The Overneath

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 20 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

Beagle's first collection in some years, The Overneath includes uncollected work along with several stories previously unpublished in print, and many of them are dazzling. The title comes from the breezily inventive “The Way It Works Out and All,” in which Beagle himself appears as a character along with fellow fantasy author Avram Davidson, who’s discovered a way into the mysterious “plumbing” behind the ordinary world. I love this image, and it could be taken as a metaphor for the uncertain and sometimes dangerous ways the author has to tread in bringing the gifts of the imaginative world to us. Beagle casts himself as being more reluctant in this endeavor than his intrepid friend, yet I suspect he’s no less of an adventurer at heart.

Such sly humor is only one of the narrative tones at Beagle’s disposal, though, as he brings us a couple of stories about the wizard Schmendrick (from his famous novel The Last Unicorn); tales of three other very, very different unicorns; a melancholy fairy tale resonant with themes of aging and forgiveness; tales of technological magic that comes via laptops and wireless transmitters; and much more — as a former Seattle resident I was especially pleased to see the Fremont Bridge Troll get his very own story. Beagle’s notes at the head of each selection further illuminate their origins and his creative process.
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Beautiful collection of short stories that sits nicely alongside Beagle's other work. I would highly recommend this to any fans of his novels!
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This is my first taste of Beagles works and so I haven't read any longer novels. I'm not normally a fan of short stories and I think I missed that particular nugget of information when I downloaded from netgalley however I found these quite charming.

I enjoyed the stories and the style of writing and I will definitely go and look up the longer novels.
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My e-reader had trouble with the formatting for this book. For some reason, all the lines squished together and I wasn't able to read it.  :(
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Peter S. Beagle writes wonderful heart-warming stories that always have unexpected twists, probably because he makes them up as he goes along. This is another great collection from one of my favourite writers and a welcome change from the ten-volume fantasy epics everyone else seems to be doing. Hurray for short stories!
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An enjoyable fantasy read. I've enjoyed a number of Beagle's works now, and this one didn't disappoint.
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I've been a fan of Peter S. Beagle's work ever since I read The Last Unicorn, a cheerfully bittersweet examination of life and fairy tales. I also enjoyed In Calabria, Beagle's more recent take on unicorns. However, aside from a short sequel to The Last Unicorn, I hadn't read any of Beagle's shorter fiction. Overneath is a collection Beagle's short stories, some previously published and some new to this volume. It's a great introduction to Beagle's fiction.

The two stories likely to receive the most attention are "The Green-Eyed Boy" and "Schmendrick Alone," prequels to The Last Unicorn focused on Schmendrick the wizard. The first is told from the point of view of Schmendrick's master, Nikos. It's an interesting attempt to retcon what we know of Nikos from the novel, depicting him forgiving of Schmendrick's many failures, as opposed to frustrated enough to curse the boy with immortality until he mastered magic. I'm not quite sure the story works as the Nikos depicted here doesn't seem quite like the character who told Schmendrick, "Don't thank me. I tremble at your doom." I did enjoy seeing a younger Schmendrick attempting to impress a woman with a magic trick that backfired (of course).

"Schmendrick Alone" tells the story of a time when Schmendrick conjured a demon. Again, for a woman, but this time to protect her from thugs. The story really brought home the tragic loneliness of Schmendrick, something that I didn't appreciate while reading The Last Unicorn. Seeing Schmendrick try and fail to interact with normal people, fail to develop relationships, fail to fall in love, helps explain why he'd ended up in a dead-end job at Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival. It also explains both Schmendrick's longing for a relationship with Molly Grue and the limits of that relationship. I definitely look forward to rereading The Last Unicorn after having learned about Schmendrick youth.

Several of the other stories in Overneath also deal with unicorns, albeit not as part of The Last Unicorn. Beagle's previous unicorn stories have largely been grounded in Western or Christian unicorn mythology, which depicts the unicorn as a beautiful, semi-religious creature that can both physically and spiritually heal people. "Olfert Dapper’s Day" continues in this tradition. Olfert Dapper was a Dutch physician who wrote what we would now call travelogues and mentioned a unicorn sighting in Maine. When he was younger, Beagle came across Dapper's account, which helped inspire his love of unicorns (he even dedicated The Last Unicorn to Dapper). The only problem is Dapper never traveled and his reports relied on secondhand accounts. Beagle's story explores what Dapper's encounter with a unicorn might have been like had he actually traveled to Maine.

