Title: Two Hearts
Series: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Date Added: August 24, 2014
Date Started: July 27, 2018
Date Finished: August 10, 2018
Reading Duration: 14 Days
Genre: Short Story, Fantasy
Coda to The Last Unicorn – a novelette. Available for free on the author’s website.
Do not be ashamed of me because I am old.
If there was one work of fiction or fantasy I would recommend to everyone, it would be The Last Unicorn. Ahead of its time and meta before meta was cool, it is not your typical fairy tale even though it contains all the elements: a mythic creature, a forlorn quest, an evil king, a hero prince. Yet, there was an elusive awareness embodied in all of the characters not hitherto seen , as if they, too, were aware they lived in a story, but even with this knowledge, they were still beholden to the rules, tedious though they might be. Written and published in the late 60’s, Beagle professes it took two years to write, and “it was hard every step of the way.”
Two Hearts may very well be the longest interval between an original and its sequel written by the same author, though I’m loath to take bets on that. Only on the author’s website and not available for purchase, I’m not even sure I’d buy it if it were. Oh, I want to support Mr. Beagle, but I don’t think he’s the one who’d benefit. While I don’t know the details, there have been longstanding accusations of elder abuse and theft from his manager. It makes me wary about buying any of his works now, as I don’t know if he’ll receive what he’s due, and it seems like something I need to look into going forward.
Written in the exact same mien as the first despite the sequel being in the first person where TLU is the third, fans of the original will immediately recognize their favorite characters even before they’re named and wonder about the fates of others. It occurs decades after the unicorn’s first adventure when a new antagonist even worse than the Red Bull terrorizes the land: a griffin that snatches children in the night (it reminded me of The Last Guardian, which I was watching a Let’s Play of at the same time I was reading this). Our window in is Sooz, a little girl determined to find the great hero King Lir whose legends have aged better than he. She manages to fall in with Molly and Schmendrick who are together in all the ways that matter. They are also relatively the same age they were at the end of the original, which is interesting considering the condition of Schmendrick’s aging. He was supposed to start when he found his magic, but maybe time still hasn’t caught up to him yet, and maybe Molly, too, dwells within the bubble of his influence because Lir was younger than her when they first met, but now the once prince is old.
It is only when Schmendrick speaks about unicorns that the king wakes from his aged trance. He is still waiting for her to return to much heartbreak, but Lir is still also a hero. When Sooz tells him of her town’s distress, he doesn’t think twice about going. The story closes in a way that is not surprising, yet it doesn’t disappoint. It ends in the exact way it needs.
“Do not be ashamed of me because I am old” is the most heartbreaking line I have read in a while, and I believe it is not only the core of this story, but also Beagle speaking of himself. Lir stands in as an Author Avatar, a man in his final years languishing in dreams of past glory and happier times. It seems fitting that Lir is only brought back to the present by mention of the past in the unicorn. The original story is what Beagle is most known for, and as the decades have passed, both him and Lir have lived well off the laurels to a possibly unhealthy point. This long awaited sequel where the now king performs one final heroic task might be Beagle doing something similar. There’s a…sadness about Lir that isn’t present in any of the other characters, not even Sooz whose town is terrorized.
As for the title, per what Lir tells Sooz it refers to the lion and eagle hearts contained in the griffin, but I am certain there is a double if not triple entendre in the name. My initial thought was it referred to Molly and Schmendrick or Lir and the unicorn; now I believe it’s all. Two hearts find one broken and seeking its whole. The broken heart battles a two-hearted foe, but cannot triumph until its second returns.
This was exactly what I expected from a sequel to The Last Unicorn. It captures the mien and magic of the original novel without just repeating what happened, while showing us what became of the characters we oh so loved. It was a beautiful epitaph and fitting send off for all.