Unicorns in literature are fascinating, evocative, mysterious, and elusive, and with The Unicorn Anthology, editors Peter S. Beagle—himself of unicorn fame—and Jacob Weisman invite continued appreciation of the legendary beast, drawing it beyond its familiar medieval framework.
The usual high fantasy elements—wizards, pure maidens, and magical forests—abound, but they are augmented by unexpected and refreshing settings and situations. A Vietnam veteran has to live with the bizarre consequences of getting a unicorn tattoo in Dave Smeds’s “Survivor,” a poignant meditation on living for others. A con artist wrestles with the effects of his lifestyle and discovers beauty in the seemingly ordinary in Jack C. Haldeman II’s “Ghost Town.” David D. Levine and Sara A. Mueller turn unicorns into show horses, with heightened pageantry and human drama, in “Falling Off the Unicorn.” In 1930s New York, an occult bookstore owner confronts otherworldly mysteries in Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “The Maltese Unicorn.”
A particular standout is Beagle’s own contribution, “My Son Heydari and the Karkadann,” which removes the figure of the unicorn from its typical Western context. Bruce Coville’s “Homeward Bound” enters beautiful metaphysical territory in its final scene. And Jane Yolen’s “The Transfigured Hart,” a hermetically inspired call to see with more than the eye, is a lovely end to the short stories. Nancy Springer’s series of unicorn poetry completes the collection as an effective set of word paintings that tie together, with shimmering thread, all that comes before.
The varied and creative stories of The Unicorn Anthology inspire new ways of engagement with an old legend. Across cultures and times, the mystical essence of this beast continues to haunt the forest of the collective human psyche.
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