Beagle, Peter S. 1939–
Beagle, Peter S. 1939–
(Peter Soyer Beagle)
PERSONAL: Born April 20, 1939, in New York, NY; son of Simon (a teacher) and Rebecca (a teacher; maiden name, Soyer) Beagle; married Enid Elaine Nor-deen, May 8, 1964 (divorced, July, 1980); married Padma Hejmadi (a writer and artist), September 21, 1988; children: (first marriage) Victoria Lynn Nordeen, Kalisa Nordeen, Daniel Nordeen. Education: University of Pittsburgh, B.A., 1959; Stanford University, graduate study, 1960–61. Politics: "Anarcho/monarchist." Religion: Jewish animist Hobbies and other interests: Singing, playing the guitar, writing and performing music, reading, animals, walking, swimming.
CAREER: Author, editor, screenwriter, journalist, and musician, 1960–. University of Washington, Seattle, visiting professor, 1988.
AWARDS, HONORS: Wallace Stegner writing fellowship, 1960–61; Guggenheim Foundation Award, 1972–73; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1977–78; Guest of Honor, Seventh World Fantasy Convention, 1981; Mythopoeic Award, 1987, for The Folk of the Air; Locus Award, Mythopoeic Award for adult literature, and New York Times Book Review notable book nomination, all 1994, all for The Innkeeper's Song; Locus Award for Best Anthology, 1996, for Peter S. Beagle's Immortal Unicorn, Volume One, 1996; Locus Awards for Best Novella, 1998, for Giant Bones, and 1998, for The Unicorn Sonata; Mythopoeic Award and World Fantasy Award, both 2000, both for Tamsin; various short-story awards.
A Fine and Private Place (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1960, illustrated by Darrell Sweet, New American Library (New York, NY), 1992.
The Last Unicorn (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1968, anniversary edition, illustrated by Mel Grant, Penguin (New York, NY), 1991.
Lila the Werewolf (novella; also see below), illustrated by Courtlandt Johnson, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1974, revised edition, 1976.
The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle (omnibus; includes A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn, Lila the Werewolf, and "Come, Lady Death"), illustrated by Courtlandt Johnson, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1974.
The Folk of the Air, Ballantine Books/Del Rey (New York, NY), 1986.
The Innkeeper's Song, Roc (New York, NY), 1993.
The Unicorn Sonata, illustrated by Robert Rodriguez, Turner (Atlanta, GA), 1996.
Giant Bones (short stories), illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, Roc (New York, NY), 1997.
Tamsin, Roc (New York, NY), 1999.
A Dance for Emilia, Roc (New York, NY), 2000.
I See by My Outfit (memoir), Viking (New York, NY), 1965.
The California Feeling (memoir), photographs by Michael Bey and Ansel Adams, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1969.
(With Harry N. Abrams) American Denim: A New Folk Art, photographs by Baron Wolman and the Denim Artists, Abrams/Warner (New York, NY), 1975.
(With Pat Derby) The Lady and Her Tiger (biography), Dutton (New York, NY), 1976.
The Garden of Earthly Delights (art criticism), illustrations from the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.
(With Pat Derby) In the Presence of Elephants (biography), photographs by Genaro Molina, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1995.
PLAYS AND SCREENPLAYS
The Zoo (television script), Columbia Broadcasting System, 1973.
(With Adam Kennedy) The Dove (film script), E.M.I., 1974.
The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened (television script), Charles Fries, 1977.
(With Chris Conkling) The Lord of the Rings, Part One (animated film script), United Artists, 1978.
The Last Unicorn (animated film script), Marble Arch/Rankin-Bass, 1982.
The Last Unicorn (play; adaptation of his novel), produced in Seattle, WA, 1988.
The Midnight Angel (opera libretto; based on his short story "Come, Lady Death"), music by David Carlson, produced by the Glimmerglass Opera, Cooperstown, NY, the Opera Theater, St. Louis, MO, and the Sacramento Opera, Sacramento, CA, 1993.
Also author of "Sarek" (television script), Star Trek—The Next Generation, season three, 1990. Also author of film scripts for A Fine and Private Place and for a live-action movie version of The Last Unicorn. Author of scripts for Camelot and The Story of Moses, both 1996. Author of script for A Whale of a Tale, a television special featuring characters from the film The Little Mermaid for Walt Disney Studios.
(Author of introduction) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1966.
(Author of introduction) Robert Nathan, Evening Song, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1973.
(Author of introduction) Robert Nathan, Portrait of Jennie, Amereon Ltd, 1976.
(Author of foreword) Abraham Soyer, Adventures of Yemima and Other Stories, translated by Rebecca Beagle and Rebecca Soyer, illustrated by Raphael Soyer, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.
(Author of foreword) Avram Davidson, The Best of Avram Davidson, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
(Author of foreword) Edgar Pangborn, Davy, Macmillan Collier Nucleus, 1990.
(Author of foreword) Avram Davidson, Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundation of Several Ancient Legends, Owlswick Press, 1993.
(Editor, with Janet Berliner and Martin H. Greenberg) Peter S. Beagle's Immortal Unicorn, Volume One, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances (short stories and essays), Tachyon Publishers, 1997.
(Editor, with Janet Berliner and Martin H. Greenberg) Peter S. Beagle's Immortal Unicorn, Volume Two, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Also contributor of short stories to anthologies, including New Worlds of Fantasy and New Worlds of Fantasy, Volume 3, edited by Terry Carr, Ace Books, 1967 and 1971, respectively; Phantasmagoria, edited by Jane Mobley, Anchor Books, 1977; The Fantastic Imagination: An Anthology of High Fantasy, edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, Avon (New York, NY), 1977; Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy, edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, Dell (New York, NY), 1978; After the King, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Tor (New York, NY), 1992; Space Opera, edited by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, DAW (New York, NY), 1996; Modern Classics of Fantasy, edited by Gardner Dozois, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997; and Knights in Madness, edited by Peter Haining, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2000. Work also appears in a volume of Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. Contributor of introductions to Forgotten Worlds by Abraham Soyer, The Boss in the Wall: A Treatise on the House Devil by Avram Davidson and Grania Davis, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Avram Davidson Treasury by Avram Davidson. Contributor of recipes to Serve It Forth: Cooking with Anne McCaffrey, edited by Anne McCaffrey, 1996. Contributor of short fiction and articles to periodicals, including Atlantic, Harper's, Holiday, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, Saturday Evening Post, Seventeen, Today's Health, Venture, West, and others. Beagle's works have been translated into over fifteen languages. His papers are housed in a permanent collection at the University of Pittsburgh.
ADAPTATIONS: The Last Unicorn is the subject of "Captain Cully," a short play by Aaron Shepard directed to middle graders and junior high school students that appears in the book Stories on Stage. A Fine and Private Place was adapted as a musical by Erik Haagensen (book and lyrics) and Richard Isen (music) and published by Samuel French, 1992. The Last Unicorn, Lila the Werewolf, and "Come, Lady Death" were released as audio cassettes read by the author. Beagle also released a recording, Peter S. Beagle—Live!, in 1991.
SIDELIGHTS: An American author who is considered a master fantasist as well as a distinguished writer of nonfiction, Peter S. Beagle is celebrated for his originality, inventiveness, skill with plot and characterization, and rich, evocative literary style. In addition to novels, he has written short stories, poetry, essays, and screenplays for film and television and has edited and contributed to anthologies. Beagle is also an accomplished folk singer, guitarist, and songwriter who has released a live album and has written the libretto for an opera based on one of his short stories. He is perhaps best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, a fantasy that describes the quest of the title character to discover the last of her species. Using the classic fairy tale as his basic structure, Beagle created a work that is credited with breathing new life into the fantasy genre through its blend of comedy, tragedy, pathos, literary allusions, and contemporary culture. The Last Unicorn is usually acknowledged as a landmark, a post-modern touchstone that has been compared favorably with such works as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. In his other fantasies, Beagle continues to marry the traditional fairy story, fable, and legend to realistic concerns, most notably the state of the human condition and the thin line between fantasy and reality, life and death. Although he generally is not considered a writer for the young, Beagle has written two books, The Unicorn Sonata and Tamsin, that feature thirteen-year-old girls as main characters. Some of his other fantasies are also popular with young adults, especially The Last Unicorn and his first novel, A Fine and Private Place. Youthful audiences enjoy the lively talking animals and supernatural characters in Beagle's works as well as his fiction's humor, action, and romance. In addition, young people appreciate much of Beagle's nonfiction, especially I See by My Outfit, an account of Beagle's trip from New York to California by motor scooter; American Denim: A New Folk Art, a history of blue jeans; and In the Presence of Elephants, one of two books written with and about Pat Derby, a California animal trainer and activist who is the founder of PAWS (Performing Animals' Welfare Society), an organization for abused or neglected animals in show business.
