When you say the name Peter S. Beagle, unicorns are the first creature that comes to mind. After all, his book The Last Unicorn is a classic. So it’s no surprise that anything he touches, especially anything relating to those mystical creatures, should end up as a truly exceptional experience.
Back in 1995, Janet Berliner at HarperPrism convinced Beagle to edit an anthology with her, themed around the beast that his name had been so tied to. This was the anthology Immortal Unicorn. Fourteen powerful short stories, including one from each of the editors, fill this book. If you’ve ever thought me to judge anthologies rather harshly in this blog, this is why: I’ve owned Immortal Unicorn and Immortal Unicorn Volume 2 for twenty years and have reread them both countless times. There may be stories that I like more or less than others, but I cannot deny the sheer skill and strength each possesses.
These tales range from fantasy to science fiction and back again. There is life, but there is also death. And love. You can’t forget about love. I can’t remember how or why these two books came into my possession, but I might have been as young as ten. Give or take a year or two. Did I find some of these stories disturbing when I first read them? Scary even? Of course. Did I read them all the way through and always return to them? You bet.
I remember all of these stories well. I can’t always tell you exactly which title goes with exactly which tale (though this I can do in a surprising number of cases), but I can clearly and distinctly recall all of them. For a comparison – earlier this year I reread all my Dear America books, to determine which ones I should keep and which ones I should sell. I could remember bits about a few, such as the Revolutionary War book, the Jewish Immigrant book, the pre-Civil War book, etc. Without fail, those books which I didn’t remember a single fact about ended up in the “to sell” pile. Interest = memory.
So I could tell you that “The Tenth Worthy” is the sole Arthurian tale, that I am continually fascinated by “Daughter of the Tao”, and that there is something hilarious about “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinocerous”. These are just a few of my favorites from this single volume, and please remember that all of the tales are well-told, even if they’re not the ones I most look forward to rereading every time.
As you can guess, I’ll be starting on Volume 2 today, because if those are my favorites from Volume 1, there are others hiding in the second book. This is another case where I don’t feel compelled to follow up the one with the other, or even sometimes to read Volume 1 before Volume 2. It’s just been several years since my last read-through, so I choose to be logical.
Peter S. Beagle’s name may be splashed across the covers of these books as a way to move them off bookstore shelves, but these anthologies wouldn’t be what they are without the amazing collection of authors he and Janet Berliner assembled. There are very few authors here that I’ve encountered in any other book, but I am privileged to have read something so wonderful from their hands.
Yes, I’m gushing. So what? These anthologies are that good. If you don’t believe me, go find copies and read them for yourself.