Monday, February 23, 2009

A Confession

I have a confession to make. One that may shock you, considering. OK, deep breath, here goes:

"The Last Unicorn" is actually not my favorite book by Peter S. Beagle.

Now don't misunderstand me, I think "The Last Unicorn" is a masterpiece. I grew up on both it and the animated movie and it will always have a special place in my heart. But as I got older I moved on to devour most of Peter S. Beagle's other works as well, and I have to tell you, this is my favorite one:

What can I say about it? The (extremely oversimplified) premise: Three women who are infinitely more than they seem gather at an inn to help their elderly wizard friend. One is a storyteller, a warrior and a sailor. One seems to be a woman fled from a deadly monastery that will do anything to punish her for forsaking her vows. And one is as pale and strange as death itself. Throw in a man who can transform into a fox (or is a fox who can transform into a man? Or something else entirely?), otherworldly spirits, great dialogue, love that is stronger than death but not stronger than memory, and a host of other nifty things, and you'll only begin to scratch the surface of why I consider this book to be terrific. You see, there's just so much WORLD in it! You can feel the world in which the novel is set (and it is not even remotely like our world) overflowing and spilling past the pages- you can see thousands of other stories set in the world sneaking around just outside your line of sight as you read. Peter has gone on to write many more stories set in the same world as The Innkeeper's Song, and he's perfectly right to do so- the world he creates in this first novel is so vivid and alive that it must have been begging to be used again.

Why, you might ask, aren't you adapting "The Innkeeper's Song" to the stage?

Well, here's the other thing I love about it- it's told from a billion different points of view- pretty much the entire book is in first person, but the perspective shifts every chapter (or every few pages, and sometimes more than once per page)- you get an in depth prose examination of how just about every character, no matter how minor, experiences the events of the plot. It's awesome, but it's also not really suited to dramatic adaptation. I think it's just about a perfect fantasy novel, and to adapt it into another form would mar too much of what makes the novel great in the first place. While there's definitely a lot of prose I admire that isn't going to be able to fit into the stage version of "The Last Unicorn," "Unicorn" lends itself a lot more to the stage in my opinion. So if you haven't yet, I highly recommend giving "The Innkeeper's Song" a read as well- those of you who love "The Last Unicorn" won't regret it.

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