The Last Unicorn


A solitary unicorn discovers that all the rest of her kind have disappeared, and she sets out on a journey to find them, aided by a clumsy wizard and a bandit’s wife...

The Last Unicorn (1982)

Rated G

Dir. Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.  Rankin/Bass Productions

Based on the book by Peter Beagle, Viking Press, 1968

Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Christopher Lee 

 A solitary unicorn discovers that all the rest of her kind have disappeared, and she sets out on a journey to find them, aided by a clumsy wizard and a bandit’s wife.

Opening Thoughts

Have you ever heard of the Unicorn Tapestries? They are a series of seven tapestries made in the South Netherlands around 1495–1505 detailing the hunt and capture of a unicorn. When I went on a trip to Scotland in 2019, we visited Stirling Castle. While there, I discovered they were hosting an exhibit of reproductions of the Tapestries, causing me to freak right out and beg my friends to go, to which they responded “NERD.” (and then agreed because they love me). About six months ago, I went on a weekend trip to New York City with some friends. While there, one of the places we went was The Cloisters, a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses the original Unicorn Tapestries. I was so excited to see them if ConEd had hooked me up to the grid I could have powered all five boroughs. Here’s a picture of me trying to act like a mature adult in the medieval art museum but barely containing my fangirly glee 🙂

One of the reasons I was so excited to see the Tapestries was because of this movie, as the opening credit art was taken directly from them. Like most other young girls growing up in the 1980s, I was obsessed with unicorns, so as a child I was enraptured by this movie, and as an adult I still find the legends and lore of unicorns fascinating. The animation (pre-Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli) in the movie is flowing and captivating, the soundtrack haunting, and the story of a unicorn searching for others of her kind and her adventures along the way remains enchanting to me. I highly recommend the original book by Peter Beagle, it’s right up there with William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and Michael Ende’s The NeverEnding Story. I had the pleasure of hearing the author speak and answer questions at an anniversary showing of The Last Unicorn, (where I won a Unicorn beanie in a trivia contest, because of course I did) and his book is a skillful weaving together of quirks, eccentricities, beauty, wisdom, and poetry. Both the book and the movie make you believe in magic, or at least want to believe, and God showed me some wonderful and wise things in this treasure of a film. (Which by the way, is NOT just for kids or women!)

Spoilers For The Last Unicorn here!

The unicorn is living all by herself in a lilac wood, protector of the lesser animals that live there. One day she overhears two hunters discussing how there are no unicorns left in the world, and the one who lives in the wood must be the last. The unicorn is troubled by this and questions a butterfly that wanders into her woods about it, asking him if he has ever seen any other unicorns in his travels. The butterfly responds with mostly nonsense but does tell her that a creature known as the Red Bull drove away all the unicorns to somewhere far away a long time ago, and that “you can find the others if you are brave.” The unicorn eventually makes the agonizing decision to leave her forest and go in search of the others like her.

The unicorn travels for a long time until she is captured by a witch named Mommy Fortuna for her Midnight Carnival. Mommy, realizing that most people cannot recognize a unicorn, casts a spell on her to decorate her with a fake horn that people can see, so that her carnival visitors can be treated to seeing a “real” unicorn.

An employee of Mommy’s, the wizard Schmendrick, becomes friends with the unicorn, for he too can recognize her for what she is, stating that “If I were blind I would know who you are.” He reveals to her that there is one other “real” creature in the carnival, the harpy Celaeno. Schmendrick promises to help the unicorn escape, and as she waits on him, she learns from Mommy Fortuna how the Bull captured all the other unicorns in the service of King Haggard.

Schmendrick frees the unicorn and the other animals, destroying the Midnight Carnival as the harpy kills Mommy Fortuna. Reluctantly, the unicorn accepts Schmendrick as a traveling companion and they go on their way. The two are attacked by a robber band, and while the unicorn eludes them, Schmendrick does not, and he is taken to the robber’s camp. The unicorn later frees him, and as they take their leave, they are confronted by Molly Grue, Cully’s common-law wife. Molly sees the unicorn and, having longed to see one her entire life. recognizes her for what she is. She joins their group and the three make their way to Haggard’s castle.

One night they are awakened when the Red Bull attacks their camp. He begins to drive the unicorn back to Haggard, and in a desperate attempt to save her from the Bull, Schmendrick uses his magic to transform the unicorn into a human girl. The Bull, confused that his prey has vanished, abandons his pursuit, and returns to the castle, leaving the now-human unicorn confused and despairing at being trapped in a mortal body.

