Manuel Mujica Láinez Anne Collins - Essay

Anne Collins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One way to judge The Wandering Unicorn is as a 322-page-long evasion. Here is an Argentinian writer, Manuel Mujica Lainez, still living in Argentina under the military regime that invented that particularly 20th-century crime, the disappearance. But in this novel he is not accounting for the missing, or risking his neck in a land where storytellers are the only ones with half a chance of getting unreal reality across. Instead, Mujica Lainez is playing, wishing himself into the Middle Ages, among fairies and dragons, devils and angels, holy hermits and knights in the death throes of courtly love. We could judge him harshly, but we won't. In Mujica Lainez' case, wishful thinking is not so much an evasion as a recognition of all those fictional things that can make us happy.

His allegory is not about tyranny but violent love: unrequited or forbidden, incorporeal or very much of the body. His narrator, the most breathless of lovers, is the immortal fairy Melusine, part dragon, part woman, passionate and benighted. Melusine loses her sense of duty and most of her fairy powers when she is smitten with love for a 15-year-old boy….

Mujica Lainez is obsessed with illuminating the confusions of love. His knight, Aiol, is crucified by them—the Christ-like or devilish unicorn of myth hunted down in "a murderous wood."

Melusine helplessly watches and recounts every chapter of lovelorn and lost tragedy: Aiol and his sister, Aiol and the lady Seramonde, Aiol and the lord Aymé, Aiol and the whore Pascua….

It is her undignified predicament ("he doesn't even know I exist") that begins to have the most meaning…. When she asks her wicked fairy mother for a young, beautiful body, her mother gives her what she asks for—Melusine becomes young and beautiful indeed, but male. Melusine/Melusin's frustrations are legion and never soothed.

When a holy oxcart carries Aiol heavenward for his eternal reunion with his true lovers, Melusine the fairy cannot fly that high—she is the hardest hit because she is the only one who cannot die. As Jorge Luis Borges writes in the foreword, Mujica Lainez is in no danger of drowning us in the escapist "music of nostalgia." He is saved by the unhappy ending of his own fairy tale.

Anne Collins, "Wishful Ways of Escape," in Maclean's Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 13, March 29, 1982, p. 65.