by Peter S. Beagle
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Pub Date 24 Nov 2017 | Archive Date 20 Mar 2018
An odd couple patrols a county full of mythological beasts and ornery locals. A familiar youngster from the world ofThe Last Unicorn is gifted in magic but terrible at spell-casting. A seemingly incorruptible judge meets his match in a mysterious thief who steals his heart. Two old friends discover that the Overneath goes anywhere, including locations better left unvisited.
Lyrical, witty, and insightful,The Overneath is Peter S. Beagle's much-anticipated return to the short form. In these uniquely beautiful and wholly original tales, with new and uncollected work, Beagle once again proves himself a master of the imagination.
A Note From the Publisher
Peter S. Beagle is the best-selling author of The Last Unicorn, which has sold more than five million copies since its initial publication. His other novels include A Fine & Private Place, The Innkeeper’s Song, Tamsin, Summerlong, and In Calabria. His short fiction has been collected in four volumes by Tachyon Publications: The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche, The Line Between, We Never Talk About My Brother, and Sleight of Hand. He has won the Hugo, Nebula, Mythopoeic, and Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire awards and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Beagle lives in Northern California, where he continues to work on nearly innumerable projects.
Praise for The Overneath
Io9. All the Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Keep on Your Radar This Fall
A Barnes & Noble Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Book of November 2017
[STAR] “Beagle’s late
[STARRED REVIEW] “Beagle’s latest collection of short stories includes 13 fantasy gems and features many previously uncollected and never-before-published works. Highlights include a couple of stories about one of Beagles’ most beloved characters, Schmendrick the Magician from his iconic novel The Last Unicorn (1968). A coming-of-age tale of sorts, ‘The Green-Eyed Boy’ offers a glimpse into the bumbling magician’s inauspicious beginnings, when the wizard Nikos took him in as an apprentice. Nikos sees potential in the shy boy but soon realizes his student’s unparalleled ineptitude could have deadly consequences. In the never-before-published ‘Schmendrick Alone,’ the magician, newly released from his service to Nikos, attempts to heroically defend a young woman from an unwanted suitor—with disastrous results. ‘My Son Heydari and the Karkadann’ is another remarkable story, chronicling a young Persian man’s attempt to nurse a dangerous mythological beast back to health; as is ‘Kaskia,’ a poignant love story about a lonely man who buys a strange laptop that allows him to video chat with a beautiful alien. ‘The Queen Who Could Not Walk’ is set in a world where the rulers must, at some point in their reign, exchange their bejeweled crowns for a beggar’s bowl and live out their lives in poverty. The story follows a crippled queen-turned-beggar who has her life saved by the unlikeliest of people. Two aspects of this collection stand out: the impressive diversity of stories (from interdimensional trips with novelist Avram Davidson in ‘The Way It Works Out and All’ to the supernatural horrors in a fish tank in ‘The Very Nasty Aquarium’) and the philosophical and thematic profundity of each story. Even in the most whimsical of tales, there are kernels of wisdom to be found. A masterful collection from a short story master—a must-read for Beagle fans.”
—Kirkus, starred review
[STARRED REVIEW] “With sharp, lean elegance, Beagle (In Calabria) effortlessly chronicles the lives of unicorns, trolls, magicians, and adventurers in 13 poignant stories, many of which caution readers about magic gone awry and temperamental creatures. Cultivating his extensive knowledge of mythical beasts, Beagle travels the world in ‘The Story of Kao Yu,’ in which a chi-lin (Chinese unicorn) passes the final judgment, and in ‘My Son Heydari and the Karkadann,’ in which a Persian teenager nurses a dangerous karkadann. Beagle also recalls the themes of his classic novel The Last Unicorn with stories about misplaced love and misfortune around summoning a demon. In ‘The Way It Works Out and All,’ a traveler discovers portals to the shadow world of Overneath. In ‘Olfert Dapper’s Day,’ a Dutch swindler escapes to colonial Maine, where he is privy to a remarkable sight. Urban fantasy stories delight: in ‘Underbridge,’ a lonely adjunct professor offers distraction to the Freemont Bridge Troll, and in ‘Trinity County, CA,’ government agents search the California woods for drug dealers who guard their camps with dragons. The steampunk ‘Music, When Soft Voices Die’ follows an inventor who hears unexpected voices coming from his new wireless transmitter. This enchanting collection employs simple humor and affectionate sarcasm and will enchant any reader who still believes in magic.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
[STARRED REVIEW] “Beagle’s strong and versatile talent is well on display here, and fantasy readers will be missing out if they don’t give it a look.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Verdict: For fantasy fans, Beagle should be a staple.”
“I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy
of this book a month ago, and reading it reminded me why Peter S
Beagle is one of my favorite authors.”
“I loved these stories because they are, above all else,
human. Their magic does not lie in the fantastical settings and situations, but
in the essential human truths they reveal.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
“[Beagle] continues to produce exceptional work and The Overneath, an enchanting collection of short stories which—fans won’t be surprised to hear—also includes one or two new tales about unicorns, will only consolidate his legend even further. This anthology is a triumph. 10/10 stars.”
“Peter Beagle deserves a seat at the table with the great masters of fantasy. If you had any doubts, The Overneath will dispel them.”
—Christopher Moore, author of Lamb and The Serpent of Venice
“These stories open a wider window on the work of a master storyteller. We all have something to learn—about writing, about humanity, about hope—from Peter Beagle.”
—Seanan McGuire author of Rosemary and Rue
“Peter S. Beagle is writing some of the most exciting short form fantasy today.”
—Jo Walton, author of Among Others and the Thessaly series
“Lovely, strange, and an utter, heartwrenching joy.”
—The Seattle Review of Books
“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.”
—Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog
“With a well-known wizard, three flavors of unicorns, fire-breathing cannibal dragons, a troll, and judges and scholars and queens and beggars, these tales are diverse in tone and subject matter, but all are pure enchantment! 5/5 stars.”