The trio make their way to the castle where they are greeted by Haggard and his son, Prince Lir. Schmendrick secures jobs for himself and Molly at the castle so that they can continue to try to solve the mystery of the missing unicorns. Prince Lir falls in love at first sight with the young woman, now called Amalthea, and at first, she disdains him, but as the days go by, she begins to forget who she is, and embrace her mortal form and the prince’s love.

King Haggard’s suspicions surrounding Amalthea grow as time goes on, and one day he confronts her with the truth-that he knows her to be a unicorn, despite her mortal body. Haggard confesses his fascination with unicorns, and that he had the Red Bull capture them all and imprison them in the seas surrounding his castle so that he could always have them close by.

Schmendrick finally discovers the entrance to the caverns which will lead them to the unicorns. He, Molly, and Amalthea escape into the tunnels, with Lir following. As the Red Bull bears down upon them, Schmendrick changes Amalthea back to her unicorn form. When the Red Bull attacks her, Lir sacrifices himself to save her. The unicorn, fully restored, charges at the Red Bull and drives him into the sea, imprisoning him and freeing the unicorns trapped there. She revives Lir with a touch of her horn and says goodbye to all of her friends, returning to her lilac wood.

So What Did God Show Me?

-At the beginning of the movie, the unicorn has no reason to leave her lilac wood. She is safe there, among friends, protected. She has everything she needs. But something stronger than her own need for safety drew her out into the dangerous world. She knew there were others out there, other unicorns like her that needed her help. How could she stay in her safe place, ignoring them and abandoning them?

You hear a lot about “safe spaces” these days, and it is important to have places where we can feel safe. However, as Christians we know we live in a world at war, therefore, these safe spaces were never meant to reside in but rather to take shelter in. And as troubling as it can be to leave them, remember, the God who has called you forth will go before you on “Man’s Road.”

More importantly, when God does call us out, he is offering the invitation to explore life with him. We often aren’t given the details because it involves stepping out in faith and trusting God. He gives us the freedom to choose to go with him or to stay behind, he will be with us either way…so then the question becomes, what happens if you don’t go? The unicorn feared leaving her safe forest, but even more she feared not knowing if she were truly the last unicorn left in the world, and that fear of the greater unknown cast her upon the path into the lesser unknown…that of the dangerous world of Men.

I believe my own “greater unknown” would have been ignoring God’s pull on my heart, and how I would have been left always wondering what “would’ve happened”, which, as CS Lewis tells us, we are never told. There have been many times when God has called me out of my safe spaces, and most of those times, I was terrified to leave. At one point in my life I left a good job, my family, my friends, and all the life I had known up to that point to follow God on Man’s Road. I had no money, no car, no job, and no promises that “everything would work out just fine,” all I had was trust in God and that his offered invitation was good. Would I have been more eager to embrace these adventures if I had known he was going to take care of everything? Sure! But we can’t know. All we can know is that (Lewis again!) while God may not be “safe”, he is good.

-The butterfly tells the unicorn, “You can find the others if you are brave.” I am quite sure the unicorn was not feeling brave when she left. She slipped out of the woods, hoping to make it out, find the others, and get back before anything really bad happened. (“I must go quickly and come back as soon as I can.”) It’s a cowardly sort of brave, stepping out in faith while you’re cringing inside. I know that feeling. Like her, there have been many times I was scared, times I didn’t want to “rock my boat.”

When has God called you to leave your safe spaces for the promise of something more, something bigger? Whatever is calling you out of your safe space onto Man’s Road, it must have a powerful call upon your spirit, because otherwise you would not even be considering going, yes? The call of God on my heart and the hunger to know him more was what drove me out my door onto Man’s Road. What is he calling you to?

-Once she is out in the world, one of the first things the unicorn realizes is that men cannot see her horn. Therefore, no one recognizes her for what she is, but merely see her as an ordinary, albeit extremely graceful and beautiful, horse. She ponders to herself, “There has never been a world in which I was not known.”

Our core identity is something that is unknown to many, including, a lot of the time, ourselves. Years of listening to others (instead of God) tell us how we are seen by others, both good and bad. As time goes on, the world’s opinion can become enforced upon us, until we accept it as truth. It can affect us so much it can impair our vision of ourselves and people that God created us to be in the first place.