As a writer, Beagle is regarded a lyrical, elegant, and economical stylist who fills his works with eloquent language and colorful images and metaphors. He often mixes slang, Yiddish phrases, and pop culture references with the language of high fantasy and romance; he also favors disparate narrative techniques and, on occasion, multiple points of view. In addition, Beagle includes humor, wit, and, perhaps most notably, irony in his books; his inclusion of irony in his fantasies is often acknowledged as a new feature in the genre. As a fantasist, Beagle has been compared to such authors as Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S. Lewis, Lord Dunsany, James Thurber, and Robert Nathan. The author is praised consistently for his relevant portrayals of people of various ages and ethnic backgrounds as well as for making the otherworldly seem familiar and real. Thematically, Beagle addresses such subjects as renewal and rebirth, the nature of truth, the power of love and friendship, good versus evil, the difficulties of aging, and the importance of magic and wonder in readers' lives, issues thought to give his books depth and authenticity. Critics have noted that Beagle sometimes overwrites and that some of his works are disappointing, thin, overlong, or incoherent. However, most observers have agreed that Beagle is a gifted writer whose books have helped to transform the fantasy novel while contributing greatly to a variety of other genres. Writing in Booklist, John Mort called Beagle "the class act of fantasy writing, the only one to remind me of Tolkien and, in his darker moments, Dined…. Gentle yet biting, far-fetched and altogether common, Beagle's fairy tales invoke comparisons with those associated with yet another great name, the Brothers Grimm."
Born in New York City, Beagle is the son of two teachers, Simon and Rebecca Soyer Beagle. At age seventy-three, his mother translated a collection of fairy tales her father had written in Hebrew more than forty years before; Beagle did the foreword to the book. He grew up in the Bronx, and wrote in an article in Holiday magazine, "As far as New York is concerned, I grew up at the end of the world. The subways end, and the buses run by appointment only." Beagle's neighborhood was lined with trees and surrounded by hills. While he was going to elementary school in the East Bronx, there was, he said, "the ghost of a farm just across the street from us, a jungly, terrifying place owned by a half-mad old man who threw stones at us when we tried to sneak up on him at lunch hour. Less and less these days, but still more than the rest of New York, the Bronx reminds you that it was wild country once."
Beagle once remembered that, as a boy, "I read early and I was read to early. Animals were an immediate intense interest. I know I was comfortable with animals long before I was comfortable with most human beings." Beagle lived near the Bronx Zoo and spent many hours there as a child. He wrote in Today's Health, "I was shy, overweight, ill-conditioned, asthmatic, and allergic to everything…. My parents gave me a great deal of affection, but not many other people did. I came home from school and read books. I remember that I had a long-lived bout being a wolf—and, as late as high school—an imaginary lion friend named Cyrano. Thinking about that time now, I realize that in its own painful way, it was invaluable for me. I learned to be alone. Nobody who wants to be a writer can do without that skill. I learned to entertain myself and to look after myself, in a sloppily efficient sort of way. And I taught myself not to care what anyone else thought about me. I can remember making that decision, very consciously, around the sixth grade. I also lost the ability to cry, but you pay for everything."
At an early age, Beagle decided to become a writer. In an interview with Dan Tooker and Roger Hofheins in their Fiction! Interviews with Northern California Nov-elists, Beagle stated, "I started [to write] when I was seven, literally. My parents were remarkable. They never told me that writing was not a fit profession for a young man. I can remember writing stories in class. I wanted to imitate sounds. I love sounds. I was always excited by the sound of words and I wanted to copy that. I would imitate other writers. I haven't altogether lost that. The Last Unicorn starts off imitating a half dozen people: James Stephens, Thurber, T.H. White. And Lord Dunstan is always somewhere in the background."
At the Bronx High School of Science, Beagle's friends and acquaintances were almost all from the North and West Bronx and were Jewish, like himself. He wrote in Holiday magazine, "We were intelligent, hungrily so, having been the family prodigies, the block's 'walking dictionaries' long enough to be sick of it, and, for many of us, high school was the first contact we had had with people like ourselves." Beagle and his friends traded records, read their plays to one another, and showed each other their poetry and art. They went to the theater, to movies, and to museums—"to all the places," Beagle recalled, "that had bored us so when our parents used to take us there." He added, "And we talked—lord, how we learned to talk!—constantly, perpetually…. We all began running away from home about then; rarely in the classic sense—Tom Sawyer never had College Boards—but within ourselves."
