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''The Last Unicorn'' is a 1968 novel by Creator/PeterSBeagle.

In a certain lilac wood, the leaves and snow never fall. This eternal springtime is watched over, and caused by, its magical resident--a unicorn. Having never left her forest, the unicorn is surprised to overhear two hunters speaking about the disappearance of the unicorns. In fact, they believe her to be the very last.

Unwilling to accept this, the unicorn leaves the safety of her forest and sets out to find others of her kind, following the information given to her by a philosophical butterfly. Along the way, she learns through bitter experience of human cruelty, ignorance and greed. She is mistaken for a horse (much to her displeasure), captured and placed in a circus sideshow, and pursued by a demonic being--the Red Bull, which, according to local legend, is responsible for the disappearance of the other unicorns. She also meets allies who join her in her journey; the incompetent but sweet-natured wizard Schmendrick and Molly Grue, a middle-aged bandit woman with a purer heart than most virgins.

Their quest takes them to the barren lands of the embittered King Haggard, master of the Red Bull, and his naive foster son Prince Lír. It is here that the unicorn, superior and aloof to all mortals, is [[HumanityEnsues transformed into a mere human]], taking the name "Lady Amalthea", forced to see and suffer human weakness and emotion firsthand.

One of the overriding themes is the power of memory. The King remembers feeling happy once and tries to recapture it by kidnapping unicorns, the skull remembers wine, Amalthea is in danger of forgetting herself, Molly Grue remembers her lost youth, and the unicorn will forever remember being in love.

[[WesternAnimation/TheLastUnicorn An animated film adaptation]], with a script by the author, was produced by RankinBassProductions in the 1980s.

Beginning in April 2010, IDW published a six-issue comic book adaptation.

The short story "Two Hearts", published in 2005, is set after ''The Last Unicorn'' and features some of the characters from the novel.

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!!This novel provides examples of:

* TheAgeless: Unicorns. They do not age, but they can be killed.
* AnachronismStew: Intentionally, in the same vein as ''Literature/TheOnceAndFutureKing'', there are references to tacos, trains, magazines, [[Literature/ChildBallads Francis James Child's ballad collection]], etc. in a medieval-Renaissance-Arthurian-whatever age.
* AuthorAvatar: According to Peter S. Beagle, the Butterfly is this. Or at least, it represented himself back when he wrote the story.
* BabiesEverAfter: Schmendrick urges the people of Hagsgate to start families.
* TheBeautifulElite: Unicorns "are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magic besides."
* BecomingTheMask: The danger of the unicorn's human guise.
* BerserkButton: For the unicorn, [[spoiler:the death of Prince Lír by the Red Bull]].
* BetaCouple: [[spoiler:Schmendrick and Molly]].
* BittersweetEnding: [[spoiler:The Last Unicorn finds and frees her fellows, but at a price. As a human, the Lady Amalthea falls in love with Prince Lír. Returned to her immortal form, she can no longer stay with him (or even feel love anymore), so she leaves both her love and her two human friends behind to return to her home in the lilac wood. Even sadder, however, because she has experienced love, aging, and regret--experiences foreign to "pure" unicorns--[[BlessedWithSuck she is no longer as innocent and aloof as others of her kind, separating her even from her own species]].]] And yet, as sad as these things may be, she thanks Schmendrick for them. It is a good thing [[spoiler:to have known love]].
* BlessedWithSuck:
--> '''Nikos''', Schmendrick's teacher: "Therefore I grant that from this day forth you shall not grow old, but will travel the world round and round, eternally inefficient, until at last you come to yourself and know what you are. Don't thank me. I tremble at your doom."
* BlueAndOrangeMorality: Indicated to be the case with immortal creatures and cats.
-->"Cruel? How can I be cruel? That is for mortals. So is kindness."
* BornAsAnAdult: Lady Amalthea.
* BrokenAngel: Played straight immediately after the transformation, then gradually deconstructed.
* ByTheEyesOfTheBlind: The skull.
* [[CallingTheOldManOut Calling The Unicorn Out]]: "Where have you ''been?!''"
* CatsAreMagic: The kitchen cat in Haggard's castle knows the unicorn, even as a woman.
* CatsAreMean: The same cat is a {{Trickster}}, and when Molly gets frustrated at him for his riddling answers, he protests that he cannot give more help than he did.
-->'''Cat:''' I am sorry. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.
* ChildlessDystopia: Hagsgate, due to a prophecy that a child from the town would bring down the king.
* CloudCuckooLander: The butterfly sings songs, recites poetry, quotes a warning from a matchbox at one point, and ''occasionally'' says something useful. It's at least implied, if not stated outright, that verbatim parroting what he's heard others say before is actually the only way ''any butterfly'' can talk at all. He seems to ''understand'' what the unicorn is after well enough, though.
* CrouchingMoronHiddenBadass[=/=]TookALevelInBadass:
** Schmendrick's magic only works on occasion, and when it does, something usually goes wrong with it. [[spoiler:But by the end of the book, he is able to return the unicorn to her true form - a feat his teacher, Nikos, the greatest of magicians, couldn't perform. Years later, Schmendrick's name would become even greater than that of his master's.]]
** Lír starts off as a lazy schmuck, but eventually rises to become a hero (to impress Amalthea), [[spoiler:fights the Red Bull, [[HeroicSacrifice lays down his life to save the unicorn,]] and becomes King.]] In the sequel, [[spoiler:he dies saving a small girl from a griffin.]]
* TheCuckoolanderWasRight: The butterfly has some good advice hidden in his string of nonsense songs.
* DaydreamBeliever: Molly and all of Captain Cully's crew believe there really is a RobinHood. Molly also believes there are unicorns. (She's right.)
* {{Deconstruction}}. ''And how''. All of the characters [[FunctionalGenreSavvy know they're in a fairy tale]], and the fairy tale itself mocks, parodies, subverts and plays straight FairyTale tropes.
* DemBones: The guardian of the passageway that leads to the Red Bull.
* DoesNotLikeShoes: Molly Grue goes barefoot.
* EmergencyTransformation: Schmendrick and Nikos both do this to unicorns in trouble. [[spoiler:Only Schmendrick is able to pull off an Emergency Re-Transformation.]]
* EmotionlessGirl: Lady Amalthea, initially.
* FamousLastWords:
** "The last! I '''knew''' you were the last!"
** Mommy Fortuna's "You couldn't have freed yourself alone! I held you!" Mommy Fortuna is clearly akin to those people who keep venomous snakes as pets.
* FeatheredFiend: The Harpy
* FisherKing: King Haggard. Also, the unicorn is believed to be one to her forest in-story.
* FountainOfYouth: At the end of the book, Haggard's four aged watchmen become young men because they once told the human unicorn that they would become young again if that was what she wanted.
* FunctionalMagic: Wild magic, exclusively. Mostly because Schmendrick starts off with a talent he can't control.
* GenreSavvy: Several characters, particularly Lír, who makes a much-quoted speech about the proper order of things during the climax of the story.
* GoodIsNotNice: Unicorns may be [[IncorruptiblePurePureness incorruptible]], but they're also ''wild.''
