Seeing is Believing

Justin Fike '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

In Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, the titular last Unicorn on earth sets out from her home in an enchanted forest in search of more of her kind. She quickly discovers that the world outside of her wood had changed however. Though humans remember songs and stories of Unicorns from days gone by, they are unable to recognize her when they see a real Unicorn standing in front of them. Throughout her adventures, she often encounters things which are not as they appear, and at times both she and the reader have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is merely illusion.

This is illusion, the unicorn told herself. This is illusion -- and somehow raised a head heavy with death to stare deep into the dark of the last cage and see, not Old Age, but Mommy Fortuna herself. . .And the unicorn knew then that she had not become mortal and ugly at all, but she did not feel beautiful again. Perhaps that was illusion too, she thought wearily. [p.25]

Some, like Schmendrick and the woman Molly Grue, are able to see her in her true form. In this world, it is belief that makes things real and gives power to magic, and so only those who already believe are able to see what she truly is. As Schmendrick said, "belief makes all the difference to magic. . ." (p.22). Throughout the book, someone's perception of reality is often more important than what is actually true.


1. Is this theme of illusion and perception unique to Peter Beagle's work of all the texts we've read?

2. Is The Last Unicorn children's or adult's fantasy?


Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. New York: Roc/New American Library, 1991.

Victorian Web Overview Peter S. Beagle Fantasy

Last modified 13 April 2004