The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume 1: Lila the Werewolf and Other Stories

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Pub Date 16 May 2023 | Archive Date 15 May 2023

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Description

“For over forty years, Peter S. Beagle has been the gold standard of fantasy.
—Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman

[STARRED REVIEW] “Brimming with magic, lyrical prose, and deeply felt emotion, this is, indeed, essential reading.”
Kirkus

The essential first volume of bestselling author Peter S. Beagle’s (The Last Unicorn) short stories demonstrates why he is one of America’s most influential fantasists. With his celebrated versatility, humor, and grace, Beagle is at home in a dazzling variety of subgenres. Evoking comparison to such iconic authors as Twain, Tolkien, Carroll, L’Engle, and Vonnegut, this career retrospective celebrates Beagle’s mastery of the short-story form.

An unlikely friendship based on philosophy develops between an aging academic and a mythological beast. A mysterious, beautiful attendee who attends a ball thrown in her honor chooses whether or not to become mortal. A dysfunctional relationship is not improved by the consequences of lycanthropy. One very brave young mouse questions his identity and redefines feline wiles.

From heartbreaking to humorous, these carefully curated stories by Peter S. Beagle show the depth and power of his incomparable prose and storytelling. Featuring an original introduction from Jane Yolen (Owl Moon) and gorgeous illustrations from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (Shadowscapes), this elegant collection is a must-have for any fan of classic fantasy.

“For over forty years, Peter S. Beagle has been the gold standard of fantasy.
—Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman

[STARRED REVIEW] “Brimming with magic, lyrical prose, and deeply felt emotion, this is...


A Note From the Publisher

Peter Soyer Beagle is the internationally bestselling and much-beloved author of numerous classic fantasy novels and collections, including The Last Unicorn, Tamsin, The Line Between, Sleight of Hand, Summerlong, In Calabria, and, most recently, The Way Home. He is the editor of The Secret History of Fantasy and the co-editor of The Urban Fantasy Anthology. As one of the fantasy genre’s most-lauded authors, Beagle has received the Hugo, Nebula, Mythopoeic, and Locus Awards as well as the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. Beagle lives in Richmond, California.

Peter Soyer Beagle is the internationally bestselling and much-beloved author of numerous classic fantasy novels and collections, including The Last Unicorn, Tamsin, The Line Between, Sleight of...


Advance Praise

[STARRED REVIEW] “Beagle (The Overneath) showcases his versatility and ability to entertain even as he challenges expectations in 13 fantasy shorts from throughout his career. While several offerings, including ‘Lila the Werewolf’ (1969) and ‘Come Lady Death’ (1963), stem from Beagle’s early years, the majority represent his post-2000 output, demonstrating that his skills have only been refined over the decades. With a tendency toward gentle thoughtfulness and philosophical rumination, tales such as ‘Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros’ and ‘Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel’ prove timeless in their quiet yet profound exploration of Jewish faith, friendship, family, and fellowship. Others, like ‘The Stickball Witch’ and ‘Four Fables,’ drift into absurdity or everyday uneasiness, while ‘We Never Talk About My Brother’ looks at the balance between good and evil in a new light. Jane Yolen’s introduction helps place Beagle and his work into further context. The result is both an ideal entry point for newcomers, and a lovely way for existing fans to revisit or rediscover old favorites.
Publishers Weekly

[STARRED REVIEW] “Volume 1, introduced by Jane Yolen, contains some of Beagle’s most classic stories, including ‘Come Lady Death,’ in which a jaded British woman meets her match when she invites Death to her ball, and ‘Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros,’ about a socially awkward academic’s relationship with a somewhat unusually presented and philosophically minded unicorn. ‘Lila the Werewolf’ features the first appearance of Joe Farrell, the protagonist of Beagle’s novel The Folk of the Air (1986); fans of that book will be delighted to encounter Farrell in an additional story that takes place after the novel and features some interesting character growth on his part. The collection also contains the absolutely chilling ‘We Never Talk About My Brother,’ the story of a news anchor with a secret and impossibly powerful control over the stories he reports, and the sweetly melancholy ‘Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel,’ concerning a painter’s divinely compelling model. There are also whimsical works like ‘Gordon, the Self-Made Cat,’ starring a mouse who refuses to accept that biology is destiny. Whether set in a fantastical landscape, the New York City of Beagle’s youth, or the invented northern California town of Avicenna, these are fables that explore how a brush with the uncanny can either change a life or simply spotlight what is already present. Magic is the lens through which the author shows us how fraught a mother-daughter relationship can be, how difficult it can be to let go of a dead friend or lover, and how a greater threat can unite two squabbling siblings. Delicate line drawings by artist Stephanie Law add a charming coda to each tale. Brimming with magic, lyrical prose, and deeply felt emotion, this is, indeed, essential reading.”
Kirkus

