The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko

Information

Goodreads: The Unicorn Quest
Series: The Unicorn Quest #1
Source: Library
Published: Feb. 2018

Summary

When Claire and Sophie Martinson move into old Windermere Manor and discover a ladder that leads through the chimney to an enchanted world, Sophie tries to convince Claire that it was all a dream.  But then Sophie disappears in the middle of the night and Claire knows she can no longer ignore the truth.  Climbing up through the fireplace, she finds herself in a world where unicorn artifacts strengthen the magic of the four guilds.  But the Unicorn Harp has gone missing and Sophie seems to be the thief.  Can Claire solve the mystery in time or will she and Sophie both end up dead?

Star Divider

Review

The Unicorn Quest feels either like an old friend, or a rehash of a number of classic children’s fantasy novels, depending on the perspective of the reader.  A plethora of familiar elements compose the plot, from the secret passage hidden in an inherited family mansion to the entry into a magical world to the quest to find a missing family member and discover the true royal heir (no prizes for who that heir is).  Younger readers not as familiar with children’s fantasy may find all this a delight.  Older readers will instantly recognize a hodgepodge of other books and be able to predict the entire plot of the story without even trying.  Still there is something admittedly charming about The Unicorn Quest, perhaps because it feels safe and comfortable to curl up with a book who feels so intimately known from the start.

Writing a review for The Unicorn Quest, however, feels unusually challenging.  Perhaps readers can recall Bruce Coville’s The Land of the Unicorns, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, and William Corlett’s The Steps Up the Chimney.  The book feels like a smash up of those, along with hints of some other titles like Susan Cooper’s Under Sea, Under Stone–basically any of those “children move to a mysterious house and find an ancient mystery hidden in it” books.  That being said, I feel like I have nothing to say about The Unicorn Quest because I must have said it when reviewing any of these other numerous books.

I suspect readers will generally be enthusiastic about The Unicorn Quest.  Readers always enjoy a good fantasy world hidden in an old home.  It gives us hope that we will find our own magical passage if only we keep looking.  And so my review comes down to this: If these types of children’s fantasies are your cup of tea, here’s another one to enjoy.

4 stars

Movie Review: The Last Unicorn (1982)

Movie Review

Information

Director:  Jules Bass; Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Writers: Peter S. Beagle
Release: 1982

Summary

Upon learning that she is the last of her kind, a unicorn sets forth on a quest to find the others.  Joined by the inept magician Schmendrick and a woman named Molly Grue, the unicorn enters the halls of King Haggard, where lurks the fearsome Red Bull who once drove the other unicorns away.  But the longer she stays, the more the unicorn forgets who she is and what she seeks.

Review

The Last Unicorn follows the plot and dialogue of the Peter S. Beagle’s original novel fairly closely, the largest changes merely streamlining the action.  This can make watching the film seem a little odd–what does translating the story to a different medium do for the story, if so little changes?  And does the story work better on paper or on screen?  These types of questions hovered in the back of my mind during the entire viewing, detaching me somewhat from the story itself.  Even so, the film remains a moving and a poignant work.

Normally I prefer to think of the book and the film as separate entities–what works for one medium will not work for another, and I try to accept changes made from page to screen as long as the spirit of the work remains intact.  In this case, Beagle wrote the screenplay for the film based on his own book, so one feels fairly certain that everything the author thought essential to the story remains.  Still, one also wonders if time constraints may not have necessitated certain changes that were not particularly desirable.

For instance, the largest deviation from book to film that I noted (having read the book some months ago), was the deletion of the side adventure that enables Schmendrick and the unicorn to learn about the history of Haggard’s rule and the changes it has wrought upon the people and the land.  Arguably Haggard’s background story does little to further the plot and, if something had to go, it was a logical decision to choose that.  However, the loss of background information means also a loss of power for the emotional punch at the end.  Audiences have little idea just how sorry they should feel for Haggard, or how repulsed they should be at the lengths he has been willing to go.  They know only the small details he mentions in passing and the rumors that Schmendrick repeats–rumors they do not know whether or not to believe.  Not knowing about Haggard means, to some extent, not caring.

I also could not help but think that the book really does convey the heartbreak and the emotion of the story much more poignantly than the film.  The film gives us glimpses of the lives of the characters, but never delves into the hardships the characters have experienced or the pain.  Schmendrick, in this version, seems simply a kind fellow who wishes he had some more magic.  The audience never learns about all the years he’s spent searching.  And Molly Grue is almost more of an enigma.  The film shows a glimpse of her life, but a glimpse that is sanitized (for the children?).  Viewers may extrapolate from the little they see that Molly has had a wretched, hard, and dirty life all while longing for beauty–but the film simply doesn’t show how dirty her life must have really been.

The visuals, however, are quite striking, and I often caught myself thinking about how interesting they were, if not always beautiful.  If The Last Unicorn does not capture the ethereal beauty of a unicorn the way I imagined, at least it expresses a certain joy in the process of animation and experimentation.

But therein lies the real problem–the inability of the film to convey the indescribable beauty and presence of unicorns.  Drawing a white horse with a horn, even one that is graceful and somewhat dainty, simply doesn’t live up to the idea of a unicorn as presented in the book.  And hearing Mia Farrow’s voice issue from the unicorn isn’t my idea of how a unicorn sounds, either.  Some things perhaps simply cannot be convincingly depicted–and unicorns may be one of them.

If I ignore the book, however, The Last Unicorn stands solidly on its own as a beautiful and poignant film, a classic fantasy that blends sorrow and joy, life and loss, hope and defeat.  It never pretends that goodness comes without a cost, but it also never pretends that not doing the right thing is ever an option.  It is a solemn sort of story, but one that feels cathartic.

Krysta 64

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Last UnicornInformation

Goodreads: The Last Unicorn
Series: The Last Unicorn #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1968

Summary

A unicorn discovers that she is the last of her kind and so sets forth on a quest to find the others.  Along the way she is joined by Schmendrick, an inept magician, and Molly Grue, a woman who still believes in beauty despite her hard life.  Their journey leads them to the cursed castle of King Haggard, where dwells the fearsome Red Bull who once drove all the other unicorns away.  But more than monsters lurk in Haggard’s halls.  Once the unicorn enters, she, unchanging and immortal, will never be the same again.

Review

The Last Unicorn is one of those rare, beautiful books equally full of wonder and sadness.  From the first sentence, where the unicorn lives all alone in a lilac wood, you know this book is going to break your heart.  The beauty of the language and the story, however, are enough to make you want to read on anyway, no matter the emotional cost.

I always find it more difficult to review a book I loved than one I disliked or merely liked.  Finding the words to describe the rare, exquisite beauty of some stories can seem forced or cheap, or simply overused.  After all, can simply repeating “beautiful” really convey the specialness of some stories?  I suspect that those who read those stories and agreed will understand, and perhaps that is the best one can hope for sometimes.

I could go on about the way The Last Unicorn uses and plays with fairy tale tropes, the way it somehow still seems to believe in goodness and beauty even when it seems somewhat despairing.  The characters alone no doubt could provide material for a lengthy analysis.  And yet, I think this time, I would rather not.  Some stories strike too deeply for me to want to talk about them or analyze them, at least at first.  They just want to be held for awhile, and cherished.

So, if you are a lover of fantasy and you have not yet read The Last Unicorn, I simply urge you to give it a try.  There’s a reason it’s considered a classic in its genre.  A reason, perhaps, that borders on the ineffable.