Tag Archives: The Last Unicorn

Coming Late to Wonder.

I “discovered” Science Fiction and Fantasy later than you might think. Sure, I read all the Dr. Seuss books,  Magic Elizabeth that included a doll who may or may not be magic, and The Bridge To Terabithia, and loved its magic. I read the Lord of the Rings series  and The Hobbit as a hand-me-down book from my brother. I read  Vonnegut as a hand-me-down book from my father. In fact, I still have most of those early Kurt Vonnegut books on my shelf.

But when high school rolled around,  I fell out of love with fantasy. Why? Well, my brother is six years older than I am, and I definitely had younger sibling syndrome. Paul read Stephen King so in sixth grade I picked up my first Stephen King novel – Carrie.  I read almost exclusively horror (I made exceptions for the Star Wars books – little knowing that I would one day be friends with a number of those writers) until my sophomore year of college. I think I read every vampire story published at the time, and those vampires weren’t ones you wanted to take home and cuddle.

River of the Dancing GodsI wrote until my sophomore year in high school. By then I had written a novel to help me move beyond some bad things in my life., and four fan fiction – Battlestar Galactica and A-Team – romance novels. Yes. Dirk Benedict was dreamy.  Le sigh!

Anyway . . . Campfire of America had published one of my short stories. Writing and drawing was part of who I was. But after a bad experience with my then English teacher (which is a topic for another day), I gave up writing. After all, an adult – my English teacher even – had told me that I couldn’t do this.

So, fast forward four years. That college summer I was fortunate enough to work at Bush Gardens, Williamsburg in its Live Entertainment Department. What does that mean? I worked in the theatre running a spot light. One of my friends there was an avid fantasy reader. There’s a lot of downtime between shows. So, he started lending me books. The first one was The River of The Dancing Gods by Jack L. Chalker. If you don’t know the series, it’s well worth checking out. In brief though, Joe, a truck driver, picks up Marge, a hitchhiker. Throckmorton P. Ruddygore–a stranger who met them on a road that wasn’t there–tells them they have 19 minutes before they die in a car accident or, they can come with him to another world over the Sea of Dreams. They chose to go with Throckmorton and get to chose their new forms from, essentially, the Dungeons and Dragon class list. Then things get interesting.  From there I dove into Terry Pratchett’s DiskWolast unicornrld – The Light Fantastic and The Color of Magic.

The other thing that happened that year to reintroduce me to the fantasy genre was I watched The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle on VHS. For lots of reasons that story became very important to me. When I was checking out the fantasy novels from the Williamsburg, VA public library, I found The Last Unicorn as well. While it’s not my favorite Peter Beagle book – that distinction goes to A Fine and Private Place-, it and River of the Dancing Gods were the one changed how I thought about fantasy novels. Not only could these novels entertain, but they had meaning outside the pages. They could touch the heart and change lives.

I was lucky enough to purchase some of the original animation cels from the movie version of The Last Unicorn from Ebay and other sites. When we moved into our current house almost 13 years ago, I used those cells to paint a mural from the cel of the unicorns running on my sons’ bedroom wall. It was a bit heart breaking IMG_0163when they were no longer “babies” and we had to paint over the unicorns.

Still, it took me some time before I started thinking, “I can do that” again. But the desire to write again took root. I’d find myself day dreaming about worlds that didn’t exist anywhere except my head. While I had a job offer from Bush Gardens for the next summer, I had to turn it down because Mom had moved to Florida for a job needed surgery which would render her somewhat helpless for a few weeks, and Dad’s job kept him in Massachusetts. As life worked out, Dad quit his job and moved to Florida so my help became unnecessary. Dad’s move did let me take the evening shift at Universal Studios, which had just opened. I think I read every science fiction and fantasy book in the Dr. Phillips branch of the Orlando public libraries that summer. Slowly, I was putting together my fantasy world from bits I liked in this story or that one and what I didn’t without even knowing it.  To write in any genre, you have to read extensively. Both inside your genre and outside it. I was doing my research.

It would take years after that summer of Dancing Gods and Last Unicorns before the seeds planted burst into a riot of colors, and I would start writing again. My first magician born a strong resemblance to Schmendrick. My first heroine confronted the same lies to herself that Marge did – what you said you wanted to be versus what you knew in your heart you were.

When I look back and ask myself why I’m a writer, I always come back to that summer in Williamsburg. The epiphany from it was slow in coming, but it did come.

Relationship Rumba


Okay, before you can go to the conventions and use your elevator pitch like we talked about last month, you have to write the story. This month we’re going to focus on the craft aspect of writing. Because it’s February, and for some reason this month bring about images of mostly naked babies holding bows. we’re going to focus on relationships. Don’t groan – we aren’t going to spend the entire month talking romance, although it will be a topic this month.

Think about the stories you love. What made you love it? Not the plot. Not even the special effects. It’s the characters and their journey that takes a story from like to love.  Some of the all time most loved stories include Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Charlotte’s Web, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Action adventure movies can be loved, but it seems to me that only happens when there’s something extraordinary about the character dynamics.  Well loved stories, regardless of genre, all have one thing in common – characters that stay with us long after we close the book.

I’m going to use one of my favorite books – The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – as an example of what I mean. Each of the characters, even the unicorn, is flawed. Schmendrick the Magician (and I didn’t have to look up how to spell his name even though my spelling is atrocious) can’t actually work magic. He’s the incompetent fool, the disappointment and the failure. He can’t touch the unicorn. He joins her quest to benefit himself, not because it’s the right thing to do. Yet, he still finds the strength to get up each morning and try to be a true magician. Molly Grue lives with bandits. She’s brash and a bit crude. Yet, her heart is pure enough to see a unicorn. King Haggard has everything, but can’t feel joy or love. The unicorn is immortal, but she doesn’t know love or regret. A misfired (or not) spell robs her of her immortality. Over the course of the story all four of these character (and Prince Lir) confront who they are.  All are searching for something more than themselves. All but one changes.

Why is this one of my favorite books? Because of the depth and beauty of the characters and their interactions. Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place is also on my most favored books list for the same reason. I wanted the good guys to win. I wanted the bad guy to get his comeuppance.

How did Peter Beagle and all those other writers create such memorable characters?

Well, that’s what we’re talking about this month.

This month we’ll look at creating a complete characters, the “good” bad guy, and believable character interactions. We’ll spend some time on Romance in deference to St. Valentine’s holiday. But also platonic relationships between the characters and conflict in general. Please check out posts over the month, and remember it’s not too late to get that box of chocolates.