For myself, it was several years before I was able to start to see glimpses of that epic heart that God had planted in me, and several more before I understood the role he had for me to play in this great Adventure called life. I’m still figuring it all out to be quite honest, but he reveals new things every day. If you are longing to be seen and known for who you truly are, rest assured that the God who created the universe both sees and knows you, better than you do yourself, and he is, right this second, as you read this, working on you. His greatest joy is to form us, shape us, and lead us into that which we were born to be! And someday, like the unicorn, everyone will see you as he does.

-Mommy Fortuna uses a spell to put a fake horn in front of the unicorn’s real horn, so that her customers can see a “real” unicorn. The unicorn realizes that the only reason she is “known” is because of Mommy’s magic, so, really, she is still not being recognized as her true self, she had merely had a pretty “mask” put upon her. A mask that resembles her, but a mask nonetheless. However, Schmendrick knows the unicorn as soon as he lays eyes upon her. “I know you. If I were blind I would know who you are.”

Do you have people in your life that you feel see you, know the real you, the one that you hide underneath the masks? Do you let yourself get that vulnerable with anyone? It’s risky, for sure.

What is your reaction when someone tells you they “get” you? I know in my own life there have been many, many, times when I felt unknown to people. That even if I opened myself up and let them see me, let them really know the “real” me, they wouldn’t want to be friends with me because I was just too weird. It can take time, finding those people who “get” you, and it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s a marvelous thing. It is wonderful to be recognized, to be known for what we are, because, as Schmendrick says, “It’s a very rare person who is taken for what he truly is.” If you are feeling unknown, or lonely, or have had people reject you, take heart. God has known you since long before you were born and knows things about you that you don’t even know yourself. Even if you don’t feel it, you are known, and by One who knows you better than anyone. Let me say it again: you are Seen. You are Known.

Mommy Fortuna chastises the unicorn for leaving her wood and “hunting for her own death”. She tries to convince the unicorn that it was a good thing she found her and put her in a cage, otherwise the Red Bull would have captured her like he did all the others. She even tells the unicorn she should thank her for protecting her!

The enemy will often try to tell us things such as this: we are safer staying at home where we are secure and have no worries. And if we do try to leave home, we inevitably hit stumbling blocks of varying degree and intensity in our way. The enemy’s whispers weaken us, telling us that we are helpless, and, like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, it is much better to skip the adventure and stay quietly at home where it’s “safe”.

But remember, friends, that the only reason the enemy works so hard to keep us so “safe” is that he, too, sees us for what we truly are (better than we see ourselves!), warriors and priests of an Almighty God, and he will go to any lengths and use any means necessary to continue to hide us from ourselves. It’s truly one of his greatest deceptions. Remember who you are.

The unicorn and Schmendrick escape from Captain Cully and his band, but Molly, Cully’s common-law wife, follows them. Life, for Molly, has not turned out how she thought it would. Running away to follow a dashing outlaw captain has led only to a life of drudgery, cooking for and cleaning up after a bunch of lazy brigands. All her dreams have turned to dust…but she has not forgotten them. Perhaps this is why Molly, unlike so many others, is able to see the unicorn for who she truly is, and the sight causes her to collapse in grief. She has waited her whole life to see a unicorn, but when she finally does she is no longer young, no longer beautiful, and no longer innocent, and cannot bear that the unicorn must see her as she is now…an old, withered crone whom life has beaten down to the ground. Molly’s heart is full of shame, and feels she is not worthy to greet a unicorn this way, and her heart is breaking wide open because of it. Molly also feels anger towards the unicorn, and wishes that the unicorn had gotten there sooner, when she was “supposed” to.

Perhaps some of you feel life has passed you by, that you’ve missed your chance, that you’re too old, too sick, too sore to do what you dream? How many of you are or have been eating the bitter fruits of those feelings? (Raises hand!) One of the biggest things I struggle with, even now, every day, is that I’m too old for this. Too old for fairy tales, too old to be a warrior. I’m a middle-aged woman! Middle-aged, too many pounds, bad knees, and grey hair. None of the stories talk about that! All the heroines are young, lithe, strong, fast, smart! How could God possibly use me…when I am “this”? Where was he twenty years ago? Ten years ago? Where was he when I was “new”?

God was there. Since I was born, he has always been there. At every stage of my life, walking alongside me, upholding me, strengthening me, comforting me, shaping me, and teaching me. I am right where I am supposed to be. And God can use anyone, no matter their place in life, that comes to him with a willing heart. Like in Isaiah 6:8 – “Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’” Do you think God’s response was all, “Hm. Well, I appreciate the offer, but I need someone faster. Younger. Thinner. Stronger. Kinder. Wiser. Richer. Go off and pull yourself together, stop being such a hot mess. Then maybe I can use you. Maybe.” God wants you, and will use you, YOU, just as you are, right now. All he needs is a willing heart. Remember, you can “do this” if you are brave.

-When the Red Bull finds them and begins to drive the unicorn into captivity, the unicorn is afraid and begins to give up, allowing herself to be captured by the enemy she has come so far to find. And why shouldn’t she be? The Bull is huge and terrifying and more dangerous than anything she has ever encountered in her life. She is probably wishing she had never left her lilac wood, that she doesn’t have what it takes to stand against the Bull, and now she will be his immortal captive forever.

We too can be caught like the unicorn by the Red Bull. There are times in life we may feel like there is no way out, and want to give up and let the enemy take us out. We try and we fail, and there is nothing more that we can do. That’s usually when God, like Schmendrick, can use what looks like a failure to us to change us. It may be a change we don’t particularly like at first, for God seems to specialize in making us uncomfortable, heh heh. But he refuses to leave us to the enemy, to ourselves. His ongoing wish is to help us overcome the enemy and his tearing-down work in our lives. So God works change in us so that eventually, the next time we face the enemy, we can stand against him as different people, the people we were born to be.

One of the first things the unicorn experiences when she is transformed into a woman is the loss of her immortality. Her new human form is everything she has never known, and it is horrible and decaying to her, and she is immediately aware that she, who has lived for thousands of years, will now one day die.

The unicorn states she is afraid of her human body, more than she was of the Red Bull, because the Bull meant to capture and enslave her, but her transformed body is doing that much more effectively than the Bull ever could.

I often wonder what Jesus, the Son of the eternal and unmade God, felt when he embraced his own mortality. He was born into this world knowing that he, who was Alpha and Omega, had no beginning nor end, would die someday. Eternity was clad in flesh that was merely finite…what must that have felt like for him? As a mortal I know I can never truly understand, but I know it must’ve been…different, for lack of a better word. He embraced mortality willingly, for the love of us. To experience in the flesh as we do, with all of its own unique joys, sorrows, headaches, scrapes, bumps, bruises, kisses, hugs, cold shivers and sweaty heat. The humiliations, weariness, laughter, and sighs. But unlike Amalthea who was trapped in a human form, Jesus was in no way trapped. But it still must have been, if I can use the weakest of words again…different.

Perhaps some of you have bodies you may feel “trapped” in by various limitations…injuries, mental health struggles, disabilities, etc. Don’t be afraid of your circumstances, but rather, try to see how God is working in you through them, how he wants to use you as you are. What you consider a limitation is not a barrier to God and what he wants to do with you. And none of these things (as much as it may feel like it) make your life any less, rather, they make it more yours.

-Even when she was in the form of a young woman, the unicorn (now known as Amalthea) could not hide who she truly was from King Haggard. It took him a little while, but he eventually recognized her as a unicorn, even without a unicorn’s body. As children of God, we cannot hide our true form either. The Spirit of God resides within us, and it is impossible not to recognize, no matter what kind of body we have. Have you ever seen eternal wisdom in the face of an infant, or childlike glee in the mischievous eyes of a hundred year old man? Our bodies cannot fully or truly hide the beauty of our eternal selves and the glorious reflection of the Almighty within us. If you look for it, I promise you’ll see it.

-Like the false horn that Mommy Fortuna placed on her, “Amalthea” is another “mask” the unicorn is forced to wear but it is a more powerful one, one that she comes to believe in. As she continues to reside in the body of a woman, the unicorn begins to forget who she truly is. She begins to accept herself as a woman and a woman only, and to enjoy the love of Prince Lir. She forgets about the other unicorns and ceases to care about freeing them. She becomes willing to settle for less than she is called to, and to settle for loving a human.

How many of us wear masks for so long we come to think that’s all we are? As I stated above, most of us have forgotten who we truly are and need to remember. The enemy uses life and circumstance to bring this about as much as possible, to the point where we can sink so low that we lose interest in ever rising up to claim who God made us to be. It feels good to stay where we are, even if it means eventually dying that way. It’s easier…not as tiring, and we never were really anyone important anyway…it was all pretend, just a game. We can also get distracted by comforts, like Amalthea does with the prince’s love for her, and can decide that “good enough” is best. We can let the love of humans pacify us, when mere human love was never meant to satisfy us completely.

Don’t give up. Of course it would be easy to, the enemy makes it that way. But don’t forget who you are, please. So much that often remains unseen and unrealized can depend on it!

-Amalthea knows “she must do what she came to do, before it’s too late”, but she is terrified of leaving the comfort of Lir’s love and embracing her true identity, because she knows that she will lose the prince if she does, even if it means having all the unicorns stay captive forever and herself growing old and dying. She has almost totally forgotten who she truly is and therefore begs Lir to “Keep me from remembering whatever wants me to remember it…” Amalthea wants to deny her dreams and stay in her place of forgetfulness, but, thank God, she has friends that will not allow it. Molly and Schmendrick remind her continually that she is a unicorn, the last, and that the others need her to help them escape. And even when Amalthea proclaims over herself that she “is no unicorn, no mythical creature, I am human! And I want to die when you die,” Lir knows what she is, and out of his love for her, will not rest until she is restored to her true form.

I hope you have people in your life, friends, family, church community, that remind you of who you are when you forget. Because we will forget. I thank God for the people he’s put in my life to help me remember, because I forget. Often. And when they remind me of who I am, I am so grateful, both to them and to God. God, like Lir, like Schmendrick and Molly, will not rest until we are restored to ourselves, to our true identities. We can shout and scream at Him, telling Him that we are not warriors, we are not heroes, but God knows better, and responds with a simple, “I love you. No matter how you see yourself, I love you, and I believe in you.” God believes in you, and He loves you too much to leave you as you are. So even if you want to be left, His love is relentless, and He will always continue to pursue you.

-When Schmedrick changes her back to a unicorn, Amalthea is finally able to remember who she truly is, and she is able to save all of the others, including Lir. However, once she defeats the Red Bull, frees the other unicorns, and the battle over, the unicorn realizes she is not the same as she was before, for her adventure has changed her. She is now the only unicorn with a name, who knows what it is to regret, or to have been in love, or who has known what it feels like to be lonely.

This adventure we call life always, without fail, changes us in more ways than one because of what we experience, and each of those experiences are unique to our own adventures. Mine do not look like yours, nor do yours look like mine, which is good and right. Our adventures, while we may travel with others for a time, are all our own, and even those traveling companions will never be able to fully know the way our adventures can change us. But God knows, and it is good. Even the bad, the scary, the supposedly traumatic and “irreparable” are there to refine us, to make us stronger, wiser, braver. The unicorn now has regret, yet she is not sorry for what she has gone through.

After a life event changes us, which they inevitably do, it can be hard, sometimes impossible to “go home”, ie, back to our ordinary lives. The things that change us irrevocably may not feel good, such as the loss of a loved one, sickness, or suffering the hurt of others, and can leave us with a variety of battle scars. The refining process always does. But through all of it, the adventure was worth it, no? Would you have changed anything, truly?

Closing Thoughts

This movie taught me about what it means to leave our safe spaces and go out into the world to help those who cannot help themselves. I know what it is to be scared of the unknown, and to feel utterly inept and totally unprepared for the task at hand, but be honest. Name one hero who, at the start or even the middle of their adventure was all, “Oh yeah, I got this thing beat! Bring it on.” Even the cocky ones are usually just scared with a sheen of bravado. But, like the unicorn, the first step is the one you take out your door. The world is waiting for you to leave your lilac wood.

I also learned it is so important to never forget who you are. If I could leave you with one thing more than any other, remember, remember, remember. You will face lies, and distractions, and the full power of the enemy who will try to steal this knowledge from you every day, but please, remember. You are a child of God, his son, his daughter. God has given you this identity and all that goes along with it, and it can never be taken from you, not by anyone. Even if you do forget, that truth remains, waiting for you to recollect it.

I’d also like to add again that if you’ve seen the movie but never read the book, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Please read the book. Like The NeverEnding Story and The Princess Bride, the movies are classics, but the books are genius! There is so much more to the story, and Peter Beagle’s writing is whimsical but at the same time wise. Check out it…like the movie, it will stay with you long after you read it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop your favorite part of the movie in the comments!


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