“[Beagle] creates fantastic stories where you least expect it, and at the end they stay in our minds for a long time. 5/5 stars.”
—Open Book Society
“I loved this collection of stories. Every story was well-written, compelling and just fantastic. 5/5 stars.”
—The Book Lover’s Boudoir
“In his 34th book, The Overneath, Beagle shows that he hasn’t lost the playful and imaginative touch that made The Last Unicorn an international bestseller and delighted readers for more than half a century.”
“Peter S Beagle just has an incredible skill for putting together both short and full length stories. I have been in love with The Last Unicorn my whole life and I continue to adore every single thing Peter writes. The Overneath is no different. A fantasy lover’s heaven from start to finish.”
—Life Has a Funny Way of Sneaking Up on You
“What is truly beautiful about this book is that Beagle’s writing lets you believe, if only for a little while, that magic, mythos and wonder are real. As you enter his world you become part of it and for that time the impossible is achievable.”
“This many faceted-collection sparkles with gems old and new, all unique in their telling. I highly recommend this collection to fans of fantastical tales. If you’d like to read more by Beagle, check out his catalogue at Tachyon.”
“Every story was well-written, compelling and just fantastic . . . The Overneath remind[s] me of the short fiction of George R. R. Martin. This is a compliment, believe me. 5/5 stars.
“Altogether an exceptional collection, a beautiful
introduction, as I've said, to Beagle's writing.”
—Blue Book Balloon
“5/5 stars. Peter S. Beagle is an amazingly generous gifted
storyteller and we're lucky that he has shared his stories with us.”
“The Overneath is
a highly inspired collection of short stories . . . the attention to detail is
amazing. The writing is immersive, and the stories are imaginative.”
“Beagle shows his mastery of depicting characters who are
rounded, believable, and likable coming into contact with the otherworldly. He
slips into their worlds without effort . . .”
“Beagle is a master of prose and his every sentence delights
. . . this is an excellent collection from an accomplished fantasist operating
at the height of his powers.”
“Beagle is also proof that you don’t have to write 20 volume epics to do fantasy. Small is beautiful.”
Praise for Peter S. Beagle
"[Beagle] has been compared, not unreasonably, with Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien, but he stands squarely—and triumphantly—on his own feet." —The Saturday Review
“One of my favorite writers.” —Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time
“Peter S. Beagle illuminates with his own particular magic such commonplace matters as ghosts, unicorns, and werewolves. For years a loving readership has consulted him as an expert on those hearts’ reasons that reason does not know.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, author of A Wizard of Earthsea
“Peter S. Beagle is (in no particular order) a wonderful writer, a fine human being, and a bandit prince out to steal readers’ hearts.” —Tad Williams, author of The Dragonbone Chair
“Peter S. Beagle is the magician we all apprenticed ourselves to.” —Lisa Goldstein, author of The Red Magician
“Peter S. Beagle would be one of the century’s great writers in any arena he chose; we readers must feel blessed that Beagle picked fantasy as a homeland.” —Edward Bryant, author of Cinnabar
[STARRED REVIEW] “[A] charming, lyrical tale of unicorns and love . . . Beagle’s kindly fable shows how a man who seems to have nothing can really have everything—with just a touch of magic.” —Publishers Weekly (on In Calabria)
“A novella about love in a world of hardship, loss, magic, and recovery. Beagle’s unicorns have never been more bewitching, impossible, and genuine. I cherished every page.” —Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and After Alice (on In Calabria)
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 62 members
Yet another incredible collection of short stories from world renowned Fantasy Author Peter S Beagle. I was extra excited for The Overneath because I'd heard it featured a story about our very own Schmendrick the Magician. But imagine my delight when I discovered not one but two Schmendrick stories!!
In addition, there is of course plenty of other stories in here which deserve praise of their own. From stories about the Fremont Bridge Troll (of which I had never previously heard of but am now fascinated by) to stories of otherworlds where our world lays in the shadows.
I particularly liked the story about a group of men living together and one of them creates an electronic device which without giving spoilers has a spooky purpose. Another favourite has to be the one about a haunted aquarium and it's retired teachers for heroines.
Peter S Beagle just has an incredible skill for putting together both short and full length stories. I have been in love with The Last Unicorn my whole life and I continue to adore every single thing Peter writes. The Overneath is no different. A fantasy lover's heaven from start to finish.
Beagle fans, rejoice! He's back and so are some of our favorites... and new favorites. Once again, he mastered the short story collection like no one else. I adore this man.
I am not a huge fan of short stories, but when I saw this collection by Beagle, who I have loved ever since childhood, I couldn't resist. And these stories are just as charming as The Last Unicorn. Yes, there are fantastical beasts (three unicorns?!) and magic from other lands. There is the title story, about a world passageway that is just outside of sight, but has its perils. But my favorite was the story of a very uncanny aquarium and it's inhabitants, and their retired elementary school teacher owner.
I enjoyed all of the stories, and liked the bonus of two stories about our man Shmendrick. But mostly I was entranced by the style of the writing, and the ease with which Beagle makes the fantastical real. I would love to live in his world, even when it's a bit scary and off-putting.
This being my 400th book to review in 2017 I felt it called for something special and since the 50th anniversary of one of the most enduring classics that has impacted an untold number of children is coming up next year I knew the perfect author to choose.
Peter S. Beagle gave us The Last Unicorn in 1968 which was then made into a movie in 1982 which is currently playing on Netflix if you need a reminder. His talent to create vivid settings, enchanting characters and worlds that came straight out of our dreams and nightmares taught us about the world in a refreshingly honest way
Even 60 years after he started putting pen to page what made Beagle so uplifting, fresh and enduring has not lost its luster with his latest collection of short stories.
We have over ten tales to take us away including the chance to relive that childhood magic from long ago by meeting Schmendrick once again. Diving into his illustrious work you get to walk down memory lane when life could just be full of mythic beings, hauntings to give you goosebumps and people you wish were real so they could make this world just a little easier to live in.
You will travel to China and immerse yourself in beautiful Asian folklore, to the Middle East where the sands of time are wiped away to tickle your imagination, or maybe very close to your own backyard where Dragons might just exist..
What is truly beautiful about this book is that Beagle’s writing lets you believe, if only for a little while, that magic, mythos and wonder are real. As you enter his world you become part of it and for that time the impossible is achievable.
So, the first and most important thing that lead me right into being like "YES, NETGALLEY, I WOULD LOVE TO READ THIS BOOK" is that the green-eyed boy featured in the first story "The Green-Eyed Boy" is in fact, Schmendrick the Magician, last of the red hot swamis. A young Schmendrick, who has just started his apprenticeship with Nikos, a master wizard. We see Schmendrick's clumsy attempts to work the powerful magic that he has right from the beginning. I loved it. Getting his origin story, so to speak, an outcast boy from a family that cares not a whit for him... even his name, from a Yiddish word that means something along the lines of "somebody out of his depth" as Beagle once put it, is a source of shame for him. Poor Schmendrick. I feel for him. What an amazing opener for this book of stories!
There are a few stories about unicorns in this anthology (surprise!), but they are all different kinds of unicorns.
For example, The Story of Kao Yu tells the story of a travelling judge who is occasionally helped out by a chi-lin, a Chinese unicorn. My Son Heydari and the Karkadann is a story about a wounded Persian unicorn, a karkadann - somewhat like a rhinoceros - being nursed back to health by a local boy.
It also has a bunch of fantastic stories in it that aren't about unicorns, like The Queen Who Could Not Walk, which had a really fantastic reveal, and Trinity County, CA : You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You! which is about a group of people that go in and rescue illegal exotic animals in Trinity County... only the exotic animals in this case, are dragons. Kaskia is a story about a middle aged man with a failing marriage who buys a strange laptop from his cousin and ends up instant messaging an alien with it. Music, When Soft Voices Die is a really cool story about a medical student in Victorian England who builds a machine that starts to pick up random voices, and it's a bit of a mystery finding out what they are and where they come from. Really surreal and wonderfully written stories of all different kinds.
It was awesome from start to finish. Never samey, never boring. I loved the entire collection, and I'll be honest here, I can only say that about 3 short story anthologies that I've ever read (including this one). So, there you go. :)
Many thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the advance reader copy of this book.
This is an outstanding collection of fantasy author Peter S. Beagle's short stories, from those set in the Land of Far Away and Long Ago to those with a contemporary fantasy setting. Beagle, whose best-loved novel is The Last Unicorn, excels in the several unicorn tales here. I also loved his stories with a strong or brave heroine. His engaging writing leaves me with a warm feeling, even when a story is scary or sad. Beagle's writing has heart, and his characters shine.
I loved this book. I had never read anything by Peter Beagle before, but I will definitely look into his books now. I had heard of him, but had never sought him out before this. This was an excellent collection of stories, and a really good primer on his writing style. I found his stories to be extremely engaging, even when I was wary at first. My personal favorites were the stories involving Schmendrick, the various unicorn stories, and the story with the dragons at drug dens. Overall, a fantastic read, and one that I am glad I found!
The Overneath is Peter S. Beagle's latest offering of short stories. There is definitely something for everyone in here. Do you love Schmendrick? He is in two stories! Do you love urban fantasy? What about stories set in exotic locales or times? This anthology has you covered! Each story is rich in character, action, and detail. I liked all the stories, but the real stand outs for me were "The Green-Eyed Boy," "The Queen Who Could Not Walk," and "Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You." If you already love Peter S. Beagle, you need to run to get a copy of this book. If you have never read his work, it is an excellent introduction, which will leave you longing to dig into his catalog.
This anthology was amazing and well written. Although this is the first novel I have read but Peter S. Beagle it sure won't be my last. My favorite stories were Underbridge (amazing character development) and Trinity County CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Want to See you (a plot so good you won't be able to put the story down unfinished). I didn't hate any stories but my least favorite was Olfert Dapper's Day.
I would suggest this novel to all fantasy fans out there.
I got this story for free from the publisher.
The Green-Eyed Boy - 3.5/5 stars
This story is a prequel to The Last Unicorn. Although it can be read on its own (like I did) I feel like a lot is lost. Still a good story though.
The Story of Kao-Yo - 4/5 stars
The authors version of a unicorn story. It takes place in China with a judge as the main character. There was a complexity to the story I didn't, especially at the end regarding judge and the unicorn.
My Son Heydari and the Karkadann - 4.5/5 stars
This is another unicorn story, however instead of the unicorn being mysterious and powerful it is more territorial and maleficent. I really enjoyed this story as it gives a different twist to an old legend.
The Queen Who Could Not Walk - 4/5 stars
A princess loses her ability to walk on her wedding night. The prince still marries her where she remains Queen till she is old and forced out to be (due to God's wishes). While begging she learns the true price of greed, revenge and vanity.
Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See you! - 5/5 stars
One of my favorite stories in this analogy. Two deputies that are part of D Patrol, they investigate dragons being bred, raised or kept illegally. I loved the plot and the amount of detail Beagle put into the dragons.
They Way It Works Out and All - 4/5 stars
This story is the origin behind the title. There was tons of promise behind his story but the execution wasn't as well done as I was hoping. If the main character was braver the story would have gone so much farther. Still a great story though.
Kaskia - 3.5/5 stars
Martin buys a new computer with hidden features. One of those features allows him to communicate with an unknown entity. I feel there were numerous elements to this story but the only one I got was that people can and will disguise who they are online.
Schmendrick Alone - 4/5 stars
This story takes place in The Last Unicorn universe but it more of a standalone story then The Green-Eyed Boy. Schmendrick is finally out in the world after his 7-year apprenticeship but he has a lot to learn about life and magic.
Great-Grandmother In the Cellar - 4/5 stars
This story is written like a classic fairytale with an enchanted daughter, a powerful but evil wizard and a resurrected grandmother. I thought the ending was perfect in this story.
Underbridge - 5/5 stars
This story takes place in Seattle with a troll. The main character was really despicable and I was glad to see he got what he deserved.
The Very Nasty Aquarium - 3/5/5 stars
This story follows two retired school teachers as they try to rid an aquarium of a duppy. This story was incredibly unique, the beginning was a little slow but it quickly picked up.
Music, When Soft Voices Die - 4.5/5 stars
This is the only horror story in the novel. I wouldn't say it was scary but it was definitely unnerving. This story had me looking over my shoulder a few times before I feel asleep.
Olfert Dapper's Day - 3/5 stars
Dr. Olfert Dapper moves to the New World and befriends an aboriginal man named Rain Coming. Together they see a unicorn. Although the story was good I was confused why he was forced out of town yet Remorse Kirtley was accepted. I also didn't understand and hated that the Unicorn liked Remorse better because she was a virgin. This story was okay, I found the concept of virginity being an outdated concept.
This is a collection of wonderful short stories, many of which deal with different interpretations of Unicorns which were the stories I liked the most. Not that I’m totally caught up in the pastel, iridescent unicorn trend, I like a unicorn that can do a bit of damage you know what I mean? That’s the kind of unicorn we have here.
I’ll confess I’ve never read any Peter S. Beagle before so some of the stories which link with his other work may have nuances that were lost on me, for the most part, however, you can understand what is going on.
What struck me about this collection is how Beagle can write different voices. Each story feels distinct and unique, you don’t descend into a monotonous drudge as some short story collections can do.
One of my favourite stories was that which gives the collection it’s name. The Overneath reminded me a little of the different Londons in V. A. Schwabb’s ADSOM series. I actually think you could conjure a whole novel out of the idea, but doubtless it would be phenomenally complicated so I understand why Beagle stuck to this format.
While some elements are reminiscent of classic folk tales, others smack of science fiction influences. The key element which unites these stories, for me, was the authors clear passion for them. Some ideas have been fermenting for many a year while others seem to have written themselves.
If this is an indication of the standard of Beagle’s work then sign me up to read some more! (Oh my poor TBR).
My rating: 4/5 stars
The Overneath publishes on the 7th of November so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!
By the way, I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]
Peter Beagle has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Admittedly, I didn't know much about him outside of The Last Unicorn until I was in my late teens. Which is a very sad sad thing. I know I had several of his books hanging around my house, but can't remember if I read them or when. (Remind me to go find them and read them, just to be safe!)
The Overneath is a collection of short stories, some of which were published elsewhere, and some of which are new. I believe both Schmendrick (!!!) stories are new, and they both made my heart skip a few beats. Reading about his life before he met the unicorn was magical! It was like a completely new depth brought to a character I've loved for years. (Peter, please write more Schmendrick! And Molly Grue! And Lir, oh bring Lir back...Yes I know he's gone...but I always want more. The Last Unicorn is one of my absolute favorite books.)
The other stories were very different from the others of his that I've read (although I can't say I've read his other short stories, I am really just talking about his books). I enjoyed the title story very much, and the very last one based on the dedication to The Last Unicorn. Both were intriguing. I still want to know what happened to the narrator's friend in The Overneath, and more more more.
Peter Beagle has always had a way of making me just want more. Can you tell?
I highly recommend this collection. His short stories are just as magical as his novels and novellas. There is so much atmosphere, such great character development in such short spaces. The stories are interesting (except that troll one - that one kind of left a bad taste in my mouth). And the unicorns! Okay, I think there was only one unicorn. But that's all right. The fantasy was there, the mood, the magic and the wonder of it all. Read this if you are a fan. Even if you're not a fan, give it a shot. You never know what you might find...
Peter Beagle can write anything--literally anything. He's written novels, short stories, screenplays, and songs, all many-hued in style, theme, and subject. Over his career, he's written tales about ghost cats and teenage angst (Tamsin), restless spirits and larcenous ravens (A Fine and Private Place), cranky Italian farmers and mischievous goats (In Calabria), and of course, unicorns and love-lorn princes (The Last Unicorn).
Of all the magical creatures Beagle has written about, unicorns loom largest in the author's catalogue. The Last Unicorn is arguably one of his best-known works, thanks to the beloved animated film from the 1980s, to say nothing of the novel’s stunning prose and wonderfully well-drawn characters. In this book, Beagle captures all the magnificence of unicorns and spellbinds his audience to follow them wherever they may lead. I've often suspected he became ensnared in his own literary spell. Is it any wonder that he's often found himself writing about those mythical creatures? In Calabria involved unicorns at the heart of its plot, and Beagle's new short story collection, The Overneath, which will be published by Tachyon in November, features three very different stories about unicorns, and another two in the universe of The Last Unicorn. While there are storytellers who often retread the same subjects, Beagle is one who manages to make the experience feel new every single time.
The stories that takes place in the world of The Last Unicorn both feature the hapless magician, Schmendrick. In “The Green-Eyed Boy,” we learn how Schmendrick came to study with the great wizard Nikos and the cost of power. The narrative picks up in “Schmendrick Alone,” where we find Schmendrick on the road, using his wits and burgeoning power to fend off bandits. At their heart, these are character pieces that enrich their story universe, but Beagle infuses both stories with heart and sorrow. It's no wonder Schmendrick is one of Beagle’s most beloved characters: he's just like us as he wanders along, hoping he’s making the right choices and persevering even when he doesn't.
