This past spring, renowned author Peter S. Beagle embarked on a roadshow revival of the 1982 Rankin/Bass animated classic The Last Unicorn, which was based on Beagle’s own 1968 novel (he also wrote the screenplay adaptation). He is touring the film from city to city in a brand new 2K digital restoration print, and it has been a resounding success so far (the tour will continue through 2015). With each screening, there are raffles, Beagle signs merchandise and does audience Q&As, and he meets with fans who are eager to speak to him before and after the screenings. The author, who turned 74 this past spring, recently came to New York City, doing four screenings of the film. I recently had the opportunity to catch the final NYC screening of the tour (Monday September 30th at the City Cinemas on 86th St. and 3rd Ave.), and it was totally worth attending.
I did not get a chance to meet Mr. Beagle prior to the screening, so I went into the auditorium with my raffle ticket. Beagle did the Q&A prior to the screening, and it was a fascinating one. He came out and gave an anecdote about the difference between Jewish guilt and Catholic guilt (Jewish guilt starts with, “I should’ve,” and Catholic guilt starts with, “I did”). He then shared a little bit about his childhood growing up in the Bronx. He then moved on to answering questions from the audience. In response to a question about the inspiration for the book, Beagle explained that he had rented a cabin in 1962 with some friends. His friend Phil had been painting daily, and Peter wanted to show that he had been working as well. He worked on some stories, eventually settling on a unicorn story, writing approximately 85 pages. He stopped working on it when he returned to New York and returned to it a few years later. Beagle also mentioned that, years later, Phil reminisced to him about the painting. Phil said that he would’ve thrown out the canvas the first week of the cabin trip in ’62, but he saw that Beagle was working on a damned book and felt he had to continue painting.
Beagle also said that “…if you’re writing, then you’re a writer.” He didn’t feel that it mattered if a writer is published or not to be considered a writer. He mentioned that his 2004 novelette Two Hearts (a coda to The Last Unicorn) will become a graphic novel and would like to see it turned into a movie. In response to who his favorite Last Unicorn character was, he said it was Molly Grue. He felt that he somehow understood her when he was writing the book. He mentioned that the character he felt was the closest to him was the butterfly. He admitted that he stole the line, “You can find your people if you are brave,” from a very old poem. He said that Robert Nathan, the author of Portrait of Jennie, once told him that he’d be best remembered for writing The Last Unicorn, and many years later Nathan reminded him that he called it.
Beagle mentioned that writing the screenplay adaptation for Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated The Lord of the Rings was a real learning experience, and that doing the screenplay adaptation for The Last Unicorn was relatively smooth. He actually took things out of the screenplay for The Last Unicorn because he thought they weren’t needed, but Jules Bass insisted on having them put back in. A lot of the cast members loved the book, and were reluctant to have their lines changed or cut. Beagle gave an anecdote about Christopher Lee (who voiced King Haggard), saying that Lee knew the book inside out, and that if any of his lines were cut he wanted an explanation. Beagle and his cohort Connor Cochran shared that they’re hoping that the current movie rights holder to The Last Unicorn will be unable to get a live action film into production by 2015 so that the rights can revert back to Peter and ITC Entertainment. Other tidbits Beagle shared included his mention of Jimmy Webb and how glad he was that Webb had been signed on to write the music for The Last Unicorn. Beagle also shared his continued surprise whenever he’s bracketed in publicity statements with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll.
After the film, I got on line to meet Beagle. After an hour-and-a-half, I finally reached the merchandise. I checked out the cool lithographs and books, and asked if there were any soundtracks on sale. Connor explained that the only CD release of the soundtrack was an unauthorized German releases many years ago. He also mentioned that the German release is no longer for sale because a new soundtrack release is in the works. He’s hoping that it’ll be released next year, and it will be a fully authorized, digitally remastered, and complete release (all 70+ minutes of music, including all the songs and the complete score). After I decided to purchase the graphic novel, I finally got to meet Mr. Peter S. Beagle himself. He signed my graphic novel and I mentioned how I had first seen the film on VHS 20 years ago during the week I had the chickenpox. I told him that watching the film had made me feel better, and then he recalled about his chickenpox experience when he was young. He was even nice enough to pose for a picture with me. Overall, it was such a fun experience, and I am looking forward to seeing Mr. Beagle again at this year’s New York Comic Con (I want to get my Blu-ray copy of The Last Unicorn, which I forgot to bring to the screening, signed).