Frequently Asked Questions about "The Last Unicorn"

Since I first set up this page I've gotten a lot of email asking various questions, so I decided to put the answers on the web too. So here are the answers to your questions (some of which you didn't even know you wanted to ask).
Q: What is the full cast list of the voice actors in the movie?

Rankin-Bass wisely followed the lead of Disney in getting quality acting talent to perform for the movie. All of the lead characters are played by name actors from movies, tv, and stage, while some of the secondary characters are played by talented voice actors.

The Last Unicorn/Amalthea..............Mia Farrow
Schmendrick............................Alan Arkin
King Haggard...........................Christopher Lee
Molly Grue.............................Tammy Grimes
Lir....................................Jeff Bridges
Mommy Fortuna..........................Angela Lansbury
The Butterfly..........................Robert Klein
Cully..................................Keenan Wynn
The Skull..............................Rene Auberjonois
Mabruk.................................Paul Frees
Ruhk the hunchback.....................Brother Theodore
The Cat................................Don Messick
(Info about the voice of the cat came from a post by Matt Lovell on rec.arts.animation.)


Q: What do the names mean?

In Greek mythology, Amalthea was the name for the she-goat who nursed the baby Zeus. According to one version, he broke off one of her horns (leaving her a "uni-horned" goat) and the broken horn spilled forth a wealth of fruits and foods. This is the origin of the "horn of plenty" (such as you see in lots of Thanksgiving decorations here in the US). This horn which spilled forth the bounty of food is connected to the idea of the unicorn's horn being a source of magical healing power.

I found out during a visit to the British Musuem Library (June 1996) where I saw an exhibit called The Mythical Quest that "Ruhk" is a variant of the spelling of "Roc," the giant birds from the Sinbad stories. Whether this was what Beagle was thinking about or what (if anything) he meant by it, I don't know.

As for Schmendrick, I don't know if Beagle has ever said anything about it, but I've always assumed that his name comes in part from the Yiddish slang word "schlemiel" which means "an unlucky bungler" (not a bad description of Schmendrick). The incongruity of someone trying to present himself as a "great" wizard, but having a name which sounds like yiddish slang is part of the wry humor Beagle puts into the story.


Q: When Schmendrick wants to distract Ruhk while he tries to free the Unicorn, he gives Ruhk the riddle "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Is there an in-joke here?

Yes, a literary one. This is the riddle that the Mad Hatter asks Alice at the Mad Tea Party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. When Alice gives up, the Hatter tells her there is no answer to that riddle. Alice chides him by saying "I should think you could better spend your time than coming up with questions for which there are no answers." Since there was no answer to the riddle, Schmendrick could safely use it to keep Ruhk occupied. In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner points out that after the publication of Alice, some wit came up with a possible answer: "Because Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both."
Q: What are the different versions of the movie?

The original version released theatrically in the US in 1981 and shown on cable in the early 80s was the "short version" which did not have the song "Now That I'm a Woman" sung by Almalthea (although the quick reprise sung as a counterpoint to Lir's song "That's All I've Got to Say" was in there). So far as I can tell, all the commercially released videotapes have been the "long version" where the song was restored along with a few other short clips. I have both versions on tape and someday I'm going to sit down and make a list of the differences. Why was the song was cut in the first place and why was it restored in the videotape version? I have no idea.


Q: Is the book still in print?

Yes. In fact it has never gone out of print since it was first published in hardback in 1968. Currently, it is available as a slightly oversized paperback from ROC/Penguin. ISBN 0-451-45052-3


Q: Is the videotape still available?

Yes, it's available in NTSC format in the US (Family Home Entertainment Theater, ISBN 0-7840-0393-9) for around $15 and can be found in many video stores. It can currently (fall 1996) be mail ordered through Whole Toon Catalog by calling (in the US) 1-800-331-6197 or773-281-9075. They have it for $14.95 plus shipping and the catalog number is VHS:S04605. It's also available in PAL format for Europe (see info about Music Express below for ordering the PAL version).


Q: What else has Peter S. Beagle written?

This is hardly a complete bibliography, but here goes:

Books
A Fine and Private Place (a romantic comedy about two ghosts who fall inlove in a New York City cemetary)
I See By My Outfit (a travel narrative)
Lila the Werewolf and Come Lady Death (two fantasy/horror stories included in the book The Complete Works of Peter Beagle published in 1979).
The Garden of Earthly Delights (an illustrated essay about the 15th century artist Heironymous Bosch's surreal vision of Heaven)
The Folks of the Air (a fantasy about some Society for Creative Anachronism-types in California)
The Innkeeper's Song (a darker fantasy about three female magicians fighting an evil wizard)
The Immortal Unicorn (a collection of short stories about unicorns by various writers edited by Beagle and Janet Berliner. He contributed a story which is his first unicorn story since The Last Unicorn.)
The Unicorn Sonata coming in October 1996 is his first unicorn novel since The Last Unicorn. I'll post a short review when I get my copy.

Tapes:
Peter Beagle...Live (a collection of folk (and filk) songs written and sung by Beagle. Includes him singing "The Innkeeper's Song". 1986. Still available, at least through Pegasus Publications here in Texas, or through a filk music dealer at your nearest science fiction convention.
The Last Unicorn (abriged) read by Peter S. Beagle (Penguin Audio, 1993)

Screenplays:
part credit for the screenplay of Ralph Bashi's animated film of The Lord of the Rings
"Whale of a Tale", the pilot episode of Disney's tv series of The Little Mermaid
"Sarek" (based on an unpublished story by Mark Cushman & Jake Jacobs)The episode of Star Trek-The Next Generation where an elderly and ill Sarek (Spock's father) comes on board the Enterprise to negotiate one last treaty for the Federation, but is losing his ability to control his emotions. He mind melds with Picard so that Picard will help control his emotions while he is in the final negotiations. A more complete synopsis is available at "Star Trek: The Next Generation, Episode Guide".