Beagle doesn't limit his examination of the unicorn myth to Europe. One of my favorite tales is “My Son Heydari and the Karkadann,” which features the karkadann, a Persian unicorn-like creature, in a story rich with voice and imagery. I also enjoyed “The Story of Kao Yu,” which takes place in China and follows a judge who meets his own judgment in the form of a unicorn. “Olfert Dapper’s Day,” is a sly nod to the inspiration for The Last Unicorn and features genuine romance and wonder within a buttoned-up Puritanical setting.
My absolute favorite story in the collection had nothing to do with unicorns, however. I adored “The Very Nasty Aquarium,” which incorporates Caribbean folklore and genuine chills in the form of an evil pirate turned aquarium ornament. I really wish this were a longer story because I didn't want to leave any of the characters, even the aquarium figurines. I also loved the plucky older ladies that took matters into their own hands, red underpants and all. I don't often come across stories that manage to be both heartwarming and terrifying, but this one does so quite successfully.
There's a story in this collection for everyone. Beagle may revisit similar subjects, but he never writes the same story twice. This many faceted-collection sparkles with gems old and new, all unique in their telling.
I highly recommend this collection to fans of fantastical tales. If you'd like to read more by Beagle, check out his catalogue at Tachyon.
The Overneath's table of contents is as follows:
The Green-Eyed Boy
The Story of Kao Yu - First time in print (2017 Locus Award finalist)
My Son Heydari and the Karkadann - First time in print (appeared in a Humble Bundle limited ebook edition)
The Queen Who Could Not Walk
Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You!
The Way it Works Out and All
Schmendrick Alone - First publication
Great-Grandmother in the Cellar
The Very Nasty Aquarium - First publication
Music, When Soft Voices Die
Olfert Dapper’s Day
Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon for providing an advance reading copy for review.
I’m far from an expert on the books of Peter S. Beagle. I’ve only read The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place. The impression I’ve got from those two is that what he writes are not so much stories as tales. Even though they were created in the last few decades (and, like A Fine and Private Place, take place in a contemporary setting), they feel ancient, steeped in the old traditions of oral storytelling – so much so, that Polish SF writer Jacek Dukaj The Last Unicorn “the last fairy tale” in his review. In light of all this, I was very eager to read The Overneath so that I could see whether Beagle’s short stories – representing a more varied sample of his output – have the same quality.
The first four stories definitely fall into the category of “tales” – they take place long ago and far away (and, in the case of The Green-Eyed Boy, featuring Schmendrick the Magician, in the world of The Last Unicorn) and resemble folk stories the most. My favourite of the bunch is by far The Story of Kao Yu, which draws inspiration from Chinese folklore and follows a wandering judge, a wise, kind and honourable man, who becomes smitten with a beautiful thief. What in the hands of a less-skilled storyteller could become a cliché (and old man longing for a young woman), in Beagle’s telling becomes a slightly melancholic, humane tale where both characters are allowed to retain their agency.
The collection shifts somewhat after that and what follows are unmistakably stories. This in and of itself is not a judgment on their quality; Trinity County, CA, for example, is a humorous, inventive story that achieves a great effect through its juxtaposition of the mundane realities of being a ranger in remote woodland areas with the fact that the job of the main characters is tracking down people who keep contraband dragons. A similar effect is achieved is Kaskia, in which Beagle makes the realist story of a man in a disintegrating marriage who strikes up an online friendship fresh by the simple fact that his computer connects him with an alien being in a completely different part of the universe.
In fact, most of the pieces, regardless of whether they’re tales or stories, possess a mix of hope and melancholy that is, as far as I can tell, unique to Beagle alone. The characters often regard the world with a curious mixture of hope and cynicism: they are certain that nothing good can happen to them, and yet, despite that, they hope that it will – the same attitude is often displayed by the voice of the narrator as well. The best example of that may be The Green-Eyed Boy and Schmendrick Alone, because they utilise a character we already know very well from The Last Unicorn and create a powerful resonance with each other: in both Schmendrick experiences a tenuous connection with someone, a spark of warmth and companionship, but has to leave it behind when his magic gets wildly out of control. Because it happens twice, the effect compounds, making the reader acutely aware of the desperate loneliness that haunts the character.
This infusion of emotions elevates a lot of the stories in the collection, such as Music, When Soft Voices Die – Beagle’s attempt at steampunk – that reads a lot like a classic ghost story, until the poetic, achingly beautiful reveal of what it is exactly that haunts its protagonists. In fact, the collection seems to stumble precisely when the stories lack the warmth and wisdom – as in The Way It Works Out and All, which seems no more than a demonstration of a fantastical concept, or in Underbridge, which aims at a story of a man pushed to monstrosity by his obsession and alienations (it brought to my mind characters from Edgar Allan Poe’s stories), but feels mean-spirited in a way that struck me as wholly uncharacteristic of Beagle and in effect created a strong dissonance with the rest of the collection.
Unicorns are a recurring motif for Beagle (they feature, in very different versions, in three stories in this collection), so it seems fitting that one appears at the very end. Olfert Dapper’s Day starts as a story (a very good one, although a big part of that might be my predisposition to like stories about conmen) – and then, at some point, with the appearance of the unicorn, the story seems to transform into a tale of a man who, if not exactly bad, was never particularly good, and who suddenly has to use his one true talent – lying – not to serve himself but to save another person. In the end, he loses something, gains something, and I felt that he will never be the same again, although it would be hard to define how exactly was he changed.
This is one of the stories that demonstrate what I love about Beagle best: his characters are often weak and failing, yet all the more heroic when, through chance or grace, they manage to rise to the trials that stand before them. At his best, he opens your heart up and, through his writing, makes you want to speak in poetry. And that’s exactly what happens when you read The Overneath.