However, in Overneath, Beagle also draws upon unicorn myths from other parts of the world. "The Story of Kao Yu" features a Chinese unicorn, the chi-lin, which is a much more imperious creature that looks like a cross between a horse and a dragon. In the story, a chi-lin assists a judge in ancient China with difficult cases, meting out harsh punishments to the guilty. The judge's relationship with the chi-lin becomes complicated when he falls in love with a suspected thief. In "My Son Heydari and the Karkadann," Beagle tells the story of a Persian boy Heydari and a Karkadann, a Middle Eastern unicorn that was probably inspired by the Indian rhinoceros. Unlike Western unicorns, the Karkadann is a large, violent beast. Despite this, Heydari ends up tending a Karkadann's wounds.

With over a dozen stories, its difficult to derive any general themes or narrative threads from Overneath. One common thread is Peter Beagle's unique ability to mix and meld two opposite emotions into something greater. His stories manage to evoke both melancholy and wonder, cynicism and hope, frustration and love at the same time. Several of the stories, including the two about Schmendrick, involve people blinded by love. There seems to be a theme, an implicit message against trusting the heart... and yet it's hard to read these stories simply as cynical diatribes against love. If there's a message, it seems to be that people are flawed, although they might be touched by magic every once in a while - or a unicorn.

[Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review]
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I really enjoyed this collection. Unique and brilliant collection. Lyrical and magical throughout- these almost had a poetic feel to them.  

While this was my first work by Beagle that I've read, I am intrigued and wholly enjoyed his work and will continue to pick up more. His use of blending melancholy, "tales" and hope was something I've never seen done before. 

I will say there is a story in here for everyone- and highly recommend this one. 

This was a beautiful read. I would like to thank Peter S. Beagle and Tachyon Publications for the opportunity to read and review this.
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**Thank you, NetGalley, for the digital copy!**

You know, a lot of people look at me funny when I mention The Last Unicorn, but it was a life changing movie when I was a kid. And when I found out this is the guy who wrote it...I was all in. I haven't read The Last Unicorn yet, but he wrote the book AND the screenplay!

This was awesome writing! The fantastical stories he has in his head. And he creates characters that you care about, even in the shortest time. Shoot, there was one story that I really didn't care for and I still had to finish it to find out what happened.

If you have followed me at all, you know I'm not a huge short story fan. But this was a complete winner! And going forward, I am going to have to investigate this author.
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More than anything else—his unfailingly beautiful prose, his ability to weave threads of emotional truth into stories of the fantastic, his knack for writing stories that land with a soft touch and leave the impact of a hammer blow—Peter S. Beagle’s long literary career has been defined by unicorns.

There’s the protagonist of his most famous work, The Last Unicorn (called Lady Amalthea when in human guise), who is perhaps the most famous unicorn of all. Just last year, he published In Calabria, a slender, wistful novel about the appearance of unicorns in a small Italian town. It inverts many of The Last Unicorn‘s themes, and serves as an interesting late-career mirror to a book that is now nearly 50 years old. The author seems to be in the process of the mythological well he drew from so often in those early days. The well is deep and clear, and its waters fortifying.

His new short story collection, The Overneath, includes three stories about unicorns, two of them hardly of the beautiful, immortal Western sort. “My Son Heydari and the Karkadann” is a grousing, exasperated story told by a father about his foolish boy, who once nursed a karkadann, a bestial Persian unicorn, back to health. “The Story of Kao Yu” follows a traveling judge living under the Emperor Yao, and his unspoken and largely inexplicable relationship with a chi-lin, an almost dragon-like Chinese unicorn, who occasionally appears to render judgement in Kao’s court. This is unicorn as a sort of social superego, and Kao’s relationship with a comely thief throws the judge’s relationship with the law into disequilibrium.

Like Kao Yu’s story, “Olfert’s Dapper Day” concerns a luckless criminal and his interactions with a unicorn. The titular Dr. Olfert (who has no real credentials to his name, medical or otherwise) is fleeing his native Utrecht for the New World. He eventually settles in No Popery, a largely Puritan settlement so hardscrabble, even his counterfeit medical degree is better than nothing at all. Dr. Olfert plays at real doctoring, finding the settlers too destitute to play the confidence man he truly is. Then he and the minister’s wife meet a unicorn—the Western kind, but with cloven hooves and a lion’s tail. Beagle has come at unicorns many ways through his career, and these three are interesting, thoughtful additions to the bestiary.