“Master enchanter Peter S. Beagle is best known for his novel The Last Unicorn, a book which has charmed generations of readers.  But the briefer enchantments collected in these two volumes also brim with the deepest and truest of his magical powers: with laughter, with wisdom, and with the ineffable pleasure of the imaginary memories he shares.  From the gradually refined focus of ‘Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros’ to ‘Vanishing’’s crankily slipped-and-skewed perspective, these are visions of an inner world all of us need to visit again and again.  Each tale is a spell welcoming our hearts to their real home: wonder.”
—Nisi Shawl, author of Everfair

“Stepping into a Peter Beagle story is like stepping out your front door into an alternate, but entirely logical, world: your girlfriend seems to be a werewolf, the evening news is anchored by the Angel of Death, dreadful poetry is a lethal weapon, and a Berkeley traffic cop has to negotiate a depressed dragon out of an intersection. But then, what else to expect from a wizard of mischief like Beagle? Two perfect volumes that should come with a warning: When you try and go back inside your house, all its rooms will have changed.”
—Laurie R. King, author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

“Having all these Peter Beagle stories collected together is pure joy. His writing has amazed me my whole life. You think I’d be used to it by now, but the amazement is ongoing.”
—Carrie Vaughn, author of the Kitty Norville series

“Gleaming gold, these two volumes of glorious stories remind us of what is true, though it might not be real, and of when the world was solid as a Spalding rubber ball and shadowy soft as a cat’s fur, though that time might never have happened, and may not happen again. (But it was, his tales insist. But it will be.) We are fortunate to live in a world where his work exists; if we didn’t, we ourselves might not exist. Such is Beagle's magic.”
—E. Lily Yu, author of On Fragile Waves

The Essential Peter S. Beagle Volumes 1 & 2 are everything I hoped for and wanted them to be. Beagle’s clever and utterly whimsical storytelling is evident in every story, and I love jumping from tale to tale and exploring the facets of his mind. The writing is fun and explores the unique while keeping one foot in the familiar, making it perfect for readers of all ages. I highly recommend these charming volumes!”
—Charlie N. Holmberg, author of Keeper of Enchanted Rooms

“This was an amazing collection, and I cannot recommend it enough for existing fans of Mr. Beagle or fans of fantasy shorts or cozy fantasy.”
All Booked Up

“Peter S. Beagle’s short stories tap into the sweetest sap of the soul and leave their mark forever. He always makes me cry in the most wonderful and necessary way.”
—Delilah S. Dawson, author of Wicked As They Come

“I enjoyed every story in this diverse collection. I liked the fact the stories are all different so I never knew what to expect with the next one.”
The Book Lover’s Boudoir

5/5 stars. “Beagle is an absolute master of the short story. This first volume of short stories has everything from ghosts with grudges, angels turned muses, dysfunctional werewolves, self-made cats, time-traveling brujos, to even Lady Death herself. If you loved the timelessness of The Last Unicorn when you were a child you’re going to adore these more mature, but every bit as whimsical, tales as an adult.”
Seattle Book Review

“Peter Beagle says it perfectly himself in one of his stories: ‘The artist isn’t the magic. The artist is the sight, the artist is someone who knows magic when he sees it.’ To our everlasting benefit, we get to see the magic that he did.”
Girl Who Reads

“This collection of stories will surprise in its breadth—from children’s to adult stories, fairy tales to urban fantasy, with unicorns, werewolves, witches, angels, and ghosts. . . . Highly recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Susanna Clarke!”
—The Book on the High Shelf

“Delightful. If  Volume One was truly the essential collection, the works he has been known for and that people might bring up when you say, ‘oh, yes; Peter S. Beagle’s short stories, I remember that one,’ this volume is emblematic of the skill, emotional complexity, and sheer fun he is capable of bringing to his writing.”
Book Reviews Evermore