[I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]
Above is the obligatory disclaimer that I’ve received an early copy of this book for review, but the true disclaimer should be that I am an ardent, unabashed, and enthusiastic admirer of Peter Beagle’s work. I have a bias; going into any of his stories I do so with the utmost confidence that I am in for a treat. Sometimes it is bittersweet, charming, whimsical, wistful or sorrowful. Sometimes the story is all of these things, or many other things beside. Always, his stories delight me.
This newest collection is no exception. I was beside myself when I received the ARC, and began reading that same afternoon. Delving into the tales, I was greeted by unicorns (no less than three varieties!), dragons, kings and queens, trolls and deeply unfortunate English professors, a few Protestants, an alarmingly ominous aquarium, something you shouldn’t hope to find in a cellar, and a tale or two concerning our favorite red hot swami. There’s a little something steampunk, for which Beagle does not given himself enough credit (as per his intro to the tale). It was a remarkable story and one of my favorites out of the entire collection. And after all of these things, there are more stories still.
It’s not uncommon for a collection of stories to feature one or two weaker tales mixed in amongst the stronger. On rare occasion, you may find an anthology or short story collection full of gems from cover to cover. It’s all subjective of course, dependent upon the reader’s taste, where they are in their life, what’s happening to the world around them, and a million other variables. I can only attest to how this collection treated me at this moment in my life, and I found it to be a great comfort and pleasure in an admittedly overwhelming time. I found in this collection a veritable treasure trove, one precious bauble of a tale after another, evoking a myriad of emotions and leaving me torn between wanting to reflect upon and admire the one I had just completed, or reach eagerly to inspect and explore the next.
Suffice to say, I loved it.
The author of The Last Unicorn presents a series of lyrical short fiction, containing many new and previously uncollected works. Easily nine-tenths of this book contains 5-star stories that will hold fast and infuse your imagination. With a well-known wizard, three flavors of unicorns, fire-breathing cannibal dragons, a troll, and judges and scholars and queens and beggars, these tales are diverse in tone and subject matter, but all are pure enchantment!
My absolute favorites include -
-The Story of Kao Yu is a heartbreaking tale of longing in which an honorable judge falls in love with a thief, and a unicorn passes judgement.
-The Queen Who Could Not Walk is a tale of forgiveness with a surprising twist, in which crippled queen is a inferior beggar, until a new companion insists on helping.
-Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See you! is an exhilarating buddy story in which two county animal control officers track down trafficked dragons!
-The Way It Works Out and All is a suspenseful tale of discovery and exploration in which two old friends attempt to navigate the Overneath, a series of passageways to anywhere.
-Underbridge is pure tragedy, in which things go from bad to worse for an unlucky scholar of children's books who takes a temporary teaching position and visits the Freemont troll.
-The Very Nasty Aquarium - is a resourceful tale of courage in which two old ladies fight an evil spirit that has taken over one of their aquariums! I have a soft spot for elderly protagonists, and this story was sheer delight.
The beginning of each short story includes an excerpt from the author, which not only provides insights into the story following it, but are so genuine that they seem to give a glimpse into the humble mind of the author, who claims that his stories decide not only when to write themselves, but also what happens, as if he has no part in the matter.
Recommended for all fans of fantasy that's full of wonder and charm and magic!
In his latest release Peter S. Beagle returns to short story writing. The Overneath is a collection of stories that he has been working on for some time. They are more or less independent of each other, apart from the fact they all deal with something supernatural. Every story is first presented by Beagle himself where he explains the background to that particular tale. It almost becomes a form of greatest hits collection from one of the most prominent writers in the genre. The collection opens strong with an old familiar face making a comeback, Schmendrick the Magician from The Last Unicorn, and then continues with stories from around the globe. Beagle moves from culture to culture and relates stories involving a variety of mythical creatures. He even spins a yarn about the Asian variety of unicorn, the one version he has not written about before.
Fantasy can be quite homogenic in most of its incarnations, leaving little to no room for cultures beyond the European middle ages, but Beagle does not shy away from it. Feeling that it is the direction the genre must go into for it to develop and it is clear that this is what he is doing. There is more to it than that. Every story has a great deal of humanity in it. The supernatural or the fantastical seldom takes center stage, which isn’t uncommon for Beagle’s storytelling. The imaginative and speculative is insteadused to reflect the trials and tribulations of those who experience it. In that sense it is a great follow up to In Calabria that did much the same. The story of a man who was changed by the appearance of a unicorn on his land.
So who is The Overneath for? What reader might enjoy it? The answer to that is not always simple. For those who are familiar with Beagle’s way of spinning a yarn, such as Lila the Werewolf or A Fine and Private Place will recognize the magic between the pages. Those who know him from The Last Unicorn may find a new dimension to him. The stories are not brutal per se; they are not high octane or action packed. They are simple. Simple yet wonderful and they are for those who wish to read stories about regular people, experiencing supernatural things.
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Caro
If there is a book with unicorns and author Peter S. Beagle’s name in the description, then it is a must-read book. And this is just what The Overneath is. Composed of several short stories, Beagle takes readers into enchanted countries, magical cities in our reality, and introduces us to new and old characters in his most recent book, The Overneath.
In The Green-Eyed Boy, readers are re-introduced to a well known character from beloved story, The Last Unicorn, none other than Schmendrick. In this short story we get a glimpse of Schmendrick’s beginning as a wizard’s apprentice. His mentor is Nikos the Wizard and the narration is from his point of view, detailing how he met Schmendrick, his family, his time teaching him, and the how he set off into the world. I really liked this story, especially because you get to see more of Schmendrick that you don’t see in The Last Unicorn.
“Call me Schmendrick, master. I might not answer to another.”
“I took you in because I smelled power around you, the way one smells lighting before a storm.”
“The whole secret of magic, is that nothing is fixed, nothing is forever; that everything, from the house I built, to that willow tree I planted, to that mountain you can see from my front door… all of it yearns to be something else.”
“But I explained to him, any number of times, that magic is not permission. That everything in this world costs, most especially including the gift residing somewhere in between his liver and lights and his soul.”
The Story of Kao Yu, is a short story that you will remember because of its somewhat tragic romance or one sided love. It is also about justice, honesty, and a different version of the unicorn readers are used to reading about. The main character is Kao Yu, a well-known judge who is able to see the Chinese unicorn, chi-lin, who helps the judge when he most needs it in making decisions. But there is someone the judge can’t bring himself to impart justice.
“China is one of the few countries where sadness has always been medically recognized.”
My Son Heydari and the Karkadann, this was an interesting short story, 1) I liked that it is told from a father’s point of view of what his son went through, and 2) I found the description of this other unicorn very interesting. This story takes place in a forest between Heydari, the Karkadann, and a shepherd girl. For a slight moment I thought the outcome would be different. I guess I wanted to believe that this unicorn could change its nature.
“He felt the way you feel when a storm is coming, even though it may yet be a day, or even two days, from reaching you: there is a smell, and there is a kind of stiff crackle, like invisible lighting, racing up and down your arms, and you have to think about each breath you take.”
The Queen Who Could Not Walk is a story that goes into my top favorites. I liked the way rulers in this story are chosen, and how when their term comes to an end, they peacefully go their way back into the world. The queen of this story uses a wheelchair to help her move around, which has an interesting background story, when her term comes to an end she can not take any other special possession but the wheelchair. In her journey she meets an old woman who helps the queen. It is not until the end that the reader learns of the old woman’s true reason for helping the queen.
“Just never saw anyone drown sitting up before. So stupid, I took it for a sign.”
“I used to tell him that he loved the hunt more than he loved me. And he would kiss me and say, ‘Not quite, heart of mine… never quite.’”
“Always a price. For all we take, we pay…”
Trinity County CA: You’ll Want to Come Again and We’ll Be Glad to See You! This story was very thrilling, kind of had me on the edge of my seat, not knowing what to expect. You have your senior and newbie on a mission that is supposed to be an easy one, until they come against a couple that knows more than what they’re saying, add some dangerous creatures, and you have a perfect action story.
“What, you had to be smart as well as big?”
The Way it Works Out And All, is the story of the Overneath, and very interesting I might add. The story involves two men, one sending the other correspondence from different parts of the world in impossible lapses of time. How can he be in one place of the world on day and in a different one another day? Where do all the tunnels lead to?
“I call it the Overneath, because it is above us and around us and below us, all at the same time. I wrote you about it.”
Schmendrick Alone. Once more, readers get another glimpse of Schmendrick. This story takes place some time after the events of The Green-Eyed Boy and before The Last Unicorn. Schmendrick finds himself without money and in trouble with an innkeeper. After getting himself out of that situation, he come across an older couple and their granddaughter who is set to marry a proud, wicked Lord. Schmendrick decides to help, and in the process realizes his true self.
“No wonder Nikos never took any fee for my apprenticeship. He knew…”
Great-Grandmother in the Cellar
“I am your great-grandmother, boy. If that is not all you need to know, then you must make do as you can.”
Underbridge, this is another story that goes into my top favorites. I can even see it as a short film or something alike. This story takes place in Seattle, where a professor is struggling to get a full-time position, when he comes across an old man that takes care of a Troll under a bridge. As the story progresses, Richardson, the professor, becomes more and more aware of the Troll and its relationship with his guardian, the old man.
“But it was in daylight that Richardson first saw the Troll.”
“And love will keep you reasonably sane for a long time.”
“How about a taste of the guardian?”
The Very Nasty Aquarium, one more of my favorite short stories of this book. This story has a bit of horror, thriller, and slight romance. It all starts when Mrs. Lopsided is gifted an aquarium and she starts buying and decorating it with different objects. At one point she has the perfect couple for her aquarium, a mermaid and a diver. One day, while looking for more decorations, Mrs. Lopsided comes across a little pirate, very attractive at first sight, but she quickly learns that there is more to the pirate that can be seen. I loved this story, the supernatural aspect of the pirate and the events that take place while he is in Mrs. Lopsided’s possession is just out of a horror movie. This story would be in my top to read recommendations of the book.
“Was wicked as wicked could be, but oh, he was perfectly gorgeous to see…”
Music, When Soft Voices Die. Ever wondered what the voices that belonged to people that once lived in your home sounded like? Well, this short story has the answer! When a group of young men sharing a London apartment, after the Ottoman War, discover more than just sounds through an invention. Another great story of the few supernatural/paranormal stories of The Overneath.
“Emanetoglu manifested himself promptly at 8 a.m. on the fifteenth of every month, to collect the rent, and to drift into corners and corridors like smoke, commenting diffidently on the condition of paint, wallpaper, and bathroom floorboards.”
“[..] all of them rattling on about electromagnetism, etheric force, amperes, communal fields… I don’t half know what three-quarters of that gibberish means, but I have to know.”
Olfert Dapper’s Day. More unicorns! What better way to finish the book with a unicorn centered story, than this one. This story is filled with adventure and interesting characters. A story you must not miss.
“I saw it twice, and I had no right, I know that. I should never… did it… I mean, the creature – did it… do you think…?”
The Overneath is a great book of short stories by author Peter S. Beagle. He creates fantastic stories where you least expect it, and at the end they stay in our minds for a long time. If you are a fan of Beagle’s work, I recommend you read this book, and if you’ve only heard about him, this is a good book to start with.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*
Peter S. Beagle is one of a handful of authors who are absolute no-miss-wonderful for me. I'd try to make a sports or cultural icon analogy, but I am a book nerd at the end of the day. I read. I read a lot. I believe I have read (and reread) everything widely available which he's published. There are two things I've found to be true with Peter Beagle's oeuvre. 1)The books and stories are accessible, enjoyable, and readable for anyone and 2)the meanings and messages change subtly every time they're read. That's literally as close to magic as makes no difference, and I have absolutely no idea how he does it. I guess I don't honestly really want to know how he does it, because I'm afraid that, like most magic, it won't work properly if it's dismantled.
