What: The Last Unicorn is, as you would expect, the story of the last unicorn. She must find out what has happened to the other unicorns, aided by a fraudulent magician, a fierce butterfly, and a would-be Maid Marian. You’ve formed a story in your head from reading that last sentence. The book is nothing like that. It’s better.
Who: I do not think anyone should call themselves a fantasy writer that has not read this. I’m sure there are reasonable exceptions. But I’m not seeing any of them.
Why: Read this for characters that will tangle themselves up in your heart and never let go. Read it for Beagle’s skill with prose, the sly humor, the sheer beauty.
When: Don’t read this when you are feeling insecure about your own writing, because it will only make it more so. Read it for inspiration as well as entertainment.
Where and how: Copy passages out and try to figure out how Beagle DID that. How the butterfly enchants us in only a few sentences. How the Bull menaces in even less space. (Be aware that Beagle did write about some of these characters again; they appear in novelette “Two Hearts,” which I only see available in The Nebula Award Showcase 2008 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Volume 24.