The only real breakout of Peter S. Beagle’s long career came 30 years ago, when he adapted his own 1968 fantasy novel The Last Unicorn into the screen play for an animated film. The 1982 film wasn’t nearly as good as the book, but it wasn’t terrible and did fairly well. The somewhat cruel irony was that it led Beagle into a couple of decades where he focused on screenwriting without vast success and even had to sue the producers of The Last Unicorn to get his contracted share of profits. He left the fantasy genre just as writers like Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, and Robert Jordan—writers whom in my opinion he surpasses—began to find popularity and strong sales. His early works, books like A Fine and Private Place and The Innkeeper’s Song, are both lovely and innovative and I still heartily recommend them.
In the last decade, Beagle has returned to fantasy writing, this time focusing on writing short stories and editing anthologies. His writing hasn’t lost a step. He has true gifts as a stylist that will give his work lasting value. Because of his elegant way with language, he makes a great gateway into the fantasy genre for readers who have previously focused on “literary” fiction. He’s both lyrical and innovative, and rather than follow the trends in the fantasy marketplace, he often battles against them.
We Never Talk about My Brother, a collection of nine varied stories, is a fine entry point to Beagle’s work. My favorites included the title piece, which is a retelling of the bible’s Jacob and Esau story in which the Esau character is a newscaster who uses his powers as an angel of death to create the stories that have made him famous. Ultimately his country brother, who has never tapped his opposing gifts, forces a confrontation. “King Pelles the Sure” is a powerful little anti-war story in which the king of a tiny but prosperous country foolishly thinks that his nation could also find glory in war. “Spook” pits man against ghost in a duel for rights to inhabit a house (and possibly to the man’s girlfriend). The twist is that the duel is fought (hilariously) with bad poetry. “By Moonlight” brings an English highwayman by circumstance (or is it?) to the fireside of a former cleric who has spent his life trying to regain access to the faerie court. Your mileage might vary: none of these stories is weak and each utilizes a different setting than the others. I hope this book will prove a happy gateway to all things Beagle. Readers won’t regret the time invested.
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