“The Last Unicorn” as a Reflection on Jews and Judaism after the Holocaust

Peter S. Beagle, who turns eighty on Saturday, has behind him a six-decade career as a novelist, and is still writing. A native of the Bronx with literary aspirations, who was born into a family of Jewish artists and rubbed elbows with Ken Kesey, Beagle, as Michael Weingrad puts it, “could have ended up an American Jewish novelist trailing belatedly after Saul Bellow and Philip Roth or an occasional surrealist like Bernard Malamud or Cynthia Ozick, an observer of and sometime participant in the counterculture.” But while he experimented in a number of genres, Beagle stands out from this group by writing several works of fantasy, most importantly the 1968 The Last Unicorn, for which he is best known. Weingrad comments on this book’s subtle, but inescapable, Jewish themes, which go far beyond the fact that one of its main characters is a wizard named Schmendrick:

[In this novel] Beagle does not ironize evil; he treats it mythically. He introduces villains, above all the Red Bull, an implacable, destructive force that has been unleashed against the unicorns. Beagle’s depiction of the [titular] unicorn’s melancholy quest for the rest of her kind borders on secular post-ḥasidic parables of God discovering what has become of His Jews in the wake of the Shoah. “Wherever she went,” Beagle writes, “she searched for her people, but she found no trace of them.”

Though the novel cannot be reduced to allegory, its language is infused with suggestive parallels to God and the Six Million. The unicorn repeatedly refers to the other unicorns as her “people.” “How terrible it would be,” she says ominously, “if all my people had been turned human by well-meaning wizards—exiled, trapped in burning houses. I would sooner find that the Red Bull had killed them all.”

Beagle’s unicorn resembles a god who has been living apart from the world. When the unicorn leaves her timeless forest, she enters into history and is shocked and saddened by what she discovers, not least that human beings are no longer able to recognize her. “There has never been a world in which I was not known,” she muses, surprised when a farmer takes her for an ordinary mare.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Fantasy, Holocaust, Judaism

 

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy