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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 Creator/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.
* AlasPoorVillain:
** InUniverse example. Schmendrick, in spite of his loathing of Mommy Fortuna, weeps after she is killed by the harpy.
** Lír is the only one to make even a single sound of mourning for [[spoiler:King Haggard's death]].
* 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.
* AnimalisticAbomination: The Red Bull is about as much a bull as the unicorn is a horse. Sure, it '''looks''' like a bull, but it is actually a mystical entity of such [[TimeAbyss age]] and [[TheJuggernaut power]] that it makes even unicorns tremble.
* AscendedFangirl: Molly Grue never stopped believing in unicorns, even when she stopped believing she was worthy to see one. Then she became instrumental in helping the last unicorn in the world to free the others.
* AuthorAvatar: According to Peter S. Beagle, the Butterfly is this. Or at least, it represented himself back when he wrote the story.
* BabiesEverAfter: Hagsgate is afraid to have children because of the prophecy that their prosperity depends on Haggard, and one of their children will bring him down. At the end, when it has been fulfilled, Prince Lír urges the people of Hagsgate to start families.
* BarefootPoverty: Molly Grue.
* BeautifulAllAlong: Played with near the end of the book, the hard-luck, middle-aged Molly Grue puts her hair down, and the narrator says "she was more beautiful than [[WorldsMostBeautifulWoman the Lady Amalthea]]" -- because the narrator is following the thoughts of [[spoiler:Schmendrick]], who has fallen in love with her.
* 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: Schmendrick's teacher, Nikos, does this for/to Schmendrick, by making him immortal until he figures out his place in the world.
-->'''Nikos''': 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.
* CapturedSuperEntity: Mommy Fortuna, owner of a traveling circus-cum-freak-show, had captured by magic the Harpy Celaeno. The monster had sworn revenge and makes all possible things to escape, while the witch drains herself of power and ages herself quickly to still hold her under magic tether.
* 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 already has.
-->'''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. [[spoiler:And it turns out to be true. Haggard adopted his son Lír as a baby, when he found the abandoned infant on a street in Hagsgate surrounded by a group of cats trying to keep him from freezing to death. Lír unwittingly causes Haggard's downfall by enabling the unicorn to defeat the Red Bull.]]
* 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, of course.)
* {{Deconstruction}}: The story is considered one for fairy tales in general, by having the characters pointing out how they're aware that they live inside a fairy tale. The story also deconstructs common cliches of the genre: the princess is cold and aloof (and not even human), the old woman believes in unicorns the most of them all and is close friends with the princess instead of being her enemy, the Prince Charming is originally a lazy bum and has to work to actually turn into a desirable Charming figure, by changing his habits and parts of his personality; the old wicked witch simply wants to be remembered, and the wizard is quite incompetent in his magic. Biggest thing of all, [[spoiler:the story doesn't end with the princess and the prince marrying and living happily ever after]].
* DemBones: The guardian of the passageway that leads to the Red Bull.
* DoesNotLikeShoes: Molly Grue goes barefoot, although in her case it's probably more like [[BarefootPoverty cannot]] ''[[BarefootPoverty afford]]'' [[BarefootPoverty shoes]].
* DoesThisRemindYouOfAnything: Amalthea's crisis and Haggard's motivation could be read as symptoms of depression.
* 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.
* EmptyEyes:
-->'''King Haggard:''' ''(to Amalthea)'' Your eyes! Your eyes have become empty as Lír's, as any eyes that... never saw unicorns.
* FamousLastWords: Mommy Fortuna's "Not alone! You never could have freed yourselves 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.
* FunctionalGenreSavvy: Several characters, particularly Lír, who makes a much-quoted speech about the proper order of things during the climax of the story.
* FunctionalMagic: Rule Magic for wizards and witches and Inherent Gifts for magical beings such as the unicorn. Magic sometimes acts like Wild Magic for Schmendrick the Magician, but this is because he is incompetent; he has an intuitive grasp of magic that comes to him in moments of great emotion, but even then he speaks certain words in a certain way to use it.
* GoodIsNotNice: Unicorns may be [[IncorruptiblePurePureness incorruptible]], but they're also ''wild.''
-->'''Schmendrick:''' With a word and a wave, [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 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.
* HairTriggerTemper:
** Mabruk, King Haggard, Mommy Fortuna, and Rukh are all extremely quick to take offense, and enjoy bullying and intimidating others.
** Lír 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!
* HarpingOnAboutHarpies
* {{Herald}}: The hunters and the butterfly for the last unicorn.
* 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. 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.
* ImmortalityBeginsAtTwenty: Schmendrick. See OlderThanTheyLook below.
* IncorruptiblePurePureness: Unicorns, Molly, and Lír.
