In the Belly of the Cage

Sarah McIntire '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Magic permeates the world of the last unicorn. The leaves don't fall in the forest because of her presence, and she can converse with both humans and animals. When she travels across country, townsfolk easily forget her companions, but remember "his white mare [that] troubled the nights of many a villager." To accentuate the magic that surrounds the last unicorn, Beagle brings normally ordinary or mundane settings to life. When captured by Mommy Fortuna and her traveling carnival, the unicorn finds herself locked in an iron cage that springs wickedly to life around her.

No creature of man's night loves cold iron, and wile the unicorn could endure its presence, the murderous smell of it seemed to turn her bones to sand and her blood to rain. The bars of her cage must have had some sort of spell on them, for they never stopped whispering evilly to one another in clawed, pattering voices. The heavy lock giggled and whined like a mad monkey.[18]

Beagle personifies the cage that surrounds the unicorn, giving the bars "clawed, pattering voices" and the lock a twisted madness. Often in The Last Unicorn, he uses personification to describe settings or places that are often magical when compared to the rest of the world, such as the "plump" town or Haggard's spooky castle that "crept into the sky."


1. Why does Beagle use personification to describe the unicorn's cage?

2. What kind of image do the words "murderous," "evilly," and "mad" conjure of the cage and the unicorn's situation? Why does the cage appear so horrible to the unicorn?

3. Why can't Schmendrick feel the evil in the cage? Does he know that it exists?

4. Why does Beagle use the phrase "creature of man's night"? Does this equate the unicorn with the other horrific creatures of Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival?


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

Victorian Web Overview Peter S. Beagle Fantasy

Last modified 12 April 2004