Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Discussion of Two Hearts (sequel to The Last Unicorn) by Peter S. Beagle


I finally restored this, thank goodness for David and Technorati.
The Last Unicorn has always been near and dear to my heart. I first discovered it in its animated form as a child and was touched by the magic of the story and the beauty of the music that accompanied the film. It was not until very much later, well into college, that I discovered the book itself by Peter S. Beagle. The book was as touching to me as an adult as the movie had been to me as a child.

So when I discovered that Beagle had penned a sequel (actually they’re calling it a coda, those clever marketers), Two Hearts, I was absolutely delighted. Two Hearts (nominated for a Hugo this year) is a novelette (longer than a short story, shorter than a novel) set in the universe of The Last Unicorn. It takes place many years after the original story but brings back the four main characters of The Last Unicorn. For many years Beagle had refused to write a sequel to his beloved story, believing The Last Unicorn was a stand alone novel that told everything that needed to be told of the story.

[Spoiler alert] (If you have not read the sequel, please do so before reading on. Below are links to for buying the novelette)

Before the Hugo awards are announced (at the end of August), you can find a free version of it at: http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/fiction/pe01.htm.

However if you want to have your own copy, there are currently two ways of obtaining one.

One is by going to: http://www.conlanpress.com/html/books.html and buying the audio file of The Last Unicorn. A hardcover limited version signed by the author comes as a gift to the first 3000 customers. If you want this version, the ONLY way to get it is by buying the audio file of The Last Unicorn

The other is by going to Amazon and buying The Line Between, Peter S. Beagle's new collection of stories, Two Hearts is one of them.


After reading Two Hearts, I am not sure what to think, I do not know what I was looking for in the sequel. As Beagle claims, The Last Unicorn ended where it did because it had come to its natural and (to me) perfect conclusion.

First the things I had a problem with, I did not like that in Two Hearts, the unicorn is addressed as Amalthea (at one point Smendrick even goes so far as to claim that it is her name). Those familiar with The Last Unicorn will remember that Smendrick called the unicorn Lady Almalthea to fool King Haggart. The unicorn was ALWAYS referenced as she or the unicorn to the reader. This is not just simple quibbling on my part. I believed that Beagle kept the unicorn nameless intentionally. It separated her from her companions; a way of reminding the audience of her true nature and her inability to be one of them. Calling her Amalthea in the coda I found untrue to the original.

I also found the killing of the griffin to be a slightly disenchanting scene. The griffin felt incredibly one-dimensional--- more plot device than creature--- as the force that set the story in motion and took it to its natural end. This was surprising because Beagle has always managed to give personality and depth to his creatures. The harpy and the Red Bull of The Last Unicorn both felt more real to me than the griffin in Two Hearts.

However this is not to say that Two Hearts failed as a continuation of The Last Unicorn, Two Hearts is a beautiful story. Especially for those who have read The Last Unicorn. It was surprising how strongly I must’ve felt about the story, and of the relationships, because at the first mention of Lir and the unicorn, I teared up in a way that surprised me. After all it had been many years since I had read the original. This effect is no doubt due to the mastery of the author.

Beagle’s voice stays true to the original, and the characters are very much the same, older but in no way altered to fit a new story. While The Last Unicorn was a story distinctly written by a young man, Two Hearts is no less distinctly a work of an older man. Between its pages, Beagle manages to address his own mortality.

Perhaps this is why it startles me. The Last Unicorn, while tragic, ends on a beautifully heroic note. The hero bereft of his love, rides of into the distance. Yet there is always hope…because he determines to remember her, to honor her, and to wait for her. In Two Hearts, age has paled everything and turned the rest to dust. It is no longer only a tale of a highly romantic and honorable love; it is also a tale of a man, once young, now old. I do not think I loved Two Hearts in the same way that I loved The Last Unicorn. However, as I become older, I’m also not sure that I will not grow to love it. I think only time will give me that answer.

4 comments:

connorfc said...

A few quick points about specific things in your heartfelt commentary (which I very much liked, by the way).

= Peter is calling Two Hearts a coda because that's what it is. Webster's defines "sequel" as "the next installment (as of a speech or story); especially : a literary, cinematic, or televised work continuing the course of a story begun in a preceding one." Whereas "coda" is defined as "something that serves to round out, conclude, or summarize and usually has its own interest." The latter is clearly more appropriate in this case, it seems to me.

= There are going to be 3000 copis of the signed, limited edition illustrated hardcover, not 2000. The number was upped due to demand.

= Until the Hugos are announced, you can also read Two Hearts online for free, at http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/fiction/pe01.htm.

= Regarding Schmedricks's use of "Amalthea" as the unicorn's name in this new story. Don't forget that decades have passed since the original events, and that there are now many unicorns in the world. The unicorn herself certainly doesn't think of "Amalthea" as her name, but it would be quite natural for Schmendrick and Molly Grue to think of her that way and use that name as a way to draw a distinction between her and all the others of her kind. And Lir would absolutely think of her as Amalthea, because that was how he met her and how he held her in his heart and memory over the decades. So Shmendrick and Molly Grue would use that name when talking to him, or in any context which included him (i.e., all the events of this story).

Thank you for writing about the story and sharing your opinion with people.

-- Connor Cochran
Business Manager for Peter S. Beagle

CChen said...

Hi Connor,

Thanks for your comments and points, I have adjusted the post for accuracy and provided the link that you've given me.
As for the name Almalthea; while I do think you bring up some feasible reasons why she is addressed by that name in the coda, it also points to the fact that Lir, Smendrick, and Molly are rejecting and/or deluded as to her true nature, something none of them were at the end of The Last Unicorn.

Throughout the course of their journey, Molly, Smendrick, and later Lir openly accepted, even embraced (if with sorrow in Lir's case) the fact that she is a unicorn...in their hearts, the unicorn . However, I do think your point about Lir is plausible; that in his old age and nostalgia, he chooses to remember her as the maiden he fell in love with.

Perhaps it is only me, having imagined and defined these characters that captivated me for so long, but the name had the unfortunate effect of pulling me out of the story.

In the end it is undeniable that the characters are so strong in our hearts in both the original and its coda, because of the author's talent. Thank you for providing me with your comments, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

-Cindy

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