-->'''Schmendrick:''' With a word and a wave, he [Nikos] transformed the unicorn into a handsome young man, who woke, and seeing the astonished bowmen gaping there, charged upon them and killed them all. His sword was of a twisted, tapering design, and [[ThereIsNoKillLikeOverkill he trampled the bodies when the men were dead]].
* GoThroughMe: Lír to the Red Bull, twice. Tragically, he doesn't survive the second time.
* GreenEyes: Schmendrick's green eyes are especially mentioned.
* HarpingOnAboutHarpies
* HairTriggerTemper:
** Mabruk, King Haggard, Mommy Fortuna, and Rukh are all extremely quick to take offense, and enjoy bullying and intimidating others.
** Lir displays this trait when warned by Schmendrick not to chase after the unicorn. He then realizes that ''that'' path is the one that leads to Haggard's dissatisfaction and tyranny.
* HannibalLecture: King Haggard.
-->'''Haggard:''' "I ''know'' you! I almost knew you as soon as I saw you on the road coming to my door. Since then, there is no movement of yours that has not betrayed you! A pace, a glance, a turn of the head, the flash of your throat as you breathe... even your way of standing perfectly still--they were all my spies!"
* {{Herald}}
* HeroicSacrifice: [[spoiler:That would be Lír. Twice ... again, alongside Malka in Two Hearts. Leaving The Unicorn to make the heartbreaking choice of who to save ...]]
* TheHerosJourney
* HerosMuse: Amalthea to Lír.
* HistoryRepeats: The story reveals that Lady Amalthea/The Last Unicorn and Lír are not the first [[InterspeciesRomance unicorn and human couple to be romantically involved]]. A male unicorn lost his immortality, fell in love in a mortal woman, they lived happy, [[TrueCompanions grew old and died together]].
* HumanityEnsues:
** The unicorn is transformed by Schmendrick into a human woman, against her will.
** This is foreshadowed by a story Schmendrick tells about his own teacher Nikos turning a unicorn stallion into a human man. [[spoiler:Unfortunately, Nikos could not reverse the spell, and the unicorn/man died in comfortable old age. The protagonist unicorn is horrified.]]
* HumanityIsInfectious: Amalthea eventually gains enough to the point where she "dies" when Schmendrick changes the unicorn back.
* [[IJustWantToBeNormal I Just Want To Stay Normal]]: Amalthea begs Schmendrick not to change her back into a unicorn.
* IncorruptiblePurePureness: Unicorns, Molly, and Lír.
* ItMustBeMine: Haggard and "his" unicorns.
* ItsAllAboutMe: Haggard's biggest vice--and danger--is his selfishness and obsessiveness.
* JumpedAtTheCall: Both Schmendrick and Molly are willing to travel with the unicorn within hours of meeting her.
* JustLikeRobinHood: Captain Cully and his outlaw gang certainly aspire to be, but instead are quite the opposite. They rob the poor because they can't fight back, and pay off the rich to turn a blind eye.
* KarmicDeath: Mommy Fortuna and [[spoiler:King Haggard]].
* KnightInShiningArmor: Lír.
* LastOfHerKind: [[spoiler:But not exactly. It turns out that there ''are'' more unicorns--but they have all been imprisoned in the sea by King Haggard, with the help of the Red Bull.]]
* LoveMartyr: ''Oh, Lír.''
* MagikarpPower: Schmendrick's magic. Similarly, see also CrouchingMoronHiddenBadass.
* MayflyDecemberRomance: Prince Lír and the unicorn... sort of. As Lady Amalthea, she's as human and mortal as he is, and when she's turned back into the immortal unicorn she can no longer feel love for him, but he still loves her all the same.
* MeaningfulEcho:
** Molly sings parts of Mommy Fortuna's song, and Amalthea sings a verse of a song she heard as a unicorn... but by then she's forgotten what it means and where she heard it.
** There are also a lot of conversations about promises.
* MeaningfulName:
** The unicorn's alias, "Amalthea," is a reference to the nanny goat who nursed Zeus. The original Amalthea had lost a horn, which became the Cornucopia, effectively making her a unicorn.
** "Haggard" pretty much speaks for itself.
** "Schmendrick" is a Yiddish word meaning someone who is foolish, clueless, or hopelessly out of his depth: a boy sent to do a man's job.
** The Harpy is called "Celaeno"[[note]] literally, "The Dark One"[[/note]] both as a ShoutOut to the harpy of the same name from Greek mythology, and because she is the dark and twisted yin to the Unicorn's light and pure yang.
* TheMindIsAPlaythingOfTheBody: The unicorn's frightening personality change following her transformation.
* MistakenForQuake: Referenced: Schmendrick remarks that people who mistake a unicorn for a horse would also mistake [[NorseMythology the Midgard Serpent]] for an earthquake.
* MotiveRant: King Haggard has one when he wistfully tells [[spoiler:Lady Amalthea]] why [[spoiler:he holds all the unicorns prisoner in the sea]].
* MysticalWhiteHair: Amalthea, the unicorn's human form.
* NakedOnArrival: Due to an aversion of MagicPants, this is the unicorn's human form at first sight.
* NoNameGiven: The unicorn. "Amalthea" is just an alias used when in human form.
* OlderThanTheyLook: Schmendrick. He was [[CursedWithAwesome cursed to stop aging]] by Nikos, under the condition that he find out who and what he was. [[CaptainObvious It's implied that he's much older than he looks.]]
* ThePardon: The king pardons the outlaws at the end.
* ThePowerOfLove: The desire to be someone worthy of Amalthea's love spurns Lír to change from a lazy coward into a GenreSavvy hero.
* PrincessClassic: Amalthea, especially as her humanity becomes more evident, acts like this, and nearly became an actual princess.
