Unicorn and Magician: An Unlikely Friendship

Jessica Harnsberger '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

After partaking in her first Mommy Fortuna Carnival show, the unicorn waits patiently for Schmendrick the Magician to visit her cage just before dawn. She explains to him that the world in which they live differs greatly from the world of her past: a perpetual spring in the safe and beautiful forest. Since leaving the lilac wood, the unicorn has encountered evil creatures and a new, darker type of magic that even possesses her for a short time. During the conversation, the unicorn confesses both to Schmendrick and to herself that "there has never been a world in which [she] was not known" (Beagle 29). To which the magician replies:

"I know exactly how you feel," . . . . The unicorn looked at him out of dark, endless eyes, and he smiled nervously and looked at his hands. "It's a rare man who is taken for what he truly is," he said. "There is much misjudgment in the world. Now, I knew you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you take me for a clown, or a clod, or a betrayer, and so must I be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. We are not always what we seem, and hardy ever what we dream. Still I have read, or heard it sung, that unicorns when time was young, could tell the difference 'twixt the two -- the false shining and the true, the lips' laugh and he heart's rue." His quiet voice lifted as the sky grew lighter, and for a moment the unicorn could not hear the bars whining or the soft ringing of the harpy's wings. [29-30]

In the following moments, the unicorn and the magician form a lasting bond of friendship. After failing several times to free the unicorn from her prison with his magic, the magician, about to accept defeat, rises again with the encouragement of his friend to "try again" (34). Explaining to the unicorn that "mortals . . . take what they can get," Schmendrick unlocks her cage with a stolen key, risking his life to save the magnificent creature (35). The unicorn returns the favor soon after by saving him from the terrible harpy and "lighting his way to safety, or to madness" with her horn through the darkness of night (39).

Questions

1. How does the magician's distinction between false/illusion and true/real allow him to relate to the unicorn? Why is it important that the harpy and the unicorn are the only real creatures in Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival?

2. For a moment, the unicorn does not hear the noises around her but instead focuses entirely on the voice of Schmendrick. What does this tells us about their connection?

3. Beagle creates a sense of ambiguity about the unicorn and her journey with the phrase "lighting his way to safety, or to madness." How does this contribute to the characterization of the unicorn?

4. How does the magic Mommy Fortuna uses differ from the magic of the lilac forest? How do these forms of magic compare to those in the other fantasy books we have read?

References

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


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Last modified 12 April 2004