* ItMustBeMine: Haggard and "his" unicorns.
* ItsAllAboutMe: Haggard's biggest vice--and danger--is his selfishness and obsessiveness.
* JerkWithAHeartOfGold: Molly Grue, all but stated to be this.
-->'''Captain Cully:''' It is only natural that she should become suspicious, pinched, dour, prematurely old, even a touch tyrannical . . . But she's a good heart, a good heart.
* 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.]]
* TheLastTitle: The title.
* LeaveYourQuestTest: Amalthea tries to back out just before the final battle. Her lover, Prince Lír, is an experienced hero and insists that it can't end this way -- even though if she stayed human they could marry and be happy together. The same event could also be considered a test for ''him''.
* LeftFieldDescription
* LegacyCharacter: When Lír declares he will find the Unicorn at any cost at the end, it's noted he looks like Haggard for the first time. Schmendrick advises against it.
* LoadBearingBoss: King Haggard.
* LoveMakesYouCrazy: After the day has been saved, Lír decides to look for the Unicorn. Schmendrick tells him not to, and briefly Lír's rage turns him into Haggard Jr. He realizes before it's too late that it would be a fruitless, self-destructive search.
** Amalthea's love for Lír also counts, because in loving Lír she comes to completely forget her past and true self as a unicorn, though she recovers some of it before the end.
* 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. WordOfGod has it that the author was not aware of the origins of the name when it came to him and suspects he read the myth as a child and got it stuck in his subconscious.
** "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.
*** It's also a parody of ComicStrip/MandrakeTheMagician - even according to The Other Wiki.
** 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.
** Lír isn't just a PunctuationShaker - anyone versed in Irish mythology would recognise the name as that of the Irish ''sea'' god, most prominent in ''Literature/TheChildrenOfLir'', in which his three children are turned into swans and bound to three lakes, for three hundred years each per lake.
* 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 [[Myth/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.
* NighInvulnerable: The Red Bull is essentially indestructible... [[spoiler:but that's not to say it cannot back down.]]
* 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. WordOfGod says he's anywhere from 40 to 60.]]
* PainfulRhyme: [[invoked]] Lír's love poetry to Amalthea uses this as a form of StylisticSuck (since his poetry is ''supposed'' to be terrible):
-->''"It's certainly heartfelt", she said. "Can you really rhyme 'bloomed' with 'ruined?'"''
* 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 becomes an actual princess. [[spoiler:An actual one of these, Princess Alyson Jocelyn, turns up near the very end.]]
* 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, whom Haggard adopted as a baby and, one would presume, brought him into the castle via the front door. 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 "ComicStrip/MandrakeTheMagician."
* PurposeDrivenImmortality: Schmendrick's teacher makes him immortal until he can learn to use his magic.
* QuestForTheRest
* RapunzelHair: Lady Amalthea.
* RealityEnsues: Poor Molly eloped with Cully because she imagined the romantic life of an outlaw, thanks to stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. The ensuing reality of {{barefoot poverty}} and constantly cooking and washing for scores of rowdy men out in the woods made her prematurely old and bitter.
* 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.]]
* ShownTheirWork: Unicorns are not "horses with horns", and the book acknowledges that. The unicorn is a creature mashup like a griffin or hippocampus: she has deer legs, cloven hooves, a lion's tail... But she has an old, wild grace that makes all her contradictory parts work.
* 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!
* TookALevelInBadass: [[spoiler:Seeing Lír face down the Red Bull fills Shmendrick with magic permanently, turning him from an IneptMage to TheArchmage. He is even able to turn a human being into a unicorn, a feat his master Nikos himself was unable to perform.]]
* UnableToCry: Immortal creatures. When the unicorn returns to her real shape after being human, she confesses that she wants to cry now but cannot.
* UngratefulBastard:
** The harpy tries to kill the unicorn right after she frees her. Fortunately, she bears more of a grudge against Mommy Fortuna and her assistant Rukh.
** Molly ''begs'' Schmendrick to use his magic to save the unicorn from the Red Bull, but immediately turns on him after he does so by turning her into a human girl.
** The Lady Amalthea also displays this after they go to live at King Haggard's court, calling Schmendrick a fool for working as his court jester, even though the whole reason he does it is to buy her time. Even Molly calls her out on it.
* {{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.
* VillainousBreakdown: King Haggard has one at the end.
* 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.
* VisibleToBelievers: Unicorns are visible as themselves only to those who believe they exist -- otherwise they look like horses.
* 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.
* 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?
* 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
* TheWisePrince: Lír, after he's changed by having been in love with Amalthea.
* 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."
* YourSizeMayVary: Sometimes the Red Bull is just large, but sometimes it is [[AttackOfTheFiftyFootWhatever ginormous]].
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