It’s a beautiful lyrical fantasy story about a mythical beast who goes on a quest in a world that no longer believes in her to find out if she really is the last of her kind.
Published in 1968, The last unicorn by Peter S Beagle spawned an animated film 40 years ago and is a treasured novel that appeals to children and adults alike. But it’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of it. It has not been published in the UK for half a century.
This week it finally gets a reissue, the latest in a series of classic fantasy novels finding a new audience thanks to the genre’s prevalence on television and the big screen.
With the game of Thrones prequel house of the dragon Coming to Sky Atlantic on Monday, Netflix is offering a bonus episode of its world-conquering series The SandmanY Lord of the Rings precursor the rings of power Streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting September 2, fantasy fans have never had it so good.
Unsurprisingly, the surge in interest has fueled sales of the source material: the Neil Gaiman-penned DC comics from which The Sandman was adapted are topping Amazon’s graphic novel charts, and fantasy novels by Tolkien and George RR Martin are again high on fantasy charts. But the increased appetite of the viewing public is also helping to recover some lost classics.
In addition to Beagle’s novel, the work of other writers is being republished, including novels by John M. Ford. the waiting dragon Y grow weightlessHope Mirrlees’ fairy fantasy from 1926 Lud-in-the-mistand Antonia Barber The ghostswhile books like the Arabian fantasy The tale of Princess Fatima, warrior womanand the delightfully strange book by Japanese author Yukio Mishima Beautiful star have recently had their first publications in English.
Beagle, 83, fought a six-year battle to recover the rights to his works in an elder financial abuse case that was settled last year. Now, it seems, is the perfect time to figure that out and republish his book.
“One of the peculiarities of publishing is that a book can be an absolute classic on one side of the Atlantic and almost unknown here,” said Marcus Gipps, editorial director at Gollancz. “In the US, this book is a fantasy standard, as is Narnia for us, but the rights issues, especially the question of who controlled them, were very complex. We all had to wait while the legal discussions continued.”
He said that BookTok, a corner of TikTok dedicated to reading, helped the interest in the book in recent times. “The fact that generations of predominantly American authors have been inspired by Peter’s work means there are champions on social media to help us get the word out, including Patrick Rothfuss and Neil Gaiman.”
Rothfuss, author of bestselling fantasy novels such as the name of the wind, has written an introduction to the new edition. Gaiman told the Observer that Beagle had had a direct influence on his own work, especially The Sandman.
He said: “The first Peter book I ever read was the magical fantasy of the afterlife, A fine and private place. I fell in love with it, and years later I brazenly stole the idea of a talking crow and put it into Sandman.
“I really liked it The last unicorn. I love that Beagle has reclaimed the intellectual property from him and that he is available to reach a whole new audience.”
Last Christmas, when Mark Gatiss wrote and produced a remake of the 1972 fantasy film The Amazing Mr. Blunden for Sky, led to the first reissue in 30 years of the book on which both productions were based, The ghosts by Antonia Barber, first published in 1969. Donna Coonan, editor of Virago, had fallen in love with the book a decade earlier, but had been unable to justify republishing it until the TV movie announcement sparked interest.
Gollancz has more lost fantasy classics on his agenda, including Ford’s work.
“The portrayal of the genre is brilliant right now,” Gipps said of the appetite for fantasy on television. “We all grow up in fantasy, from [Enid Blyton’s] the distant tree to Narnia to Middle-earth, but previous generations have largely moved away, with many exceptions, as they grow older. It has always been a popular but niche publishing genre, much loved by those who love it, but rarely making it to the wider market. There is no doubt that fantasy has outperformed other media, never more than today, and I am sure this has had an impact.”
Claire Ormsby-Potter is an editorial assistant to Gipps at Gollancz, and one of the people for whom the republication of The last unicorn it was something like a personal mission.
She believes the massive production values in the current crop of fantasy streaming shows have helped encourage viewers to seek out novels in the genre that might have fallen by the wayside over the years.
She said, “I think the extent of what studios can do has really been shown in modern live-action adaptations of fantasy novels. game of Thrones Y Lord of the Rings they were so big in scope and delivery that people were able to envision epic fantasy in live action as something that felt tangible.
“These huge global franchises have had such a massive impact that it really opened the door for people to give fantasy fiction a chance when they might have previously written it off.”