found the abrupt shifts in the story confusing, or thought the story was somewhat arbitrary. The art in this book was absolutely lovely, even if some of the more unconventional layouts did add to my confusion in parts. However, I’m not letting this dissuade my interest in the original book; once I’ve read the novel, perhaps I’ll revisit the graphic version and see how my opinions have changed. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Like most if not all graphic novel adaptations I’ve read, I think this one is best off in the hands of people who have loved the original; although it’s visually gorgeous, too much of the magic gets lost in the condensing of the text.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Dogear Diary, Good Books and Good Wine, I’m Booking It
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First Line: The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April Books & Wine permalink
    October 12, 2012 9:26 pm

    I really liked this one too, the art was gorgeous.

    I think you should check the original out though, I have a feeling you’d like it.

    • October 17, 2012 11:29 am

      April – It’s definitely gone onto my list! (In the meantime, I’m getting the DVD of the movie from the library to see how much I’ve forgotten in the past 20 years…)

  2. October 13, 2012 10:50 am

    I have read the novel of The Last Unicorn, and I didn’t like it, which I think makes me a much much worse fantasy fan than one who hasn’t read it at all. The only thing of Peter Beagle’s I have read and liked so far is Tamsin, and I loved Tamsin. This always makes me think that if I try enough times I will come to love The Last Unicorn; but so far no joy.

    • October 17, 2012 11:30 am

      Jenny – I still haven’t read any of his novels, although I really like the short story collection of his that I read last year.

      Also, you’re not a bad fantasy fan! Own your opinions!

  3. October 14, 2012 1:37 pm

    I have to admit I haven’t read this book either…probably ought to go onto the TBR list!

  4. November 5, 2012 8:25 pm

    I watched the movie a billion times as a kid and just loved it. I did read the book at one point, but my memories of the movie completely overshadow it, so I don’t remember very much. I’ll have to check out the graphic novel.

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