Selected praise for the short story collections of Peter S. Beagle

“Multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning Beagle opens readers’ eyes to wonder with his latest collection of 13 short stories. Each piece bridges the rich intersection of fantasy and fairy tale, reality and possibility, exploring predestination, fate, and the power of love through characters that come to vivid, three-dimensional life within a few short pages. Beagle’s lyrical writing is set in a wide range of landscapes both familiar and fresh, with twists on Jack and the Beanstalk, monsters and dragons, a singing enchantress, ghostly photographs, and a modern werewolf tale.” —Library Journal

“Wise, warm and deep.” —The New York Times

“The perfect book.” —Strange Horizons

“Beagle’s true strength in the last few years lies with his short fiction, an area in which he’s been both prolific and brilliant. His latest collection, from Tachyon Publications, showcases the best of his recent output.”—Omnivoracious

“Pure poetry. Beagle is an American bard.” —io9

“Peter S. Beagle [has] rejoined the main flow of literature with a vengeance.... His work is marvelous.” —Green Man Review

“Everything Beagle touches, he makes new. Every sentence he shapes encapsulates a song. This is both a delightful and moving collection.” —Michael Bishop, author of Brittle Innings

“I envy people reading these stories for the first time.” —Lisa Goldstein, author of The Uncertain Places

[STARRED REVIEW] “Beagle (The Overneath) showcases his versatility and ability to entertain even as he challenges expectations in 13 fantasy shorts from throughout his career. While several...


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Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781616963880
PRICE $28.95 (USD)
PAGES 352

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Featured Reviews

I had enjoyed the Last Unicorn so I was excited to get to know Peter S. Beagle from other works. This was so well done and I enjoyed each story. It had what I enjoyed from the Last Unicorn and I could see why he's such a great writer. I'm glad I was able to read this and was excited to read Volume 2.

"Most of her friends agreed with her, but the poet, whose name was David Lorimond, cried out, “No, my lady, you are wrong! Death lives among the poor. Death lives in the foulest, darkest alleys of this city, in some vile, rat-ridden hovel that smells of—” He stopped here, partly because Lady Neville had indicated her displeasure, and partly because he had never been inside such a hut or thought of wondering what it smelled like. “Death lives among the poor,” he went on, “and comes to visit them every day, for he is their only friend.”

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The Essential Peter S. Beagle Volume 1 is a sparkling short story collection spanning an illustrious career, and a long time coming. Beagle’s works are being steadily reissued following a lengthy court battle with his former manager, and we readers are benefitting richly. This spring, Tachyon will publish two volumes of short stories, some collected in previous collections, in rich hardcovers illustrated by Stephanie Law.

I’ve read most of the stories in Volume 1 before, but it’s always a pleasure to revisit them. No matter the subject, whether it’s stickball in the Bronx or wartime in an imaginary kingdom, Beagle’s unique voice can be heard throughout. Not only is Beagle a strong prose stylist with a gift for character and plot, but he also possesses an undeniable storyteller’s voice that makes you want to keep reading no matter the subject.

Each story is a gem. Particular stand-outs for me are “A Dance for Emilia,” “King Pelles the Sure,” “Come Lady Death,” and “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros.”

Highly recommended not only to readers of speculative fiction but anyone who enjoys a tale well-told.

Thank you to Tachyon and NetGalley for providing an electronic reading copy. I’ve also pre-ordered the hardcover for my personal library.

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I received an advance copy of this book (and its companion) from the publisher via NetGalley.

Peter Beagle really needs no introduction. He's one of the greats of the fantasy genre, and this book is a clear demonstration of way. I expected this collection to be good, mind you, but I didn't expect it to be such an emotional journey. Every single story is fantastic (not something I can say about many collections or anthologies) but some of them--wow. "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" is up there among my favorite stories of all time with its gentle yet harsh story of an artist, an angel, and sheer goodness. Also profound were "Come Lady Death," "The Stickball Witch," and the astonishing finale, "A Dance for Emilia." I think it's fair to say that, based on Beagle's introductory notes, his stories that tended to touch me the most were the ones that were semiautobiographical for him--drawn from his own life, with a magical twist.

Superb. Just superb.

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I've been a long time fan of Beagle's work and this was no exception. Beagle's name is synonymous with the greats of fantasy and does not need an elaborate introduction. I thought I would be prepared for these short stories and just would be able to sit back and enjoy them, but I was severely unprepared for the emotional journey they took me on. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of his works and look forward to adding them to our library system.

