The Last Star of Morning

I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting Peter S. Beagle, author of fantasy classic THE LAST UNICORN, last year at a convention in Atlanta. The gentleman was pleasant and friendly, and I was honored to buy a signed copy of his book.

The other night, I introduced my seven-year-old to the wonder that is Beagle's decidedly-not-children's novel set to the best animation Rankin/Bass ever managed with strange, haunting solemnity and doomed love. I loved this movie as a child, and I love it still. Maybe because it was the first "kid's movie" I ever saw with a bittersweet ending, not unlike my preference in my own work.

When the music started at the beginning and America began singing the Unicorn Song, my son turned to me with huge eyes. He recognized the song, of course. I've been singing it to him since I carried him in my womb. There's something bleak and dark in that song: its imagery of the end of the world, of a dusty fountain and the last of everything wandering a still, darkened earth... and still the unicorn, that symbol of beauty and life, something lovely that cannot be seen unless you're looking for it, something of faith and eternal magic. I've often thought that in the song, the unicorn represents the magic of the imagination, that even when we are all gone, the power of that magic will continue.

See how the land dried up and turned to dust when King Haggard captured the unicorns and their symbolic imagination and faith and magic? Beagle was telling us how dull and dry our lives become when we forget how to see the magic, how to find that beauty in everyday things, when we lose our faith, our ability to believe in things not immediately apparent before our own eyes.

In all the world, Amalthea is the only unicorn that can feel regret, and there is no worse feeling in the world. It is a uniquely human feeling, the difference that is carried by sentient humans with free will.

This exchange in the Red Bull's passage just about tore through my chest and crushed my heart:

LIR: Unicorn, mermaid, sorceress, no name you would give her would surprise or frighten me. I love whom I love.
SCHMENDRICK: That's a very nice sentiment, but when I change her back into her true self...
LIR: I love whom I love.
AMALTHEA: I heard what you said. I will go no further.
SCHMENDRICK: There's no choice. We have to go on.
AMALTHEA: Don't let him change me. The Red Bull has no care for human beings - we may walk on past him and get away.
SCHMENDRICK: If we do that, all the unicorns of the world will remain prisoners forever except one, and she will grow old and die.
AMALTHEA: Everything dies. I want to die when you die! I'm no unicorn, no magical creature. I'm human, and I love you. Don't let him! Lir, I will not love you when I'm a unicorn.
LIR: Amalthea, don't.
SCHMENDRICK: Then let the quest end here! I don't think I could change her back even if you wished it. Marry the prince and live happily ever after.
AMALTHEA: Yes, that is my wish.
LIR: No. *pause* My lady, I am a hero, and heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned. Unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. A happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.
MOLLY: But what if there isn't a happy ending at all?
SCHMENDRICK: There are no happy endings. Because nothing ends.
MOLLY: Schmendrick, let her stay the way she is. Let her be.
SCHMENDRICK: That's not in the story. Lir knows that, and so does she.

And you people wonder how I got to be like I am. I haven't seen this movie in maybe twenty years. And I found myself tearing up when I heard that exchange. I could have written that, I think... except I couldn't, because I'm not that good. Not yet. Moments like THE LAST UNICORN remind me that I'm not what I could be, as a writer and creative person.

There is a greater joy and beauty in the world of the imagination, among those who remember how to see magic, those who hear the music as Harlan Ellison once said... and we forget, and we drive our unicorns into the sea so we can look out the window and watch them dance on the waves... but the land falls silent and dark.

There are no happy endings. Nothing ends.

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