No Unicorn was Ever Born Who Could Regret

Arielle Glatman Zaretsky '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

In Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn relation to mortality defines all beings. The unicorn can not be described without comparison to other mortal beings, most commonly the human. Neither can the unicorn, in her original immortality, feel human emotions, as the feelings exist only in mortality.

I will go back to my forest too, but I do not know if I will live contentedly there, or anywhere. I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am full of tears and hunger and the fear of death, though I cannot weep, and I want nothing, and I cannot die. I am not like the others now, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret. [207]

Mortality, even for a brief time period, has certain characteristics which it imparts to the mortal. As the unicorn is taken in by Mommy Fortuna's illusion, she begins to believe she is mortal, and because of that, "[u]gliness swung from her mane, dragged down her head, stripped her tail, gaunted her body, ate up her coat" (25). Mortality causes the unicorn to have a "head heavy with death" (25), and takes away her beauty. With even the brief exposure to mortality, the unicorn's emotions change forever. Her newfound ability to regret contradicts everything that makes immortality beautiful, and immortality becomes more like a curse. The unicorn's "fear of death" (207) exists only because of her short time as a mortal, however, it changes her, not allowing her the peace and contentment that she formerly experienced as an immortal.

Questions

1. Does immortality become more meaningful when it requires different characteristics?

2. Why can't the unicorn weep once she becomes immortal again? Does Beagle think one can exist as an immortal and still feel human emotions?

3. Did the Lady Amalthea love Prince Lir? Does she still love him when returned to unicorn form?

4. How does the unicorn's beauty relate to her immortality, since when it seems to be gone under Mommy Fortuna's illusion, the unicorn believes herself an ugly creature, however when she becomes truly mortal, her beauty remains breathtaking?

References

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


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Last modified 12 April 2004