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I come to Peter S. Beagle not as a fan of The Last Unicorn, because I've never read it, but instead as someone who has seen other Authors cite Peter S. Beagle as being among the greats. The issue has always been time. When I was given the chance to read his two collections of Short Stories I decided that enough was enough. I had to find out what makes Beagle so unique.

To summarize my feelings I'd say that Beagle is a Writer's writer. The tone instantly sent me back to the types of books you would read in High School. Something so great that it would be read over and over for generations. I was worried at first that all the stories would lean towards being like fairy tales. As I said, I haven't read The Last Unicorn and I came Six years after the movie. If all you know about someone is that they wrote a very popular book about a unicorn you might have apprehensions too. I was surprised, to say the least. What was crazy was that the more modern of the stories of which I would count Lila the Werewolf and El Regalo were the ones I liked the least.

Still, that's not to say I didn't like them. They were all great stories. Every one of them was a masterclass on storytelling. I believe that with the right narrator, these stories would make the comfiest of audiobooks.

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The Good: Short story collection of quiet, comforting magical realism
The Bad: Lots of different things here; it’s best to give a little time between each piece of fiction
The Literary: Personal chapter introductions from the author

Peter S. Beagle, best known for the The Last Unicorn, is one of my favorite authors. With an ability to seamlessly move from reality to fantasy, his stories possess an authenticity of truth. They seem more real than most fiction, as straightforward plots unfold with deft and often intricate prose.

This collection of stories will surprise in its breadth—from children’s to adult stories, fairy tales to urban fantasy, with unicorns, werewolves, witches, angels, and ghosts. These stories are about as far away as you can get from theatric or genre though, and fall firmly onto the side of contemplative magical realism.

The stories in order:

Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros – ★★★★★ – A philosophy professor befriends a rhinocerous who claims he’s a unicorn. Clever and touching.
Come Lady Death – ★★★★★ – An aging socialite invites death to her party. Gothic, suspenseful, and satisfying.
Lila the Werewolf – ★★★☆☆ – A young man discovers his girlfriend is a werewolf, but doesn’t break if off because he hates confrontation. With unrealized potential and lots of dead dogs, this titular story was my least favorite.
Gordon, the Self-Made Cat – ★★★★★ – A mouse goes to cat school. An innocent and playful children’s story.
Four Fables (The Fable of the Moth, The Fable of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Fable of the Ostrich, The Fable of the Octopus) – ★★★★★ – Simple fairy tales with cheeky morals
El Regalo – ★★★★☆ – Angie’s stupid little brother finds out he is a witch. Captivating for its accurate depiction of frustrating little brothers who don’t follow the rules, with unrealized novel potential.
Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel – ★★★★★ – An angel appears in the studio of a New York Jewish painter, claiming to be his new muse.
We Never Talk About My Brother – ★★★★★ – The second story in this collection about a sibling with magical powers and another with unrealized potential, except here, the brother is a grown TV anchorman with the ability to alter reality with his words. A harsh critique of the news and a satisfying conclusion.
King Pelles the Sure – ★★★★☆ – An anti-war story about the monarch of a small, wealthy, and peaceful kingdom who only dreams of war. A little long and meandering.
The Last and Only; or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French – ★★★★★ – A middle-aged American librarian contracts a disease that slowly turns him French. A silly concept delivered with startling reality.
Spook – ★★★★☆ – A man’s house is haunted by a ghost, and with the help of an intermediary, they decide a duel is in order to decide who gets the house—and the girlfriend. The manner of the duel and its finish are a delightful ode to bad poetry.
The Stickball Witch – ★★★★★ – A group of young boys playing stickball in the street accidentally hit a ball into a witch’s yard. As youthfully magical as the best Bradbury.
A Dance for Emilia – ★★★★★ – A man’s best old friend dies suddenly, and grief becomes a magical force. Without giving too much away, this story is a weight of emotional release.

And don’t forget to take a few moments to appreciate the gorgeous illustrations from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. Highly recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Susanna Clarke!

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Peter S. Beagle's short stories are delightful, shocking, absurd, magical, and emotional. I own several of his previous short story collections, and it was nice to finally see his stories collected into two volumes. I re-discovered many old friends, but also many new ones, whom I was glad to meet. The titular Lila the Werewolf was a re-read, and darker than I remembered.

This is a collection that I savoured, rather than rushing through. The stories are very different from one another, but all are worth a read.