Beagle was a frequent contributor to his school's literary magazine. His work attracted the attention of the fiction editor at Seventeen magazine. As a teenager, Beagle was befriended by poet Louis Untermeyer, who passed him on to his literary agent, Elizabeth Otis, who was also the agent for novelist John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath. At nineteen, Beagle completed a novel that Otis placed with the Viking Press: that work, A Fine and Private Place, was published when the author was just twenty-one.
Set in a Bronx cemetery, A Fine and Private Place features Jonathan Rebeck, a fifty-three-year-old druggist who had gone bankrupt twenty years before. After giving up on the world, Rebeck went to live in an isolated mausoleum, where he has survived on food stolen from a nearby deli by a tough-talking raven. Rebeck has gotten to know the ghosts of the recently deceased. However, his relationship with them lasts for only a short while, since they soon forget their lives and fall into an endless sleep. Two of these ghosts are Michael Morgan and Laura Durand, a couple who meet in the cemetery, fall in love, and decide that they want to avoid their fate. Rebeck decides to help the couple and does so with the help of Mrs. Gertrude Klapper, a widow who visits her husband's grave in the cemetery. The story ends with multiple happy endings, including Rebeck moving out of the cemetery into the land of the living.
A Fine and Private Place has been noted as a funny and tender story that demonstrates that love is stronger than death and includes an especially amusing character, the scene-stealing raven. Beagle was also lauded for the assurance he displayed as a writer, especially one just out of his teens. Writing in Saturday Review, Granville Hicks stated that A Fine and Private Place "seems to me quite as important as many solemn and pretentious novels I have read…. [Beagle] persuades the reader to play his game of make-believe, and then rewards him with an admirably sustained performance. For so young a writer, he is amazingly sure of himself, and it will be interesting to see what he writes next." Harold Jaffe of Commonweal commented that Beagle seemed to be saying that death "is life without feeling. A familiar enough admonishment, certainly, but I have never felt its authenticity in quite the same way." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Edmund Fuller concluded, "A disembodied love in our literary climate is about as original as a young man can be…. The great thing is that A Fine and Private Place has wit, charm, and individuality—with a sense of style and structure notable in a first novel…. The publishers evoke E.B. White and Robert Nathan in comparison. I think Peter DeVries might be closer. Be that as it may; watch Beagle." In 1992, A Fine and Private Place was adapted into a musical comedy by Erik Haagensen and Richard Isen.
In his senior year of high school, Beagle entered a story and a poem in the Scholastic Writing Awards Contest. His poem won first prize: a college scholarship. Beagle went to the University of Pittsburgh. While at the university, Beagle was taught by the Irish short story writer and translator Frank O'Connor, who disliked the genre of fantasy. Beagle wrote a short story, "Come, Lady Death" to see whether he could sneak it by O'Connor. The story, later published, is now recognized as one of Beagle's best early efforts; it was also turned into an opera with a libretto by Beagle and music by David Carlson. As a college sophomore, Beagle won first place in a short story contest sponsored by Seventeen magazine. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor's degree in creative writing and a minor in Spanish.
Beagle then spent a year in Europe. In an article for Holiday magazine, he recalled this period as "a lonesome, stupid time, and if I learned anything from it, it doesn't show." In 1960, Beagle returned to the United States to attend grad school at Stanford University in California after being enrolled there by his agent; he stayed at Stanford for a year on a Wallace Stegner Writing Fellowship. In 1963, Beagle and a friend, Phil Signuick, took an eventful cross-country journey from New York to California on their mopeds, a trip documented in the memoir I See by My Outfit. In 1964, Beagle married Enid Elaine Nordeen, the mother of his two daughters, Victoria and Kalisa, and his son, Danny. Beagle wrote in the Saturday Evening Post, "Before they came, I think, I slept through my relationships with others, as I did through my childhood and my schooling." Enid and her children also brought animals back into Beagle's life; eventually, the family acquired seventy-five creatures—including a quail, a parrot, a squirrel, a chipmunk, an iguana, a shrew, and a kinka-jou, as well as dogs, cats, horses, birds, ferrets, and others.