The Overneath is a collection of 13 stories, including two Schmendrick stories. I was so excited to be allowed to review the Overneath because Schmendrick (and The Last Unicorn) was really the watershed book for me growing up and between Peter S. Beagle and Madeline L'Engle I turned into a ravenous bookworm and never got better.
I therefore expected the Schmendrick stories to be central for me in the collection with 11 bonus stories which I expected to like, but not be blown away by. I am truly surprised that that wasn't the case. Oh, both of the stories are wonderful, and Schmendrick Alone has never been published elsewhere, but for me at least, they weren't the standouts in this collection. It's brutally difficult to pick three to concentrate on, but for me they would be:
Trinity County California: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You. Combining modern realism with dragons and drug control, this is a beautifully written gritty fable about monsters... and the illegal dragons they exploit.
The Way it Works Out And All. Avram Davidson, (yet another of my favorite authors) and Peter S. Beagle go road tripping interdimensionally together.
Music, When Soft Voices Die is a melancholy parable about pursuing a connection to the unknowable pain at the center of existence.
I lied, I couldn't quit at three... They all resonated deeply with me, but two more especially:
Great Grandmother in the Cellar is a wonderful creepy fairy tale about loyalty and family and Olfert Dapper's Day which gives some of the back story of one of the original catalysts for The Last Unicorn.
This is as good as it gets. Peter S. Beagle is an amazingly generous gifted storyteller and we're lucky that he has shared his stories with us.
This was an excellent collection of short stories from Peter S beagle. I always enjoy his works and this was no exception. I also loved that there was 2 short stories featuring The Last Unicorn favourite Schmendrick!!! I love every story in the collection and I think I would say that The Queen who could not walk was my favourite. Beagle is an amazing author, he takes fantasy stories you would think are for children but brings a real gut-wrenching scoop of life. I love the themes and how he features unicorns and fantasy in a non-juvenile way. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. A definite 5 stars out of 5.
The Last Unicorn remains my all time favorite book. This follow up did not disappoint. It is going in my school's library for sure.
I'm new to Beagle's writing and over the past few years have enjoyed several of his novels both recent and canon. I love a good short story and was curious if he was skilled in the telling of that form as well. Every entry in this fantasy collection is masterful. If I had to choose a favourite it's a three-way choice between "Music, When Soft Voices Die", "The Story of Kao Yu", or "The Way it Works Out And All". These three have stayed with me the longest after reading. As I read I felt the power and magic in each word Beagle chose.
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.
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.
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.
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.
**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.
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]
If I had to choose one word to describe Beagle’s writing, I think I’d have to break the rule and use two: melancholy whimsy. He is absolutely brilliant at mingling the lovely and imaginative with the quietly heartbreaking. Before picking up this collection, I had only read two books by him: The Last Unicorn and Summerlong. I thought that The Last Unicorn was achingly lovely, and I completely get why it’s considered such a foundational classic of the fantasy genre and why it is so beloved by some of my favorite authors. Summerlong, on the other hand, fell flat for me, but I’m beginning to think the reason behind that lack of connection was my reading it in the wrong mindset and with impossible expectations. Both are books I plan to revisit, the first to see if my appreciation for it has changed, and the second to find out if reading it at the wrong time could be why I didn’t enjoy it more.
Thankfully, my introduction to Beagle’s short fiction landed at just the right time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were some stories I preferred to others, the collection as a whole was very strong, and I don’t think there was a bad selection in the bunch. While I’m not going to break down the review on a story-by-story basis, I am going to briefly mention the ones I enjoyed most.
As expected from an author whose most famous work is about a unicorn, a large percentage of the stories in this collection dealt with unicorns around the world. Besides the unicorn of Western tradition, whose portrayal brought Beagle his fame, we are also presented with the Asian unicorn and the Arab unicorn in this book. The Asian unicorn is mystically spiritual and breathtakingly beautiful and a deliverer of brutal justice. The Karkadann of Arabian myth is ferocious and completely without beauty and empathy; as Beagle states in his introduction, this “unicorn” was clearly inspired by the rhinoceros. Two other stories were actually further backstory on Schmendrick the Magician from The Last Unicorn, and I must admit that these were my least favorite in the collection. I didn’t hate them by any means, but they didn’t grab my attention and keep it firmly gripped for the duration like many of the other stories did.
Now, onto some of my favorites. Beagle does a great job of capturing the tone of an original fairytale in “The Queen Who Could Not Walk” which is my favorite story in the collection. I love the idea of Far Away and Long Ago being its own place. The system though which their monarchy works is very unusual, unlike any other I’ve come across in fiction. And the ending ends up being so heartbreaking and hopeful in the same breath that it moved me to tears. My other favorite was “Music, When Soft Voices Die” which tells of a man whose experiment went too far, and how it impacted himself, his housemates, and his community. I also thoroughly enjoyed “Olfert Dapper’s Day” (which also involves a unicorn); “The Way it Works Out and All,” which introduces the titular Overneath; “The Very Nasty Aquarium” and “Great-Grandmother in the Cellar,” both of which were pleasantly creepy; and “Kaskia,” which was an interesting first encounter via technology. The other stories were perfectly pleasant, as well, which I think demonstrates how solid a writer Beagle truly is.
The Overneath is a truly lovely collection. It’s etherial and imaginative and wonderfully maudlin, which is a hard balance to strike. Beagle is a powerhouse of classical fantasy, and this collection proves that he’s still very much relevant, and that he still has a lot to say.
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