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Great collection of Beagle stories! Standouts include:

Come Lady Death - historical fantasy perfect for anyone who likes a touch of the morbid in their ballrooms

We Never Talk About My Brother - an exploration of what it would really mean to be a superhero

King Pelles the Sure - a spare antiwar allegory that's both funny and touching (like all great Peter S. Beagle stories, really!)

This objective review is based on a complimentary copy of the anthology.

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I haven't read Peter S. Beagle's work in years, and after reading this collection I'm not sure why. This is a wonderful assembly of tales. Usually I take my time to savor every detail with short story collections like this, but I was so captivated by this book that I kept turning pages and went through the whole thing rather quickly, which is surprising for a book of this magnitude. The writing style is flawless and the stories are told with fluid precision. The cover is really eye-catching as well. Beagle is a master of his craft and this is a fine example of that. Thank you Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for providing this book to review.

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"The essential first volume of bestselling author Peter S. Beagle's (The Last Unicorn) short stories demonstrates why he is one of America's most influential fantasists. With his celebrated versatility, humor, and grace, Beagle is at home in a dazzling variety of subgenres. Evoking comparison to such iconic authors as Twain, Tolkien, Carroll, L'Engle, and Vonnegut, this career retrospective celebrates Beagle's mastery of the short-story form.

An unlikely friendship based on philosophy develops between an aging academic and a mythological beast. A mysterious, beautiful attendee who attends a ball thrown in her honor chooses whether or not to become mortal. A dysfunctional relationship is not improved by the consequences of lycanthropy. One very brave young mouse questions his identity and redefines feline wiles.

From heartbreaking to humorous, these carefully curated stories by Peter S. Beagle show the depth and power of his incomparable prose and storytelling. Featuring an original introduction from Jane Yolen (Owl Moon) and gorgeous illustrations from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (Shadowscapes), this elegant collection is a must-have for any fan of classic fantasy."

I am so happy this lovely set is now available with volume one...

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An absolute delight to read, and a wonderful way to bring the author's lesser known works to new readers. Thank you to the publisher for the chance to read and review this collection.

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I am thoroughly enjoying "The Essential Peter S. Beagle," a  two-volume collection of the award-winning author’s short stories.  As a child I loved his novel, The Last Unicorn, and am delighted to find the same feats of imagination in his short stories.  In “Lila and the Werewolf,” a young man, Farrell, is distraught to learn that his new girlfriend, Lila, is a werewolf. Farrell’s gift is for acceptance, but the problems of lycanthropy multiply speedily.   In a sweet, comical story, “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros,” a rhinoceros follows the professor home from the zoo.  The animal insists he is a unicorn, which the professor tells him is impossible.  The two live together for  years and argue constantly about philosophy. Is the rhinoceros/unicorn real?  Yes, I believe !   More on the stories when I get to the second volume.

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A friend of mine recommended Peter S Beagle so I thought I'd try his short stories and BOOM, another author jumps onto my TBR list. I think a GREAT fantasy author cause you to suspend time and belief as you read. Beagle definitely has the talent and skill to do both. As I read, I joined the characters in the stories as they worked through their often tangled lives. What a wonderful reading experience!

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This a common review for both Volume 1 and 2 of The Essential Peter S. Beagle
I recently discovered Peter Beagle when I read a new release of The Last Unicorn and I was happy I discovered a new to me classic author.
I've reading fantasy stories since the 80s so I was left wondering why I never read his stories before and happy because there was a lot of new worlds to discover.
This two volumes features all I loved in the Last Unicorn: tenderness, humour, fascinating world building and excellent storytelling.
I think it's time more people read this author as his stories are top level.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine

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The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume I: Lila the Werewolf and Other Stories is a collection of short(er) fiction by perennial author Peter S. Beagle. Released together with its sister volume 16th May 2023 by Tachyon, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a wonderfully curated collection of 16 pieces, all of which I had previously read, but which still had the power and relevance to render me breathless. There simply isn't a lesser or unworthy story in the entire lot. Mr. Beagle is a superlative writer with a sublime and consummate command of English as well as being a master of written fiction and he is here in top artistic form.

Each of the stories contains a short introduction by the author himself. The collection is also enhanced by the intricate chapter headings and line drawings of artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art is ethereal and reminiscent of Sulamith Wülfing and calls to mind P. Craig Russel as well, without being the slightest bit derivative of either.

