TLU Read-along: Week 3 Part 2

And today we find the last post of the read-along before the grand wrap-up post a few days into the future. I’ll be collecting links to compile into a round-up post, so please do be sure to drop me links to any of your thoughts by Sunday!

Today we also talk about three different pieces: Two Hearts, The Woman who Married the Man in the Moon and the graphic novel adaptation. I’m talking about them in that order and I’m tackling their structure slightly differently from the other posts. There are no discussion questions available for these pieces. Instead, I’ve discussed Two Hearts and the graphic novel in brief mini-essay-like formats and I’m quoting liberally from The Woman who Married the Man in the Moon and commenting on the story (and its relation to the others) as I go along. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so let me know what you think!

Two Hearts

For Two Hearts I’m tempted to do something entirely different. Unfortunately, that ‘something entirely different’ involves ‘writing a proper essay’ and no. I hate essays. Still. I want to discuss the novelette. I’m struggling a bit to talk about this additional material in its own right rather than as a comparison to The Last Unicorn, so let me just start there.

Two Hearts is a first person novelette rather than a third person omniscient novel. It carries through some of the themes of The Last Unicorn in terms of perception, but it strikes me as mostly its own story with its own themes: that of duality or duplicity. With a title like Two Hearts obvious comment is obvious, but even so. There’s a lot of doubling going on. Molly and Schmendrick, Lír and the unicorn, the griffin, tales and truth, silly and serious, Sooz and Malka… (If you want me to be silly then the fact that Sooz ends up not with a choice of “left, right, straight ahead”, but only “left and right”.)

Tales are every bit as important to Two Hearts as they are to The Last Unicorn, if not more so. As are appearances. Which gives us more doubling between the hero that Lír is, that makes up the person of Lír, and the old, forgetful man he’s become. Sooz coming to tell him about the griffin gives him one last chance to be himself, to die as himself. And it is utterly heartbreaking.

Two Hearts is, in many ways a story of endings. We get glimpses of Molly and Schmendrick’s life, and we get an idea of Lír’s and even the unicorn’s life after the novel. But it’s also a story of endings. The griffin is Lír’s final quest. His story is over. It is ended. His romance to the unicorn is ended, even if he’ll live on in the unicorn’s heart (and who’s to say she won’t yet die of her wounds?). Schmendrick and Molly have equally grown older. As Molly tells Sooz, she doesn’t know who will come to the whistle she’s taught Sooz, only that someone will come. It’s a story of endings and farewells.

And, at the same time, it’s a story of beginnings. We learn that Schmendrick thinks Sooz could be a warrior queen if she wanted to be. We learn of all the heroic deeds that Lír tells her. (And yes, I will stubbornly continue to add the accent even if my copy of Two Hearts doesn’t.) We learn that, on Sooz’ seventeenth birthday, something will happen. Malka is restored to life and the village is safe again. The seeds for whatever happens to Sooz have been laid within this novelette. This is the beginning of something new.

So, again, duality. And Two Hearts is, like all first person narrations, unreliable. It’s inherent in the telling and it’s all the most obvious for reading it closely after The Last Unicorn. Events from the novel get heavily alluded to (as you’d expect given how much those events changed everyone), but Sooz is never a part of those events and so the reader isn’t either. We get hints and, having read the book, I can fill in the blanks. I can extrapolate. But that’s all. Sooz can only learn so much and thus only tell us so much.

It helps give the novelette every bit of layering that the book had, though, and the clear sense of how much time has passed make that layering stronger. The Molly and Schmendrick we meet in Two Hearts aren’t, entirely, the Molly and Schmendrick we said farewell to in The Last Unicorn. They’ve changed and grown. They’ve become more attuned to one another, often communicating (seemingly) wordlessly, and yet they’re the same people. Schmendrick tells Sooz “We are who we are” and, later, Lisene tells him “We are none of us that which we were”. Schmendrick refutes this, saying “I see my old friend Lír, as I have always seen him, wise and powerful and good, beloved of a unicorn”. Molly (earlier) reminds Sooz that Lír is a hero, whatever else she may see, whatever else she may think. So. People may change, but their heart doesn’t, not the truth of them.

I… forgot quite where I was going with that. Oops. But, again, we see that sense of how perception alters (and sometimes clouds) our judgement. When we meet Lír, he is not the hero we remembered from The Last Unicorn and we’re less prepared for it than we might be because of how little Schmendrick and Molly seem to have changed. Like Schmendrick, we have trouble with time. (Unlike Schmendrick, our trouble is due to the way the story is told. It’s a trick.) But the mere mention of the unicorn manages to recall (or restore) Lír to his true, heroic self. Truth burns away perceptions and we’re told (not quite explicitly) that one of the reasons Lír has forgotten himself so is because of the people around him. Would he have forgotten himself so had he not been surrounded by people who love him and see him only as a frail man? By the enchantments their perceptions have cast upon him?

And… Two Hearts. During the fight Lír seems to have forgotten what he’s told Sooz earlier: that griffins have two hearts and to win a fight against one you must pierce both hearts, kill both creatures. But in a way the same goes for Lír. His heart is twined with that of the unicorn and, when he’s defeated, the griffin still hasn’t won because it still has to kill the unicorn. Two hearts. One creature. Sort of. Again, I’m not entirely sure where I wanted to go with that — I did tell you I hated essays, right? This is a good example of why. — but hey food for thought.

So. There you are. Have some thoughts on a story I haven’t read all that often. I’ve read it… thrice now. I’m always torn on it. It’s a good and powerful novelette. It breaks my heart whenever I read it because there’s just so much sadness and so many goodbyes. But I never know what I think of it. I sulk at it because it isn’t another The Last Unicorn to me, because it’s first person and I don’t appreciate Sooz’s voice as much as I would have had I encountered the book through the novelette instead of the other way around. I’m shallow like that, I suppose. I mean, I do like Sooz’ voice. So far I’ve liked her voice more with each read-through. I appreciate Two Hearts, but I don’t like it much. There are too many goodbyes. To the characters, to some of the magic, to the narration itself, to the world (which went fuzzier, which I actually appreciate), to innocence… Even to nostalgia, I suppose. Two Hearts was published in 2005, The Last Unicorn in 1968. I encountered The Last Unicorn, as a story, in about 1990, and I first got The Line Between in about 2007. That’s a good seventeen years that I’ve been wondering how the story goes on.

And I don’t mean to go all entitled reader on anyone, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. It’s just that, to me, it’s a goodbye of sorts regardless, and it makes me sad. Now I know some of how the story goes on. I can lay the wondering to rest. I can revisit. I do revisit. I can remember. I may encounter the characters again. (I’ll definitely encounter Schmendrick again when, like a time traveller, I shall encounter him again in The Woman who Married the Man in the Moon, when he is younger and I am older.) But it’s not the same thing, is all. There’s a part of my life that’s over by reading Two Hearts and it’s made the sadder by the storyline that lies within it. Like The Last Unicorn, Two Hearts ends bittersweetly. It’s just a different kind of bittersweet. And so I dislike the story more than I might otherwise, and appreciate it in ways that I otherwise would never appreciate it.

The Woman who Married the Man in the Moon

First, I’m going to ‘cheat’ and point you toward Carl’s excellent discussion earlier this year. Don’t forgetto check out the comments. Again, I’m going to be doing something slightly different. I’ll be commenting as I go. Because I can and it’s fun. And it allows me to quote things so you all know where I’m at.

“You don’t live here. You don’t know where we live. You don’t know anything.”

Excuse me while I’m over here doubled-up with laughter for a moment. Not only does Findros sound wonderfully like a child, but I’m diving into this almost straight from finishing (and writing up my thoughts on) Two Hearts where Schmendrick informs Sooz that his problem is rather that he knows too much. Rather, he tells Sooz that his trouble is that he always knows what he’s doing. I do wonder whether that’s at the heart of Schmendrick’s problems with wizardry in The Last Unicorn now. And I’m afraid to poke it too much. I don’t fear that the story will be less for feeling I have a firmer grasp of it – I know it won’t be – but it’d be another constant changed. It’d make Two Hearts even more saddening.

Anyway! Moving on!

You put all those things in his hair. You had them in your hand, up your sleeve. I saw.”

And once more with the perceptions and the illusions. Mourra and Schmendrick discussing tricks and, in a way, we get a firmer sense of how our perceptions alter our interpretations because it’s given to us by children. Findros is drawn to the magician immediately, despite his usual wariness around people and that’s what put Mourra’s hackles up. Schmendrick telling her their names later on… that influences her perceptions even more. This whole conversation goes off into a discussion of the power of names, and the attachments we give them. Another way to influence one’s perception and the way we build up illusions. Findros tells Schmendrick that he wants to be called Joris when he grows up because that was his father’s name. Joris sounds an awful lot like George, though. (Is, if you care to google, in fact a variant of George.) Which, in turn, may bring up images of dragons and valiancy and, indeed, the children firmly believe that their father died fighting a dragon.