In 1968, Beagle produced The Last Unicorn. In this work, a nameless unicorn is prompted to leave her enchanted forest after she overhears some hunters state that she is the last of her kind; the fact is confirmed by a butterfly from a far-away land who talks in a combination of twentieth-century slang, song lyrics, and a more courtly form of speech. After the unicorn sets off to look for her missing species, she is captured by Mommy Fortuna, a sorceress who runs Mommy Fortu-na's Midnight Carnival and who weaves spells that make people believe that they are seeing mythical beasts when they are actually seeing domestic and wild animals. The unicorn is freed by Schmendrick the Magician, a bumbling wizard who botches simple tricks but can, on occasion, perform true feats of magic. Schmendrick has had a spell placed on him that causes him to remain immortal until he becomes competent. He and the unicorn are joined by Molly Grue, a cynical, middle-aged scullery maid who has been a Maid Marian figure to Captain Cully, a Robin Hood wannabe who lives with a group of distinctly unmerry men. The trio go to Hagsgate, a wasteland where time has stopped and imagination has been destroyed. The kingdom is ruled by King Haggard, who lives in a castle by the sea with his son, Prince Lir, an ineffectual hero, and the Red Bull, an evil being created by Haggard. The king has imprisoned the unicorns because he wishes to possess all of their beauty. He has fashioned the Red Bull, a creature that sees only unicorns, to hunt them down and trap them in the sea.
In order to gain access to the castle, the unicorn is turned into a human by Schmendrick. As Lady Amalthea, the unicorn forgets her immortal nature, and she and Prince Lir fall in love. Schmendrick and Molly try to find the lost unicorns before Amalthea loses her memory and becomes a mortal permanently. After the pair discover the trapped prisoners, the unicorn reverts back to her original form. When she is charged by the Red Bull, Prince Lir selflessly throws himself in front of the creature to save the unicorn's life. His sacrifice gives the unicorn the power to drive the Red Bull into the sea, thus freeing her brethren. At the end of the story, King Haggard's kingdom is destroyed by a tidal wave, Prince Lir becomes King Lir, Schmendrick and Molly go off to find other adventures, and the unicorn goes back to her world, knowing good and evil, love, and mortality; her innocence has been replaced with experience.
The Last Unicorn often is lauded as a masterpiece of fantasy writing, a novel that can be read purely as an adventure story or as an exploration of the purpose of life. It is considered both a parody of its traditional sources—the fairy tale, the quest story, the romance, and others—and a reestablishment of the fantasy genre. At the time of its publication, The Last Unicorn was an instant success and became a best seller. Most reviewers had high praise for the novel. For example, Roch-elle Girson of Saturday Review stated that Beagle "has extraordinary inventive powers, and they make every page a delight…. Beagle is a true magician with words, a master of prose and an deft practitioner in verse. He has been compared, not unreasonably, with Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien, but he stands squarely and triumphantly on his own feet." Subsequent critics have continued to praise Beagle and his creation. A critic in St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers commented that The Last Unicorn "remains the book for which Beagle will always be known and to which all his later work will be compared…. It is one of the enduring classics of American fantasy." Writing in Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy, Lin Carter stated that The Last Unicorn "is in a class by itself," while Jon Pennington, writing in Mythlore, called the novel "a new type of fantasy that is a powerful vision for our modern world." Pennington concluded that Beagle "recombines the archetypal patterns of fairy tales into a vision that is specifically modern. And American."
The Last Unicorn has always had a loyal and supportive audience among young people. Initially, the novel especially appealed to hippies, artists, musicians, and fans of such authors as Tolkien and the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein; it became recognized as a cult classic. Many Web sites devoted to the book and to the animated film version produced by Marble Arch/ Rankin-Bass in 1981 have since appeared. In addition to the film, The Last Unicorn has been adapted for the stage and as a short play for children. Beagle has noted that he wrote The Last Unicorn as an homage to the authors he loved and whose style he wanted to emulate, such as Lord Dunsany, James Stephens, James Thurber, and T.H. White. In an interview with David Van Becker in San Jose Studies, Beagle said that, with The Last Unicorn, "I was deliberately taking the classic fairy-tale structure, the classic fairy-tale characters, and trying to do something else with them. I was saddling myself and aiding myself both with the proper forms."