Two stories about Schmendrick, the last of the red-hot swamis, also come at The Last Unicorn in the oblique. Schmendrick is a much beloved character from that novel, a bumbling wizard semi-cursed by his master Nikos to “travel the world round, eternally incompetent, until such time as you come to your full power and know who you are.” “The Green-Eyed Boy” is told from Nikos’ point of view, relaying how a young Schmendrick came to be his apprentice, and how the boy came by that horrible name. (Schmendrick is Yiddish, and means something like “one who is out of his depth.”) It’s a kind, wincing portrait of the wizard as a young man, both diligent and so, so clumsy. We meet him again in “Schmendrick Alone”; with a title drawn from Mervyn Peake, it details the period just after he’s released from Nikos’ instruction, and poor Schmendrick just keeps being tragically incompetent. Both stories are must-reads for fans of Beagle’s most beloved book, and isn’t that…everyone?

Unicorns aren’t the only creatures you’ll find in this book, which takes its name from an inter-dimensional plane in “The Way It Works Out and All,” a metafictional story about a fellow fantasy writer, the late Avram Davidson, who reveals he can travel through the (somewhat unreliable) otherland of the Overneath to anywhere on the planet. “Trinity County, CA: You’ll Want to Come Again and We’ll Be Glad to See You!” follows a group of do-gooders trying to rescue exotic pets—pets that turn out to be dragons. The aching “Music, When Soft Voices Die” is a steampunk-y story about a medical student who builds a radio of sorts, tuned into the unknown, in Victorian England.

The Overneath is a lovely collection that, like its namesake, manages to be everywhere at once. Aliens, dragons, unicorns, supernatural fish tanks, cursed queens, and matriculating magicians: all find their place in Beagle’s sweet grimoire.
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It must be hard to be a literary icon, late in your career. You’ve ascended the literary heights and amassed an adoring following who still expect you never to repeat, and even improve upon your previous genius with each new work. But I’m not sorry for Peter S. Beagle, nor his latest short story collection The Overneath, which came out in November of 2017.

Most striking, to me, is that Beagle manages each new tale with a distinct, and yet perfectly effortless narrative voice. No problem with that whole repetition worry. There is none here. His narratives roll out rich in otherworldly wonder.

He does revisit the unicorn theme in this collection with both Chinese “Kao Yu” and Near Eastern inspired “My Son Heydari and the Kakadann” stories of the unicorn, both of which I found thoroughly engrossing. Beagle writes convincingly in Chinese cultural context. I have been surprised how often writers try and fail to manage it. He touches these tales with the authenticating sensation of the long ago and far away. Also notable is the appearance of Schmendrick, from The Last Unicorn. If you love the classic, you may well enjoy reading into Schmendrick’s fumbling education at Nikos’ knee.

Beagle does not confine himself to unicorns, or the ancient, however. He leaps from fantasy to speculative, to steampunk, to horror. Other stories include: “The Green-Eyed Boy” and its sequel “Schmendrick Alone,” “The Way it Works Out and All,” “Kaskia,” “Great-Grandmother in the Cellar,” “The Queen Who Could Not Walk,” “Trinity County,” “Underbridge,” “Music,” “When Soft Voices Die,” “The Very Nasty Aquarium,” and “Olfert Dapper’s Day.”

I won’t say I enjoyed all of the stories equally. He ranges too wide in style for that. And as much as I enjoyed many of these stories, they cannot compare to The Last Unicorn. There. I said it. It must be tough to be compared to your own genius self every time you publish a new book.
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My children introduced me to the works of Peter S. Beagle through, of course, The Last Unicorn. I proceeded to delve into his other work (A Fine and Private Place, and so forth), and had the opportunity to “talk shop” with him on the lawn outside the reception at one World Fantasy Convention. Over the years, I’ve come across his wonderful short fiction, most notably a story in which the late, much missed Avram Davidson takes the author for a wild and wooly chase through alternate dimensions (the “overneath” of the title). 
Over the decades, unicorns have populated Beagle’s stories. I reviewed his novella, In Calabria, here. The Overneath features a number of different traditional versions, including a dangerously nasty Persian beastie. The tales range from sweetly romantic to surreal to horrific (a spine-chilling aquarium), all expertly crafted with wonderful characters and powerful authorial voice. Finally, I’m delighted to see the single author collection returning as a literary form, for it’s immensely easier, not to mention more satisfying, to find if not all then surely the best of an author’s short fiction output all in one place.
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I received an eARC from NetGalley but all opinions are my own. 

