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Author of 'The Last Unicorn' to Speak at UK

Contact: Ralph Derickson

Photo of Peter S. Beagle
Peter S. Beagle

The author said he really did not know what particular message the book presents that has given it such a lasting quality and caused it to be translated into 20 languages. “It does, however, contain one of my themes or ‘fingerprints,’” he said. “People see so much what they want to see – some just see a mare in the story and not a unicorn.”

April 9, 2003 (Lexington, Ky.) -- Peter S. Beagle, author of “The Last Unicorn,” a book that became a highly successful animated feature film, will speak at the University of Kentucky at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 24, in the William T. Young Library auditorium.

The speech, one of the Visiting Writers Series addresses sponsored by the UK English department, is free and open to the public.

“The Last Unicorn,” a popular book among children as well as adults, is a story of a unicorn who overhears two hunters talking about how there are no more unicorns in the world and sets out on an adventure to discover whether it is true that she is the last unicorn.

Beagle, who was born in New York City and now lives in Oakland, Calif., is a friend of UK English professors Gurney Norman and James Baker Hall. Hall is Kentucky Poet Laureate. The three met when they were in their 20s and attending a writing class at Stanford University.

Beagle said he originally conceived the idea for “The Last Unicorn” in 1962 when he was living in Berkshire, Mass., with an artist friend. “Every day, the artist friend would get on his motor scooter and ride off to work on a landscape painting and would come in and show me what he had done,” Beagle recalls. “I wanted to start writing something so I could show him what I had done during the day.”

With no particular influence, Beagle said he one day “got an image of a unicorn going on a journey with a strange character as a companion.” He said he started finishing the book in 1966 after he “figured out who the companion was.”

The Last Unicorn – Beagle’s third book and his second novel – was published in 1968 to “mixed reviews,” Beagle said. He dedicated the book to Robert Nathan, an author friend who wrote “The Bishop’s Wife.” He said Nathan told him many good things would come his way because of that book “and it did.”

The author said he really did not know what particular message the book presents that has given it such a lasting quality and caused it to be translated into 20 languages. “It does, however, contain one of my themes or ‘fingerprints,’” he said. “People see so much what they want to see – some just see a mare in the story and not a unicorn.”

Beagle, who not only wrote the book but a stage version and the screenplay for the animated film, has also written many other books and stories. “A Fine and Private Place,” his first book, is a romantic comedy about two ghosts who fall in love in a New York City cemetery.

“This is an excellent opportunity for UK students, faculty, staff and general audiences from the community to hear and ask questions of one of the premier writers in the country,” Sanders said.

A new live action film of “The Last Unicorn” also is in production. The original animated film included the voices of Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges and Keenan Wynn. The book was published by Viking Press in 1968 and the animated film was made in 1982.

The author said Mia Farrow – the voice of the unicorn in the animated version of the book – has expressed interest in playing one of the older characters in the new movie. Angela Lansbury has also expressed interest in performing a role in the film.

Beagle also wrote the libretto for an opera, “The Midnight Angel,” which has been produced in several cities and will be revived in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2005. He recently completed a new novel, titled “For All We Know,” which is scheduled for publication this year.


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