Peter S. Beagle Criticism - Essay

Edmund Fuller (review date 5 June 1962)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Unique Recluse," in New York Times Book Review, June 5, 1962.

[In the review below, Fuller describes A Fine and Private Place as imaginative and witty.]

Peter S. Beagle makes a striking debut on several counts. With the first two paragraphs of A Fine and Private Place a style is established, a personality registered. We meet at once a talking raven, who is taking food (baloney) not to the prophet Elijah but to a retiring man named Jonathan Rebeck. This unique recluse had withdrawn in discouragement from a clamorous world some twenty years ago. He has lived ever since in an unattended mausoleum in a corner of Yorkchester, a vast interfaith cemetery in the upper Bronx. The raven has fed him all this while, as it explains, because "Ravens don't feel right without somebody to bring things to."

With the funeral of young Michael Morgan we discover that the dead haunt the cemetery for a time and that Mr. Rebeck has been sensitized by his strange life to the point where he can see and talk with them. Michael had been a disgruntled young history teacher and claims his wife poisoned him: later (through news fetched by the raven) we are able to follow her trial. Added to the cast are Laura, a faintly bitter ghost from a barren life, and Mrs. Klapper, a salty-tongued Bronx widow who, visiting her husband's mausoleum, discovers Mr. Rebeck and becomes a disturbing link to a...

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Benedict Riely (review date 24 March 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Dragon Has Gout," in New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1968, pp. 4, 8.

[Below, Riely remarks on Beagle's skillful personification of animals in The Last Unicorn.]

It is nothing to be surprised at that a man whose first novel [A Fine and Private Place] began with a raven stealing a sausage and bringing it to a dirty old man (Elijah?) who had lived for 19 years in a cemetery, should now write a novel about the last of the unicorns. The only rope that can hold a unicorn (one of his odd people tells me) is made of fish breath, bird spittle, a woman's beard, the miaowing of a cat, the sinews of a bear and—one thing more—mountain roots. Peter S....

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Granville Hicks (review date 30 March 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Of Wasteland, Fun Land and War," in Saturday Review, March 30, 1968, pp. 21-2.

[In the following excerpt, Hicks argues that The Last Unicorn is a fable about imagination and the artist.]

Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn is frankly a fantasy, as was his first novel, A Fine and Private Place, which was published in the year he became twenty-one. (In the interval he brought out an unusual and amusing account of a transcontinental trip by motorscooter, I See By My Outfit.)

In the new novel the unicorn, learning from the talk of hunters that she may be the last of her species, sets out to discover what has happened to...

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David Van Becker (essay date February 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Time, Space & Consciousness in the Fantasy of Peter S. Beagle," in San Jose Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1975, pp. 52-61.

[In the following essay, Becker explores Beagle's manipulation of time and space.]

In Peter Beagle's first novel, A Fine and Private Place, Jonathan Rebeck, the hero, has lived surreptitiously in a New York cemetery for nineteen years, aided by a talking raven who steals food for him from local stores. Rebeck would rather be dead, like the ghosts he talks with until they forget and fade from life. The kind and sociable Rebeck has become a reluctant teacher of the newly dead; he tells the ghosts Michael and Laura: "You'll...

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Don Parry Norford (essay date 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reality and Illusion in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn," in Critique, Vol. XIX, No. 2, 1977, pp. 93-104.

[In the following essay, Norford discusses the symbolism of the characters in The Last Unicorn.]

A cheeky and didactic squirrel in Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place (1960) tells the cynical raven that "there is poetry in the meanest of lives, and if we leave it unsought we leave ourselves unrealized. A life without food, without shelter, without love, a life lived in the rain—this is nothing beside a life without poetry." He is so preachy that one sympathizes with the weary raven: "If I was a hawk, I'd eat you in two bites." Beagle...

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David Stevens (essay date Fall 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Incongruity in a World of Illusion: Patterns of Humor in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn," in Extrapolation, Vol. 20, No. 3, Fall, 1979, pp. 230-37.

[In the essay below, Stevens argues that Beagle uses humor to manipulate the tone of The Last Unicorn.]

While humor is peripheral to much fantasy, it is central to Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Beagle creates a quasimedieval universe with built-in anachronisms to serve as the setting for his fairy tale that is at once high romance and self-parody. He presents a serious theme, that we are what people think us and we become what we pretend to be, with a comic technique, and much of the success of...

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Jean Tobin (essay date 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Werewolves and Unicorns: Fabulous Beasts in Peter Beagle's Fiction," in Forms of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Third International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, edited by Jan Hokenson and Howard Pearce, Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 181-89.

[In the following essay, Tobin examines Beagle's use of myths about unicorns and werewolves in such works as The Last Unicorn and Lila the Werewolf.]

