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Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle: Read, Chapter V

I apologize, everyone. Apparently, this post didn't go up last Monday like I thought it had. Here it is now.

Welcome back to this read of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, where we examine characteristics of a successful book with an eye toward becoming better writers. To catch up or review previous parts of this read, click here.



Chapter V

Summary: After Jack Jingly takes off with Schmendrick, they have a bumpy ride on horseback to the outlaws’ camp. There Schmendrick meets Captain Cully, the outlaw leader who fancies himself as something like a real world Robin Hood. Schmendrick goes out of his way to appear amiable and swiftly gains Cully’s interest. Though other members of Cully’s band, Molly Grue in particular, are far from pleased about the magician’s presence.

Cully demands his minstrel play all the songs about Cully for Schmendrick’s edification. Schmendrick pretends interest and butters Cully up with all sorts of invented flattery. However, Cully’s men are sick of hearing the songs and demand a real song about Robin Hood. A fight nearly breaks out, and Schmendrick barely maintains peace by offering his magic tricks as a alternative entertainment.

However, the men are far from impressed with Schmendrick’s paltry tricks. But it’s Molly Grue’s disappointed eyes that get to him. Angry, he bids the magic to do what it wills, and it responds unexpectedly. Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the merry men walk through the clearing, and the men go wild, pleading to be taken with them. They chase after the conjured figures, abandoning Cully.

Furious, Cully and Jack Jingly pounce upon Schmendrick and bind him to a tree. In the morning, Jingly determines to go to King Haggard, assuming Schmendrick is Haggard’s son Lir, to demand ransom. Then Cully, undaunted, plays every single one of his songs for Schmendrick, who’s unable to escape their hearing.

Writer Comments: There are many characteristics that give prose a lyrical quality like what Beagle uses in this novel. Among them are word choice and sentence structure, of course, but lyrical writing also generally includes a fair number of literary devices such as similes, metaphors, assonance, consonance, and so forth. As such, they are plentiful in The Last Unicorn. Lyrical writing has layers of meaning and construction. Literary devices help create this effect.

Here are some examples from this chapters:

Voices murmured somewhere ahead, sullen as robbed bees. (page 65)

the coincidence trailed down Schmendrick’s spine like wet seaweed. (page 66)

Molly Grue’s laughter fell like hail. (page 68)

Captain Cully spun like a cat ambushing its own tail. (page 68)

an eddy of baldness on his crown (page 66)

A score of shaggy shadows hissed assent (page 68)

The best literary devices are evocative and precise like these.

Moving beyond literary devices and lyricism, consider that this chapter includes no mention of the unicorn. Until this point, the story has been about the unicorn. It is in the title after all. So why diverge from this? Why have a whole chapter about Schmendrick trying to survive a band of outlaws?

Simply, the story is about more than just the unicorn. It’s also about Schmendrick. By including this chapter as it is, Beagle tips off his readers to this. I’ll not expand on that too much so as not to give further plot details away. However, this chapter brings up issues, like Schmendrick’s magic, that come into play later, and it puts a test to Schmendrick and the unicorn’s relationship. What will the unicorn do now that she and Schmendrick are separated?

We’ll resume this book next Monday. Until then, swing back by on Friday for more about how to avoid offending readers.

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