* ProphecyTwist: Haggard's previous magician, Mabruk, tells Haggard "You have let your doom in by the front door, but it will not depart that way!" [[spoiler:We assume that he's referring to Amalthea (and maybe that's all that he realizes). But Haggard's doom is actually caused by Lír, who was left on Haggard's doorstep as a baby. If Lír hadn't sacrificed his life, the unicorn would have just gone into the sea and would not have fought back against the Red Bull.]]
* PunnyName: As well as being a Yiddish word (see above), "Schmendrick the Magician" is also a pun on "MandrakeTheMagician."
* PurposeDrivenImmortality: Schmendrick's teacher makes him immortal until he can learn to use his magic.
* QuestForTheRest
* RapunzelHair: Lady Amalthea.
* ReallyWasBornYesterday: Amalthea. Haggard and Lír discuss this trope when they see her approaching the castle.
* RefusalOfTheCall: The unicorn frets and delays for some time before setting out to find the others.
* RoaringRampageOfRevenge: What finally defeats the Red Bull and frees the unicorns.
* RunOrDie: Subverted. Running from the harpy would have ''gotten'' them killed.
* SceneryPorn: The comic adaptation is absolutely gorgeous, whether for the actual scenery or even the panel layout.
* ScrewDestiny: Just before the final encounter with the Red Bull, Lady Amalthea [[spoiler:wants to back out, marry Lír, and live happily ever after--Lír is the one who insists that the story can't end that way.]]
* TakingTheBullet / DivingSave: [[spoiler:Prince Lír jumps in front of the charging Red Bull to save the unicorn, killing the prince instantly.]] Cue BerserkButton.
* ThisIsReality: Captain Cully gets upset over the RobinHood incident. Molly turns it back on him:
-->'''Molly:''' Nay, Cully, you have it backward. There's no such person as you, or me, or any of us. Robin and Marian are real, and we are the legend!
* UnableToCry: Immortal creatures. When the unicorn returns to her real shape after being human, she confesses that she wants to cry now but cannot.
* {{Unicorn}}: One of the most famous. She's the size of a large pony, is often mistaken for one by [[HumansAreMorons the unobservant]] despite looking as much like a goat or deer as a horse (albeit more ethereal than any of the above), and has a leonine tail. Males of her species have beards.
* UnicornsAreSacred: King Haggard [[spoiler: captured all the unicorns but one with the Red Bull and drove them all into the sea]], just because he could, and because they were the only things that could make him feel happiness.
* UniquenessValue: The Last Unicorn is so very, very precious to all involved because she is the last of her kind. [[spoiler:After freeing all the other unicorns she remains unique because she's the only one to have ever experienced (and will remember) human emotion.]]
* {{Unperson}}: A threat by King Haggard, made all the scarier by the vagueness of just how Haggard would accomplish it.
-->"You are losing my interest," the rustling voice interrupted him again, "and that is very dangerous. In a moment I will have forgotten you quite entirely, and will never be able to remember just what I did with you. What I forget not only ceases to exist, but never really existed in the first place."
* UnusualEuphemism:
-->'''Molly Grue:''' Slit his wizard!
** The book explains that she meant either "gizzard" or "weasand" (an archaic term for the throat), and amalgamated the two.
* VirginityMakesYouStupid: {{Subverted}}; a virgin princess is obliged to call a unicorn before she can marry, but rather than being silly and naive she is pragmatic and cynical, treating the whole ritual as a joke.
* WantingIsBetterThanHaving: This is King Haggard's FatalFlaw, and it even extends to Hagsgate, his town. Everything comes easily to him (and the town doesn't have to work to earn a living) but because everything comes so easily, nothing is satisfying (and the town is basically a prosperous craphole.) Probably one of the reasons why unicorns still interest him is that there's one last unicorn out there he's never captured.
* WildMagic: Schmendrick does not so much control the magic he uses, as acts as a conduit for it to do what is ''necessary'', which is not the same as doing what he ''wants''.
* WildWilderness
* WhoWantsToLiveForever:
** A major theme in the story is that immortal beings cannot appreciate mortality.
--->'''Schmendrick:''' I was born mortal, and I have been immortal for a long, foolish time, and one day I will be mortal again--so I know something that a unicorn cannot know. Whatever can die is ''beautiful'', more beautiful than the unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world.
** Mommy Fortuna had a twisted view of immortality in regards to the Harpy:
--->'''Fortuna:''' Oh, she'll kill me one day or another. But she will remember forever that I caught her; that I held her prisoner. So there's ''my'' immortality, eh?
* TheWisePrince: Lír
* WorldsMostBeautifulWoman: Not explicitly stated, but when the most beautiful creature in the world [[HumanityEnsues becomes human]] this seems to be the result. It's worth noting however, that as [[TheMindIsAPlaythingOfTheBody she becomes more human]] she stays beautiful, but the mystical quality of her beauty fades away.
* YouCanSeeMe: Mommy Fortuna, Schmendrick, Molly, and (terrifyingly) the Red Bull all know the unicorn when they encounter her. Most ordinary people mistake the unicorn for a white horse, and Mommy Fortuna has to put a fake horn on the unicorn to exhibit her to the public. The cat is also able to see her, because "No cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances."
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