Earlier this week I drove to the Frida cinema in nearby Santa Ana to catch the new digital-print version that Peter S. Beagle and Connor Cochran have taken on a world tour. The tour began in April, 2013 and will conclude in July 2016. I missed it when it hit Spokane, WA, last year, so made certain I'd catch it this time, now that I'm living in Southern California.
When I first read the book in 1968 I was entranced. I wondered if rereading the book would diminish my original rapture. A couple of years ago a cooperative Chewelah, WA, book group read it along with me. Reactions were mixed...but one woman, like me, claimed she burst into tears when (SPOILER ALERT) the unicorns who had been driven into the sea by the red bull at last surfed back to shore on the waves. I thought I had reached a stage where my emotional heartstrings are no longer so easily played. Wrong. I sobbed so hard that the young man sitting next to me looked so worried that I thought he was going to offer me a dip into his popcorn box as a form of solace.
More good news. At this particular showing, during the initial Q&A, Beagle confirmed that a traveling immersive musical adaptation of the play, produced by his manager Connor Cochrane, and Jeff Duhamel and his wife Fergie, lead vocalist of the Black-Eyed Peas, will indeed be staged. Cochrane has been quoted as describing the production as rather like Cirque du Soleil, with its own tent or venue, different from standard proscenium staging.
I interviewed Peter S. Beagle a few years ago at a Long Beach Comic Con for the arts magazine, Uncle Jam. http://issuu.com/wingedtiger/docs/uj99v37 At that time he mentioned his early literary influences as including Wilkie Collins, close friend of Charles Dickens and author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White. He also confessed to an ongoing love of 19th century novelists' theatrical overstatement, big sweeping gestures...no post modernist nuance in Beagle's lush works.
At the Frida he mentioned once again his friendship with the man he dedicated The Last Unicorn to, fellow fantasy writer Robert Nathan. I'd read Nathan in my teens and twenties, falling in love particularly with Portrait of Jennie and Rancho of the Little Loves. I haven't read Nathan in decades, so just put a library hold on his collection of five novellas, The Barley Fields. I notice that it contains The Bishop's Wife. I'd totally forgotten that Nathan wrote the book that the beloved Cary Grant and Loretta Young movie had been based on.
But Beagle also mentioned another inspiration for The Last Unicorn. James Thurber's The White Deer. I plan to track this one down...not certain how I missed it in both my own childhood and that of my son.
Everybody ensnared by Beagle's magical tale has a favorite dialog exchange from The Last Unicorn. Here's mine, a fine reminder for all writers:
Molly Grue: Why won't you help me? Why must you always speak in riddles?
The Cat: Because I be, what I be. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, mum, but I be a cat. And no cat anywhere, ever gave anyone a straight answer.
You can check here to see if Beagle is bringing his tour to a city near you: