Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Peter S. Beagle and Sir Terry Pratchett

So, recently I re-read THE LAST UNICORN again for the first time in decades (say, about thirty years). I don't think it's aged well, but there was a time when this was widely considered one of the major works in post-Tolkien fantasy, the one that carried on the gentle, wistful tradition of Nathan into a new era.

Reading it now, after all these years, I was struck by the following passage

"Let me tell you a story," said Schmendrick. 
"As a child I was apprenticed to the mightiest magician of all, 
the great Nikos . . . But even Nikos . . . could not change me 
into so much as a carnival cardsharp. At last he said to me, 
'My son, your ineptitude is so vast, your incompetence 
so profound, that I am certain you are inhabited by a greater 
power than I have ever known. Unfortunately, it seems to be 
working backward at the moment, and even I can find
no way to set it right. It must be that you are meant to find
your own way to reach your power in time; but frankly,
you should live so long as that will take you. Therefore
I grant it that you shall not age from this day forth, but will 
travel the / world round and round, eternally inefficient, 
until at last you come to yourself and know what you are.
Don't thank me. I tremble at your doom.' "

--This suddenly sounded to me rather like Pratchett's description of Rincewind, his haplessly inept wizard in THE COLOUR OF MAGIC and THE LIGHT FANTASTIC -- a wizard who cdn't do any magic because as an apprentice he'd looked into the world's most powerful spellbook and one of the Eight spells that make reality jumped from the book into his head, scaring off any other spells from ever entering it. Coincidence, perhaps, but it did make me wonder if a little bit of Pratchett's inspiration might have come from the older book.

We also watched the Rankin-Bass animated film of THE LAST UNICORN for the first time. It was all too horribly familiar with the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT, right down to sharing some of the voice actors --except here that THE HOBBIT got the better deal on the voices (John Huston, Richard Boone) and THE LAST UNICORN on the theme songs (America rather than ever-warbly Glenn Yarborough). Some time capsules shd stay closed.

--John R.
audiobook: HPL's DAGON, Agatha Christie's THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD


JL said...

I still love the voice acting of Christopher Lee (who also did his German dub), and I think the novel aged remarkably well, which is probably the reason it remains Beagle's best-known work. Also, I just saw the movie on the big screen this summer in San Diego (Beagle and his manager are touring the US right now and will hopefully come to Europe later this year or 2015). It's still beautiful, while of course not as layered as the novel.

John D. Rateliff said...

I was surprised how faithful the animated film was to the original -- much of the dialogue was carried over verbatim. Maybe that's an advantage of getting to adapt your own work. At any rate, I'd say much closer to the original than the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT, on which Beagle also worked as a scriptwriter.


JL said...

Beagle wrote the screenplay for Ralph Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings", under infamous conditions (eight or nine rewrites of another writer's script under enormous time pressure for a minor "consulting" fee).

The screenplay of the Hobbit (which I've never seen) is credited to one Romeo Muller on IMDB.

John D. Rateliff said...

Yes, quite right: I got credits for the two films mixed up when typing my comment. I only have the finished film to go by for the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT, which as you say is credited on IMDB to Muller. But I have read the three scripts for Bakshi's LotR now at Marquette, by Beagle and Conklin. And while there's plenty of blame to spread around for why that film turned out to be as awful as it did, the scripts certainly played a part in that failure. They're not as bad as the Boorman-Pallenberg script that fortunately was never filmed, but they're certainly not good.

That's one reason I was glad to finally get the chance to see THE LAST UNICORN film; having seen one bad film based on a Beagle script, I was glad to see him responsible for a much better adaptation.

--John R.

JL said...

Thank you! I wasn't aware of that collection. But I found this paper discussing the different scripts -- quite interesting.