"Would you call this age a good one for unicorns?" asks the elder of two hunters riding through the first pages of Peter Beagle's Last Unicorn; "Times change," the other mutters. By the end of a brief conversation, the elder has made...

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Gerald Jonas (review date 18 January 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Folk of the Air, in New York Times Book Review, January 18, 1987, p. 33.

[In the review below, Jonas praises The Folk of the Air as a dazzling work that demands a sequel.]

The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle, a fantasy novel set in contemporary California, mixes science and the supernatural so seamlessly that the bedazzled reader soon ceases to care which is which. Certainly none of the characters in this book stay up nights worrying about such distinctions.

The woman known as Sia is a psychotherapist of sorts who lives in a house with an indeterminate number of windows; describing her chents as "the...

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Suzy McKee Charnas (review date 1 February 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Folk of the Air, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 1, 1987, pp. 1, 9.

[In the review below, Charnas argues that despite minor problems with its structure and plot, The Folk of the Air is well written and superior to Beagle's earlier novels.]

Like the hero of this book, who returns to friends from his wanderings, Peter Beagle returns, with The Folk of the Air, to the company of publishing novelists. Beagle's first two novels, A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn, were fantasies that won great popular response in the '60s No further books have come from this author for 18 years.


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Charles de Lint (review date April 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Well Worth the Wait," in Fantasy Review, Vol. 10, No. 3, April, 1987, p. 33.

[In the review below, de Lint remarks favorably on The Folk of the Air.]

For some twenty-seven years, Peter S. Beagle has been a voice to be reckoned with in the fantasy field, a reputation based solely upon two novels, A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn, and two short stories, Lila the Werewolf and "Come, Lady Death." It's been almost nineteen years since we've had a novel from him. The Folk of the Air, which apparently took fourteen years to write, now rectifies that dearth. And it's well worth the wait.

Joe Farrell, the...

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Colin Greenland (review date 20 November 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A Review of The Folk of the Air, in New Statesman, Vol. 114, No. 29,561, November 20, 1987, p. 31.

[Below, Greenland argues that The Folk of the Air "lacks the mordant Jewish irony" that was present in A Fine and Private Place.]

In (and out of) progress since 1971, and featuring Farrell, hero of a story from 1969, Peter S. Beagle's comeback novel The Folk of the Air is also somewhat concerned with old hippies. The protraction has not been good for it. Though this book has much of Beagle's former lyrical expansiveness and wry, lugubrious caricature in sidelights, it mostly lacks the mordant Jewish irony that, in A Fine and Private...

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John Pennington (essay date Summer 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Innocence and Experience and the Imagination in the World of Peter Beagle," in Mythlore, Vol. 15, No. 4, Summer, 1989, pp. 10-16.

[In the following essay, Pennington applies William Blake's philosophy of contraries to understand Beagle's work and its critical reception.]

"Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence," writes William Blake in his radical and paradoxical The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a marriage that prompted C.S. Lewis to annul in The Great Divorce. In Blake's universe opposites attract and repel and inform one another. As Martin Nurmi...

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Gary K. Wolfe (review date September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Innkeeper's Song, in Locus, September, 1993, pp. 23-4.

[In the review below, Wolfe compares The Innkeeper's Song to Beagle's earlier works and concludes that The Last Unicorn is Beagle's best fantasy but that The Innkeeper's Song is his best novel.]

A couple of months ago, Peter Beagle said in a Locus interview that The Last Unicorn might well go on dominating his work, and he's probably right: it became an instant classic for its grace, wit, complexity, and accessibility. It's not surprising that many readers, including myself, found 1987's The Folk of the Air a little thin by comparison with...

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Gerald Jonas (review date 14 November 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Innkeeper's Song, in New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1993, p. 74.

[In the following favorable review, Jonas discusses The Innkeeper's Song, asserting that in Beagle's hands "even the most timeworn material shines again."]

As Webster's Third New International Dictionary confirms, the word "fantasy" has a long and honorable lineage. Its ancestry can be traced back to the Greek phantazein, "to make visible, present to the mind," which is derived from phaos, the Greek word for light, and akin to the Sanskrit bhati, "it shines." Sadly, most books marketed today under the label of fantasy do a disservice to...

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Tom Easton (review date April 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Innkeeper's Song, in Analog, Vol. CXIV, No. 5, April, 1994, pp. 166-68.

[In the review below, Easton remarks favorably on The Innkeeper's Song.]

Peter S. Beagle is well known for beautifully crafted fantasies—think of The Last Unicorn and The Folk of the Air—that offer rather different takes on familiar themes. It is thus a great pleasure to find that he has produced a new novel, The Innkeeper's Song.

Beagle's numerous fans undoubtedly grabbed the book as soon as they saw it on the bookstore shelf. For those of you who resisted temptation but have been wondering whether those who succumbed got...

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