After the publication of The Last Unicorn, Beagle did not produce another fantasy novel for another eighteen years. In the meantime, he produced screenplays for film and television, including The Last Unicorn and The Lord of the Rings, Part One (with Chris Conkling), as well as writing short stories, novellas, nonfiction, forewords, and articles. In 1969, he produced The California Feeling, a memoir that describes Beagle's yearlong trek across California with photographer friend Michael Bry; the pair traveled in a 1957 Volkswagen bus they named Renata Tebaldi. Beagle also began performing regularly as a folk singer: in 1973, he began a part-time engagement as the dinner entertainment at L'Oustalou, a French restaurant in Santa Cruz, California, a gig that lasted for twelve years. As a singer/guitarist, he performs songs in English, French, German, and Yiddish, including several of his own compositions. Beagle has also released a live album of one of his concerts.
In 1980, Beagle's marriage to Enid Elaine Nordeen ended. In 1985, he moved to Seattle, Washington, but returned to California after a few years. In 1986, he released his next work of fantasy, The Folk of the Air. This novel features Joe Farrell, a wandering musician and talented lute player who first appeared in Beagle's novella Lila the Werewolf in 1974. Joe goes to Avicenna, a college town on the California coast. He moves in with his friend Ben, a college buddy now living with Sia, an attractive older woman who is a practicing psychologist. Joe runs into a former girlfriend, Julie Tanikawa, who is involved in the League for Archaic Pleasures, a role-playing group that reenacts medieval battles and celebrations. Joe becomes involved and learns that the League is real, not a game; its members actually become the characters that they portray. While attending a meeting, Joe and Julie watch Aiffe, a teenage witch, summon up Nicholas Bonner, a young man who was sent into limbo five centuries earlier. Bonner has a vendetta against Sia, who is actually an ancient goddess of immense power. Finally, Joe realizes that Sia is the only thing that can protect them all from destruction, and she and Bonner engage in a magical duel to the death.
The Folk of the Air is perhaps Beagle's most highly disputed work. Due perhaps to the high level of expectation surrounding its publication, the novel received a mixed reception. However, its multiculturalism and prose style were praised consistently. Observers also noted the similarity of Avicenna to Berkeley, California, and the League for Archaic Pleasures to the real-life Society for Creative Anachronism. The year after the publication of The Folk of the Air, Beagle married Padma Hejmadi, a writer and artist of Indian descent.
In 1993, Beagle produced The Innkeeper's Song, a novel that is often considered among his best; based on a song written by Beagle, it is the author's favorite among his own works. In this book, three women—one black, one brown, and one paler than a corpse—take a room at a village inn, the Gaff and Slasher. Two of the women, Lal, a mercenary, and Nyaterneri, a warrior priestess, are the former pupils of a magician, The Man Who Laughs. The third woman, Lukassa, has been called back from the dead by Lal. The Man Who Laughs is being pursued by Arshadin, a former protégé who has sold his blood and soul to the Others for immortality. Arshadin intends to kill the wizard, turn him into an evil ghost, and send him to the Others in return for his blood. Young Tikat, a weaver's son, searches for his betrothed, Lukassa, after he views her death and resurrection. Rosseth, the stable boy at the Gaff and Slasher, also becomes involved, as does Karsh, the bad-tempered innkeeper, and Nyaterneri's familiar, a cranky, shape-shifting fox. Finally, Arshadin turns The Man Who Laughs into a ghost, but Lukassa makes a deal with the Others that saves the wizard. Beagle uses ten different viewpoints to tell the story, which addresses the issues of the nature of life, death, and love.
Writing in Locus, Gary K. Wolfe stated, "The Last Unicorn may always be Beagle's best fantasy, but The Innkeeper's Song … is his best novel." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas opined that, as a commercial genre, fantasy "has come to mean endlessly recycled adventures of sword-wielding heroes and spell-casting wizards, recounted in pseudopoetic prose as dreary and predictable as the characters and settings. This makes the achievement of Peter S. Beagle in The Innkeeper's Song all the more remarkable. In his capable hands, even the most timeworn material shines again." In an interview with Ed Bryant in Prime Time Replay, Beagle called The Innkeeper's Song "my first grown-up book." Giant Bones, a collection of six stories published in 1997, is set in the same land as The Innkeeper's Song and includes a story, "Lal and Soukyan," that features some of the same characters.
