The story is summed up in the title: The Last Unicorn. One day, a unicorn hears two hunters in her wood talking; before leaving, the older hunter urges her to stay in her wood where she is safe for she is the last unicorn in the world. Later the unicorn learns all the other unicorns were driven into the sea by the Red Bull. The unicorn ventures out into the world to in search of her kind. She encounters a clumsy magician, Schmendrick and a sharp-tongued, older woman named Molly Grue. Together they journey to find the Red Bull and the other unicorns. Daring adventures and romance occur throughout their journey. At the end, all the unicorns are freed. The unicorn finds her companions have left as great an impact on her life as she has theirs.
This is one of the most beautiful stories ever told. The plot is intricately woven with excitement, passion, and sadness. It's very creative and not in any way predictable. The prose flows naturally and easily. Many different themes appear within the story such as what constitutes happiness; how much control do we have over our fate; death or immortality: which would you choose; what is the nature of a hero; what purpose do fairytales serve; and of course, true love never fails. There is lots of play with illusion and reality. The descriptions of settings and characters are vivid. Songs are interspersed throughout the book. Furthermore, there are so many memorable lines both witty and moving. I found myself completely immersed in the world, watching all the events unfold before me. The ending is powerful, bittersweet, and perfect. Every time, I read or watch it, I am deeply moved.
The characters are multi-dimensional, and I cared about them all. No one is unforgettable, not even the side characters that appear in one or two chapters. There are no "stock-characters." Everyone has a purpose and reason for going on the journey. I really like how the unicorn's character is a paradox, both simple and complex. A struggle of identity can be seen when she is transformed into a human; she becomes undefinable. Furthermore, her relationship with the humans is not portrayed as being perfect, wonderful, friends for life. Schmendrick may be a poor excuse for a magician and makes lots of jokes, but he's not in the story only for comic relief. Molly Grue is not a Maid Marian-damsel-in-distress type; as I mentioned before, she's an older woman (likely in her 30s), with a sharp tongue and mind; she's strong and fiercely protective of the unicorn. She's more the protector of the group than Schmendrick. In a way, all the main characters in the book start out lost and search for something whether it be power, a new life, love, happiness, or simply unicorns.
The introduction looks like a moving version of the famous, medieval unicorn tapestries. The music is very soft and beautiful and mostly performed by the band America. There are some exceptions, the song "Now That I'm a Woman" performed by Mia Farrow (the voice of the unicorn) is not that stellar. However, another singer replaced her in the duet "That's All I Have to Say"--which is a very pretty song. The intro song has actually been covered by a band called In-Mood featuring the female vocalist Juliette. The movie was animated by TopCraft Studio which later became the now famous Studio Ghibli (which produces Hayao Miyazaki's films like Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke).
I highly recommend both the novel and movie. The novel has been republished In spite of the fact that he said he never would, Beagle has also written a sequel or coda to The Last Unicorn; it is entitled: Two Hearts and features all the same characters as the first book and new one, Sooz--who will be the protagonist in another novel. You can read the the story for free on his site. Also, if you can find it, there is The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version which is essentially the unfinished, rough draft of The Last Unicorn; it's very different from the final product and worth reading to see the evolution of the story. Most importantly, I urge that you support Peter S. Beagle by purchasing both from Conlan Press. He has been in an ongoing legal battle with Granada Studios over the money he was never given for writing the screenplay The Last Unicorn. You can find all the details at Conlan Press's website. If you purchase from there, half the money goes to Peter S. Beagle.
Lastly, I just found out there was stage production of The Last Unicorn written and performed. Apparently it has been rewritten and scheduled to be performed this Fall by the Promethean Theatre Ensemble in Chicago. Opening night is October 17! They have a blog of progress too! If anyone goes to see this let me know how it turned out!