So. Names bring connotations with them, both for the children and the reader. That’s part of what lends them power. (We see this even more strongly on the internet, where I could pretend to be a man and say things and get applauded for making points that, said as a woman, even today would get me rape and death threats for voicing.) Names influence our perception, they cast veils of illusion over the people we meet and we may not always know it. Certainly, Findros doesn’t seem to grasp the power of names yet, but both Schmendrick and Mourra do.

And speaking of perception and since I’m all set to be comparing this, can I just draw your attention to the fact that this is a third person limited perspective? It’s like Sooz’s first person, only not quite. The voice is slightly different, but the narrow scope of perception is very similar and we see that in the descriptions that Beagle focuses on, the way he draws attention to Schmendrick’s anxiety through Mourra’s perception. (Coincidentally – or not – casting another layer of perception between us and what we’re really reading. We’re not filtering the story through our eyes, not even through our eyes and Beagle’s. No, we’re adding Mourra’s eyes to that filter too.)

Schmendrick stared at her without replying.

I love how I’m not sure here whether Mourra’s just taught him something or whether she’s surprised him by how perceptive she is. Perhaps it’s both. But I do enjoy the subtlety of the magic, both here and in Two Hearts. It’s very different from The Last Unicorn, but they feel like much the same thing regardless. And, when we get here, in the story, Mourra asks for magic. Something’s shifted in her perception of Schmendrick and her willingness to believe. And, after all, as Schmendrick says, it came from her head, so perhaps it’ll be like the spider’s web in The Last Unicorn.

“That was all there was to his death, and little more to his life as well. No wonder the children made up a brave ending for him.

Oh, how I wish I felt like I had words to tell you why this whole exchange made me cry. This is the third time I’ve read it and it’s never made me cry before. It’s always been sad, and it’s always been a powerful discussion of the power of stories, but now… Coupled with thinking about all the ways in which perception and illusion inform these stories so deeply… I am in tears for it all. The loss, the grief, the power, the beauty, the sadness, the differences, the stories…

They recognize you, those two.”

Can I just, y’know, hug this Schmendrick? And tell him he’ll know himself and everything will be… what it will be without giving out the details? I’ve always loved Schmendrick. He feels so deeply. It breaks me heart to see him doubt what Sairey is telling him.

Aaand that is where I shall hush. The story continues to use stories within stories to great effect that I have, after three reads, no words for and what words I have I fear sharing. But this story, more than the others, feels to me like a puzzle I’m close to solving and I’m missing just a few of the pieces to go with it. It’s a beautiful story, and a sad one. I’m glad to have reread it. ^-^

The Graphic Novel

And… Since I have it, I’d like to devote some time to the graphic novel as well. I’m not going to reread it because, as I’ve mentioned before, I really don’t like it very much. I’m always left feeling like I wouldn’t be able to follow the storyline if I hadn’t read (or watched) the story before. I mean, the art is lovely (and invokes the movie) and it’s got these little moments of sheer narrative beauty…

And, honestly, the graphic novel does alter how the story is told in places and it’s really quite ingeniously done. It’s another example of how things influence our perception because the way the graphic novel retells the story sometimes offers up further clues on how to interpret it as a whole. It’s a testament to how many layers there are (and how powerful they are) that a different medium can have such a profound effect on the interpretation. But for all that I still feel like many of the scene transitions jar and like it’s missing crucial information.

And there you are. Some brief thoughts on the graphic novel for completeness’ sake. It’s a shame that I dislike the adaptation so much. I wanted to love it and, like I mentioned, it does some really fascinating things. If you’ve loved the story and want to experience it again, I’d happily recommend picking up a copy. It’ll add to your understanding. It’s just not one I’d recommend making your introduction and I would dearly have loved that. <3 Here, have art from the graphic novel. Go look at the pretty. And that’s without the narrative present too.

The End

And that wraps up my read-along for The Last Unicorn. Thank you for joining me and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Hmm. I also seem to be entirely out of words for a proper wrapping up. Conclusions never were my strong suit, I’m afraid. And, really, this is a long post. Do you really want me to waffle on about the same things I’ve been saying all along? I’ve learned a lot from the read-along! Both about the book (and the surrounding material) and myself. I had fun too. ^-^

So. I shall leave you all with just one question. If this was your first book by Peter S. Beagle, do you think you’ll be picking up some of his other works in the future? I have a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with his other books. They’re mood books for me and I’m not always in the mood for them. I happily recommend Tamsin, though, especially if you liked the cat.

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