If anyone knows of any other stories, articles, or screenplays that I have missed, please email me and let me know.


Q. My parents/siblings/friends/teachers think it's strange that I like a fantasy novel about unicorns and wish I were more interested in mature, adult things. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person like this in the world. Am I weird or something?

No, you're not the only one (you'd be surprised at how much email I get about this book), and you're in a lot of good literary company. Fantasy stories (in novels or tv shows or comics or whatever) or other things that appeal to our imaginations are generally looked down upon in western culture because they are seen as something only for children and thus something to be "outgrown". But it is those who have "outgrown" their imaginations who are the poorest people on the planet. See if you can find the essay "On Three Ways of Writing for Children"(in the book On Stories)by the British author C. S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) orthe essay "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" (in the book The Language of the Night) by the US author Ursula Le Guinn (The Earthsea Trilogy, The Left Hand of Darkness). Both these essays argue that the real childish people in the world are those who are afraid of their "childish" imaginations. Here are excepts from both:

Critics who treat "adult" as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence....When I was ten, I read fairytales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and thedesire to be very grown up."

C. S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children


I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination; so that it is our pleasant duty at librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.

For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know that too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.

So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy -- they confuse them much less often than we adults do....Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.

Ursula Le Guinn, Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?


and now, the single most Frequently Asked Question:
Q: I've been trying for years to find the soundtrack. Does it exist andhow can I get it?

When The Last Unicorn was released theatrically in the US in 1981, apparently no soundtrack was ever released on LP in the US. Several years later when the movie was released in Germany, the soundtrack (with the songs in English) was released over there by Virgin Records on LP, cassette, and CD. So why doesn't your local music store carry it under imports? I tried to order the CD several years back and this is what I was told by the guy at the music store (take it with a grain of salt): "Apprently Virgin has the European license, but not the US license. Someone else has the US one, even though they have never released it. So legally, no retailer in the US can import it for resale." (I have since seen one person on rec.arts.anime claim to have bought a copy at a Tower Records in California, so who knows?)

Anyway, this meant that for years the only way to get a copy was to either know someone in Europe who could buy you a copy and send it over here orelse buy one yourself when you were visiting Europe. (It's not illegal to buy one for your own use there and bring it back to the US.) But with the rise of the internet and world wide web, you can now order European CDs directly, all you need is web access and a credit card. There are several companies that do this, but the two I have found areMusic Express andCD Europe. Once you are there, read the instructions and then go to their catalogs. If you do a search by title ofLast Unicorn, then Music Express will give this:

$25.45 AMERICA -- LAST UNICORN
VIRG673521 01/96
CD

$16.96 AMERICA -- LAST UNICORN
VIRG673545 01/96
Cassette

$16.20 CHILDRENS--LAST UNICORN
CHIL658238 04.95
Pal Videotape-Will Not Play in US

Doing the same thing at CD Europe will give this:

Last UnicornOstVIRGI12/31/92Vinyl Album$ 15.95
Last UnicornOstVIRGI12/31/92Compact Disc album$ 21.95
Last UnicornOstVIRGI12/31/92Audiocassette$ 15.95
Last Unicorn -4 Tr.-SwirlHA.CO3/3/955" CD single$ 13.95
The Last UnicornSwirlMercu2/25/96Compact Disc album$ 33.95

I *think* the last two listings are either later releases of the same soundtrack or else another album entirely that is also called "The Last Unicorn" (but isn't the soundtrack). In any case, you want one of the ones labelled "OST" (original soundtrack). Don't be shocked at the price on the CDs. Most CDs in Europe cost more than they do here in the US, and these are about the going price if you bought it off the shelf in Germany.


Q: So which company should I use?

Your choice. Music Express is a bit more expensive, but they don't charge your card until they have the recording ready to ship, and if they can't find it you don't get charged at all. CD Europe charges you as soon as you order, so you're carrying that payment for however many weeks before they actually ship it to you. I've never heard any complaints about Music Express, but I have gotten one complaint about CD Europe's service. Music Express charges $3.00 to ship (air mail) your order regardless of the number of CDs you order. CD Europe does the same for $3.50. Both promise delivery (if it's still available) within six weeks.

Note: I have no affiliation with either of these companies and I make no promises or guarantees about them. If you do order a copy of the soundtrack, please let me know (hairston@utdallas.edu) what happens (good or bad). If one of them starts messing up, then I'll remove it from this page. Thanks.
Q: So what is on the soundtrack?

It runs about 40 minutes total with all the vocal pieces performed in order first, followed by all the instrumental pieces. Here is the listing:
1. The Last Unicorn (opening)
2. Man's Road
3. In the Sea
4. Now that I'm a Woman
5. That's All I've Got to Say
6. The Last Unicorn (closing)
7. Forest Awakens
8. Red Soup
9. Red Bull Attacks
10. The Cat
11. The Tree
12. Haggard's Unicorns
13. Bull-Unicorn-Woman
14. Unicorns in the Sea
15. Unicorn and Lir (the cover misspells his name as "Lear")


Last question

Q: Can I have your autographed copy of The Last Unicorn?

No.


Back to The Last Unicorn page.