What is Your Favorite Peter S. Beagle Work, and Why?
Peter S. Beagle is not only of one our best storytellers ever, but also without doubt one of the best loved as well. We here at Green Man decided to ask some of the many writers who passed through our offices what their favorite piece of fiction by him was, and why so. Their answers run from the obvious choices, i.e. The Last Unicorn, to some that greatly surprised us. Read on for what they said...
Kage Baker pondered her answer — 'How to decide? The Last Unicorn probably had the greatest effect on me, reading it as I did at an impressionable age and learning there that fantasy could cut through the mannered, medievalist crap and speak sharply of real life. I See By My Outfit always delighted me and still does, as it must delight anyone who has ever been young, dumb, brave and On The Road. To take off across the country on motor scooters (of all things), sleeping in tents, trusting in fate, having adventures — yeah!! But my all-time favorite Beagle character I met in The Innkeeper's Song: the little, little fox with soft fur...'
Elizabeth Bear was one of the many that picked the best loved work — 'The Last Unicorn is my favorite book, though I can't reread it in public because it makes me laugh and cry at the same time, and people look at you strangely.
'I love it because it's true, and it's honest and sharp without being cynical, and because it knows that you cannot have both magic and secure predictability — they cannot coexist. They are mutually annihilatory. I love it because it is one of the few books I've ever read brave enough to stand up and say that sometimes being who you are is an isolating choice — and that that's okay.
'Also, I love it because it's beautifully written, mercurial, layered, and full of wonders on every page. It's the best book I've ever read.'
Paul Brandon was honest when he said — 'Oh, yeah, sorry. To be honest, I've not read that much of Peter's work, but I really enjoyed the short story he had published recently in Jonathan Strahan's Eclipse One anthology. It was called 'The Last and Only, or, How Mr. Moscowitz Became French'. Must admit it did make me want to read more. He's been added to the vast Brandon 'To Read' List.'
Connor Cochran cheerfully admitted his biases, confusion, and delight — 'I'm joined at the hip to Peter as his business manager, editor, publisher, and friend, but the honest truth is I wound up doing all this because I was a huge fan of Peter's writing, and have been since I was 14 and read his first two novels back in the late '60s. Where Beagle books are concerned, my second-favorite is I See By My Outfit, his nonfiction travel memoir; and my number-one favorite is either The Last Unicorn or A Fine and Private Place, depending on which one I've glanced at most recently. Try as I may, I just can't seem to make a permanent first-place choice. As for my favorite piece from his shorter fiction, that's truly impossible to say. There are just too many different flavors there to ever choose one and say 'this is it, this is the best.' How can you compare 'Two Hearts' and 'La Lune T'attend' and 'Gordon the Self-Made Cat?' They live in entirely different universes.
'What's really great is that each new story Peter writes is a surprise. The fact that he is 69 years old and still keeps tackling new territory, still keeps refusing to repeat himself...that's wonderful and amazing.'
Charles de Lint has a long answer — 'Synchronicity is a funny thing. There I was in my column, mentioning how A Fine and Private Place is one of my favorite books, and the next thing I know there is a new reprint of it sitting in my P.O. box.
'And the book's worth it.'
(Taken with slight modification from a 'Books to Look For' column which first appeared in The Magazine of F&SF, August 2007, edited by Gordon Van Gelder. Copyright (c) 2007 by Charles de Lint. Reprinted by permission of the author.)
Denorah Grabien echoed what de Lint picked — 'For me, it's A Fine and Private Place. I love Beagle (and I have a bit of personal history associated with my dedicated copy of The Last Unicorn), but this one has no competition for me; it's one of the few books out there I can legitimately point to and say, wow, this directly influenced the way I write. Ghost story, love story, gentleness and fierceness and resignation and acceptance and a beautiful twist to it: what doesn't it have?
Elizabeth Hand picked The Last Unicorn — 'My favorite Beagle remains The Last Unicorn. I first read it as a girl not long after it was published, and immediately upon finishing it I turned to the first page and read it all over again, a pattern which continued, with occasional breaks for meals, for some years. The book achieves a perfect balance between the magical and the mundane, romantic heartbreak and the plainer face of requited love. Much of this, of course, I didn't fully grasp until I was an adult reader. The Last Unicorn possesses the same timeless, ageless melancholy and wit of Hans Christian Andersen's greatest work. Like all great fairy tales, it is immortal.'
Patricia McKillip echoed that choice as well — 'The Last Unicorn is the novel I think of when I think of Peter Beagle. How could I not? It's the first one of his that I read, and because of it, I went on to read the earlier A Fine and Private Place, and then I See by My Outfit, then Folk of The Air, The Innkeeper's Song, The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances, and so on. Peter's work is addictive. He mixes metaphors into a merry hash, makes words dance on their heads, chucks your chin up with an outrageous image (a rhino in your living room?), then pulls your hat over your eyes until you see galaxies in the vegetable garden, and the moon in your frying pan. Behind all his writing is the smooth, skilled, impeccably tuned voice of the storyteller, who charms and lures his listeners onward to the next wonder, the next improbable marvel. That voice you would recognize behind a doorless wall on an unfamiliar street in a country you're not sure how you got to. It is Peter's voice, at once familiar and inimitable, and hearing it, you suddenly know exactly where you are: under the eye, in the palm of, a master.'
Vera Nazarian picked, surprise, the same novel — 'My favorite, beloved book by Peter S. Beagle is The Last Unicorn which I've read in school, probably during study hall, in the magical silence of the school library, surrounded by the rustle of pages turned and thoughts plunged into a waking dream.
Tim Pratt had a more unusual choice — 'The Folk of the Air. It probably helped that I read the book the same year I moved to Santa Cruz, California, and visited the Bay Area for the first time — Beagle's town of Avicenna is a sort of idealized dream of a Bay Area town, and the world I found in the book pretty well matched my own sense of wonder and magic at starting a new life here on the west coast, far from my old home. It seemed to me then that everyone I met could, in reality, be a hidden master of untold powers, and it was incontrovertible fact that I met people who knew all sorts of secret societies and places that I had not yet discovered for myself. I love the book also for its sense of magic — magic all around us, magic that may be elusive, but is never, ultimately, totally out of reach.'
Jill Roberts, the Managing Editor of Tachyon Publications pondered her answered a bit — 'Ah, how can I choose? OK, my favorite Peter S. Beagle novel is Tamsin. Cynical, whip-smart, and very, very brave, Jenny Gluckstein is one of my all-time favorite heroines. I would put Jenny right up there with Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time, Mary Lennox from A Secret Garden, and Menolly from Dragonsong. I wish I had come across her when I was prowling the stacks at my grade school library, trolling for fantasy that was 1) really compelling, 2) well-written, and 3) had a strong female protagonist. Tamsin hits squarely on all three. It's an intricate, wholly-original ghost story populated by all manner of magical and archetypal creatures, star-crossed lovers, and a villainous judge plucked right of the King James era. Also amazing is Peter's dialogue, which effortlessly passes back and forth between teen slang, cat-speak, and both rural and refined 17th century English. I really love that Tamsin could be categorized as YA, yet I read it in my twenties and was thoroughly hooked.
Jo Sherman went with the favorite novel — 'My favorite is also The Last Unicorn. What a beautiful book it is, full of folklore, humanity, and down-to-earth characters mingling with the archetypes. The image of the unicorns rising out of the sea has stayed with me, and the Red Bull is an awe-inspiring creation. Mix the tormented king with the very human magician and his gal, and you have a brilliant look at humanity and what it means to be human. It is so right that the unicorn who turns female returns to being a unicorn once more — there could be no more perfect resolution.'
Will Shetterly had a brief but interesting answer — 'Lila the Werewolf' and either The Last Unicorn or I See By My Outfit.'
James Stoddard couldn't pick a favorite — 'I would rank several of Peter Beagle's books as equally entertaining, so I'll harken back to one I haven't read since college, a book I've been meaning to reread for years: I See By My Outfit, the story of Beagle and a friend riding a pair of motor scooters from New York to California. The title is from their own original parody of a Smothers Brothers skit, sung to the tune of 'The Streets of Laredo':
'Through the years I've come to realize that quaint little skit has a lot of truth to it. We are invariably tossed into situations for which we have no experience, forced to fake it until we learn the ropes. Beagle understood that, I think, as the two intrepid adventurers wind their way across America.
Andrew Wheeler says 'In this, as in so many other things, my favorite is the one that came first. The first work of Beagle's that I read was coincidentally his first novel, A Fine and Private Place. (Well, maybe it wasn't a coincidence, after all — unicorns give me a rash, but a book set in a cemetary was just what I was looking for.)
'A Fine and Private Place is elegant, quietly lovely, and deeply thoughtful. It's a book with deep reservoirs of wisdom, and a viewpoint obviously built on decades of close observation of real people's lives and interactions. And yet it was written by a nineteen-year-old.
'Luckily, that nineteen-year-old was Peter Beagle, and that explains all.
'(On the other hand, The Innkeeper's Song is pretty darn good, too...)'
Jane Yolen gets the last word — 'Choosing one Beagle piece is a hard task, but I have no doubt about my answer. It is his brilliant, provocative fable, 'Come Lady Death' in which a bored Lady Neville invites Death to a ball and in the end changes places with her. Not a word, not a sentence is wrong in this tale. Implacable, seductive as Lady Death herself, the short story has remained my favorite since I first read it at least thirty years ago.'