I did DNF this book but I gave it a higher star rating because the writing itself was good and I believe that just because I didn't like something doesn't mean someone else won't enjoy it. I think there are a number of people who will enjoy these stories.

As a kid I remember watching and loving the movie The Last Unicorn and was shocked to find out, as an adult, that it was actually based on a book. I haven't had the chance to read that book but I found this short story collection and was excited to read some short stories that included Schmendrick from the Last Unicorn as well as other stories by the author.

However, I struggled through most of the stories I did get a chance to read. The writing style was good, there were no grammatical errors and each story had a brief introduction from the author. The problem was with me; I believe that short story writing is not for me. 

I would recommend it to someone who enjoys Fantasy Short Stories or Peter S. Beagle's other books.
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Peter S Beagle is an enchanting writer.  He has some of the most whimsical outrageous ideas and every time I’m on the edge of my seat ready to find out out what happens next, who knew a battle in a fish tank would have me gripping the pages!  Beagle is able to create very solid characters with the most subtle descriptions, using a description of a tic or habit to somehow encompasses the very esscense of the character.

I loved that each of these short stories had a brief introduction by Beagle, the introductions offered a bit of insight into each story and how Beagle himself feels about them.
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I am so grateful to have received a galley copy of this work.  Thank you so much.  This anthology was so well written, and the beauty in these stories totally sucked me right in.  You're a blessing to fantasy, Peter S. Beagle.
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I wasn't disappointed with any of the stories, and some of them impressed me and stuck with me quite a lot. Modern dragon-hunters, where dragons are like really big invasive species. Voodoo cursed aquarium decorations discovered by little old ladies. Schmendrick as a hapless youth. The Fremont troll comes alive. Wonderful prose, as you would of course expect from Beagle, with charming and relatable characters and situations. 

It's great for fans of Beagle, for folks looking for whimsical short story collections, or for someone who wants to same Beagle's work without the commitment of a novel.
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This book of short stories gives an interesting glimpse into one of his most beloved characters (Schmendrick, anyone?) and presents the reader with some intriguing glimpses into haunted aquariums and some really dangerous back ally shortcuts that no-one should take.
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The Overneath is a collection of relatively recent short fiction by Peter Beagle. The tales range from backstories out of The Last Unicorn to other unicorn tales (3 all together), steampunk, fairy tales, and Beagle's adventure with Avram Davidson. My favorite tale was "Trinity County, CA" which stars a duo dealing with a very strange invasive species. I had encountered "Underbridge" in its original appearance , but still enjoyed meeting the Troll once more. If you like well told stories, you will likely enjoy The Overneath, so what are you waiting for? Get reading!

Thanks Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book.
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A wonderful collection of fantasy tales that delight the imagination and are a joy to spend time with. They are fun and creative and just right for when you want to escape to a different world for a little while.
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This was my first time reading anything by Peter S. Beagle. Judging from the stories in this book, I would say he has versatile writing skills, a good sense of humor, and an obsession with unicorns (I guess when "The Last Unicorn" is your biggest hit, why not milk it?…not that there are any stories about milking unicorns).

Anyway, this collection offers a wide variety of fantasy stories from folktales to visiting worlds created in previous novels to steampunk(ish…he admits he doesn’t really understand the genre) to urban. No matter the sub-genre his narration has a light touch either in a “isn’t this a folksy charming tale” way, lightly mocking narration, or some combination of the two.

As with any short story collection, I found some stories to be more enjoyable than others, but the difference in enjoyment here had more to do with topic and sub-genre preference than variation in writing quality (e.g. I’m not a fan of stories that celebrate adultery/affairs and there was at least one of those, and the Schmendrick stories were only moderately interesting to me since I have never read "The Last Unicorn"). Overall, this is well worth reading as a fun sampler of fantasy sub-genres, and I’m glad to have found an entertaining author I hadn’t read before.
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