The Unicorn Sonata, a novel published in 1996, is the first of Beagle's works to feature a young adult protago-nist. Josephine "Joey" Rivera is a thirteen-year-old Latina girl living in contemporary Los Angeles. A natural musician, she helps to clean up Papas Music store in exchange for lessons in music theory. One day, a strange young man, Indigo, comes into the store to try and sell his beautiful horn for gold, but he disappears before the transaction can take place. Later, Joey hears a distant melody and follows it down the street. She accidentally crosses the Divide, an invisible border, and enters a mystical place called Shei'rah. Joey encounters many mythological creatures, including the Eldest, unicorns whose music is one of the foundations of Shei'rah. The Eldest are being weakened by a mysterious disease that is stealing their sight. Crossing between her world and Shei'rah, Joey works furiously to transcribe the music of the Eldest before it is lost. At the same time, she tries to save her beloved Mexican grandmother, Abuelita, from the retirement home.
Joey learns that Indigo is actually an Eldest who prefers to live on Earth as a human being. Selling his horn will permit him to live well, although its loss will prohibit him from going home to Shei'rah. In addition, Joey discovers that Indigo's greed for gold was the cause of the blindness that affects the unicorns. Joey takes Abuelita, a wise healer, to Shei'rah to help cure the plague, and she recalls an old folk remedy for blindness that uses gold as its chief ingredient. Finally, Indigo decides to relinquish his selfish plans in order to save the Eldest. Writing in Library Journal, Susan Hamburger stated, "This enchanting story of seeking a true home is highly recommended." Ray Olson of Booklist commented, "America's finest gentle fantasist manages to point up the best qualities of both real life and fantasy, of both Earth and Shei'rah." A critic in Publishers Weekly called The Unicorn Sonata "a charming fantasy" before concluding that "the characterizations are grand, enhanced by graceful prose laced with exquisite detail, and through both literary creativity and folkloric expertise where unicorns are concerned." Beagle, who has become recognized as an expert on unicorns, is also the editor, with Janet Berliner and Martin H. Greenberg, of two collections of short stories featuring the mythical beast, Peter S. Beagle's Immortal Unicorn, Volume One and Volume Two.
Tamsin, a novel that blends history, folklore, and the supernatural, is the second of Beagle's works to feature a teenager as its main character and the first to use one as its narrator. Jenny Gluckstein, a petulant, rebellious thirteen-year-old New Yorker, moves to England with her divorced mother Sally, who is to marry Evan McHugh, an agricultural biologist. Evan is responsible for restoring and managing the rundown Stourhead Farm—a place beset by strange accidents, noises, and smells—in Dorset, England. When Jenny's cat chases a Persian ghost cat, it leads her to a secret chamber and its owner, Tamsin Willoughby, a twenty-year-old girl who died three hundred years before. The daughter of the farm's original builder, Tamsin is in mourning for her lover, Edric, a poor musician, and is fearful of a figure that she calls the Other One. Jenny meets a variety of preternatural creatures, including the Black Dog, who warns her of danger; the billy-blind, who gives advice to her; and the Pooka, an untrustworthy, unsympathetic shape-shifter. Jenny learns that Tamsin and Edric will be tormented eternally if she does not help them; she must decide whether she is brave and unselfish enough to aid the ghostly lovers.
By piecing together Tamsin's memories and information gathered from local historians, Jenny discovers that the Other One is the evil George Jeffreys, the "hanging judge" who presided over the Bloody Assizes and sent hundreds of people to violent deaths in the aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. Jeffreys, who wanted to marry Tamsin, was responsible for Edric's disappearance. Jenny narrates the tale in retrospect as a nineteen-year-old in brash contemporary language; Beagle also includes Tamsin's refined Jacobean English and the earthy dialect of old Dorset. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly stated, "Like his enchanting The Last Unicorn, Beagle's newest fantasy features characters so real they leap off his pages and into readers' souls…. Fantasy rarely dances through the imagination in more radiant garb than this." John Mort of Booklist added, "Although nowhere labeled as such, Tamsin is a fine young adult novel…. [It] may be the best of its kind this year." Although some reviewers were less than enchanted by Jenny's whiny persona in the beginning of Tamsin, most acknowledge that she is one of Beagle's most convincing characterizations. For example, Teri Smith of Crescent City Book Views commented, "Beagle creates a moody, spoiled, opinionated thirteen year old and makes us believe in and care for her…. Beagle's characters will stay in your heart forever."
Beagle has continued to contribute works to several genres, and much of his writing appeals to young people. For example, he has written forewords to books by J.R.R. Tolkien as well as a story and teleplay, "Sarek," as an episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also has given readings, lectures, and concerts at universities; has conducted writing workshops at academic institutions; and has appeared at fantasy conventions. In assessing his work as a writer, Beagle once said that he creates fantasy because "the fantastic turn of vision suits both my sense of the world as a profoundly strange and deceptive place, and my deepest sense of poetry, which is singing." Beagle confided to Van Becker of San Jose Studies that he sees himself as a traditional storyteller, "a descendant of Scheherazade … a long line of people who made up stories in the bazaar." Writing in Holiday magazine, Beagle said, "My life is a slow process of making things real, making them continue to exist when my back is turned. It is my worst failing, this dangerous solipsism, but it is also one reason why I write: to create the world line-by-line, to find a way in, a handhold. For all I know, no one else in the world has this problem, but I wonder, 'Could we all go on treating people the way we do if we believed that they were real?' Lizard and louse, man and tiger, we are all here together, barely alive in the dark, clinging to the earth and trying to stay warm. Either we all have souls, or none of us do." Writing in the St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, Beagle concluded, "I write what I would love to read if someone else had written it. But no one else quite does what I do, so I have to. That's really all the statement I can honestly make."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Carter, Lin, Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy, Bal-lantine (New York, NY), 1973.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1977, Volume 104, 1998.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Hark, Ina Rae, "The Fantasy Worlds of Peter Beagle," Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, edited by Frank N. Magill, Salem Press, 1983.
Olderman, Raymond M, Beyond the Waste Land: A Study of the American Novel in the Nineteen-Six-ties, Yale University Press, 1972.
St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Tooker, Dan, and Roger Hofheins, Fiction! Interviews with Northern California Novelists (amended by Peter S. Beagle), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1972.
Tymn, Marshall B., Kenneth J. Zahorski, and Robert H. Boyer, Fantasy Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, Bowker (New York, NY), 1979.
Zahorski, Kenneth J., Peter S. Beagle (Starmont Reader's Guide, no. 44), Starmount House, 1988.
Booklist, July, 1997, John Mort, review of Giant Bones, p. 1806; August, 1996, Ray Olson, review of The Unicorn Sonata, p. 1853; August, 1999, John Mort, review of Tamsin, p. 1984; August, 2000, Ray Olson review of A Dance for Emilia, p. 2124.
Commonweal, June 28, 1968, Harold Jaffe, review of A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn, p. 447.
Holiday, December, 1964, Peter S. Beagle, "Good-bye to the Bronx;" August, 1965, Peter S. Beagle, "My Last Heroes."
Library Journal, September 15, 1996, Susan Hamburger, review of The Unicorn Sonata, p. 100; October 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada review of Tamsin, p. 110.
Locus, September, 1993, Gary K. Wolfe, review of The Innkeeper's Song, pp. 23-24.
Mythlore, summer, 1989, John Pennington, "Innocence and Experience and the Imagination in the World of Peter Beagle," pp. 10-16.
New York Times Book Review, June 5, 1962, Edmund Fuller, "Unique Recluse"; November 14, 1993, Gerald Jonas, review of The Innkeeper's Song, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, August 5, 1986, review of The Unicorn Sonata, p. 430; August 9, 1999, review of Tamsin, p. 348; October 2, 2000, review of A Dance for Emilia, p. 63.
San Jose Studies, February, 1975, David Van Becker, "Time, Space, and Consciousness in the Fantasy of Peter S. Beagle."
Saturday Evening Post, December, 1966, Peter S. Beagle, "On Being the Man of the House."
Saturday Review, March 30, 1958, Rochelle Girson, review of The Last Unicorn, pp. 21-22; May 28, 1960, Granville Hicks, "Visit to a Happy Hunting Ground," p. 18.
Today's Health, October, 1974, Peter S. Beagle, "Kids and Kinkajous: The Special Blessing of Growing up with Animals."
Crescent City Book Views, http://crescentblues.com/ (December 6, 2001), Teri Smith, review of Tamsin.
Green Man Review, http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (December 6, 2001), Naomi de Bruyn, review of A Dance for Emilia.
Infinity Plus, http://www.iplus.zetnet.co.uk/ (December 6, 2001), Nick Gevers, review of Tamsin.
Last Unicorn, http://utd500.utdallas.edu/ (November, 2001), Peter S. Beagle, commentary on The Last Unicorn; Marc Hairston, commentary on The Last Unicorn.
Rambles Online, http://www.rambles.net/ (August 19, 1999), review of Tamsin.
SciFi.com, http://www.scifi.com/ (December 6, 2001), interview with Beagle.
Under the Covers, http://mtnimage.com/ (August 19, 1999), Harriet Klausner, review of Tamsin.