Five stars. This would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, for home use, and for gift giving purposes. For connoisseurs of speculative fiction, this is required reading.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes

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It’s a good time to be a Peter S. Beagle fan. In short order this mid-year, we’ve been gifted The Way Home — two novellas set in the world of the beloved classic The Last Unicorn — and two collections of Beagle’s short stories: The Essential Peter S. Beagle: Volumes I and II. And true gifts they are. You can see my review of the novellas here at fantasyliterature.com while I’ll review both volumes of the collected stories below.

The two volumes span Beagle’s lengthy career, with most of them having been published earlier, though several of the stories appear for the first time here. And of course, with any such retrospective collection, the point is not so much new material but to have the author’s work all in one convenient place. The other benefits, beyond convenience, is that reading the stories through allows the reader to pick up on Beagle’s repeated themes, images, character types (or actual characters, as Beagle has several that people multiple tales), and the like, while also giving the reader a more full and intimate sense of the author behind the stories. This latter is especially true in these collections as despite being fantasy stories, few of these are set in fantasy worlds or even far-flung geographies but instead are grounded quite deeply and solidly in Beagle’s own past, as his brief intros to each story make clear.

That life includes a childhood growing up Jewish in the Bronx and an adulthood spent in California, and those two setting are the background for a good number of these stories. While the California tales feel more neutral, the Bronx stories have a deep emotionality to them as well as a not-unexpected sense of nostalgia and a mourning for the loss of those mostly innocent days of adolescent friendship. While “fantasy writer” nowadays calls up images of multi-book series set in wholly-created worlds, while we do get the occasional dragon or unicorn here, the setting and Jewish background/folklore, along with the mix of grief and humor, are more reminiscent of an Isaac Bashevis Singer story or the Bernard Malamud of The Magic Barrel (rather than his novels), while Beagle’s depictions of childhood and his sense of nostalgia for that age and the deep attachment to a specific geography reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s Waukegan stories, though the two are wildly different in the details.

Thematically, along with the nostalgia for a vanished childhood and inevitability of loss that comes with living, other topics that run throughout the two books are the power of imagination/creativity and the joys (and griefs) of deep abiding friendships, whether they be as children, as adolescent, as adults, or inter-generational. Several of his Beagle’s childhood friends (or at least, characters based on them as he tells us) appear in multiple stories, while two stories are pretty much out and out odes to his good friend and fellow writer Avram Davidson. The stories display a variety of form and style, and if they aren’t all home runs, many are, and the rest are always entertaining enough and always contain at least a few wonderful sentences; Beagle has always been, beside a great storyteller, an excellent wordsmith/sentence crafter. And what’s “essential” here is not any single story but wholeness of Beagle’s craft and mind at work, and the feeling one has at the end that they’ve formed a relationship not just with the author’s characters, but the author himself. And if it’s an illusory one, well, that’s pretty apt for the material here. You can stop here with a “highly recommended” from me or read on with some responses to specific stories.

My favorites from Volume I
“A Dance for Emilia”: A story about the too-early death of a friend and the way grief brings mourners and the mourned together (in fantasy, one gets to make that literal), all of it suffused with Beagle’s usual bittersweetness. This one alone is worth purchasing the collection for. A standout story.

“Come Lady Death”: A fantastic story that plays a bit with Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” as a somewhat jaded great lady decides to spice up her newest ball by inviting Death. Perfect pacing, sharply drawn characters despite the brevity of the descriptions, perfect close, and a great and unexpected Death.

“Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros”: A Thurber-esque like story about a professor who ends up in a rich friendship with a rhinoceros that thinks it’s a unicorn or a unicorn the professor thinks is a rhinoceros. Warmhearted, tender, and quite funny, though admittedly, some knowledge of philosophy, while by no means required, will make it all the more fun.

“Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”: A good story if perhaps a little over-long, centered on the young narrator’s uncle, an artist who is visited by an angel (or is it) sent to act as his muse and pose for him. All the characters are brought memorably to life as the story goes in unexpected directions

“Gordon the Self-Made Cat”: If “Professor Gottesman” feels like Thurber and “Uncle Chaim” like Singer (just to be clear—they both feel way more like Beagle), this has more than a hint of E.B.White. Gordon the mouse decides this whole predator-prey thing is ridiculous, and so he takes himself off to cat school, where he excels at learning how to be a cat via classes like “Dealing with Dogs and another on Getting Down From Trees …Running and Pouncing . . . Waiting for the Prey to Forget You’re Still There, … Tail Etiquette, The Elegant Yawn, [and] Sleeping in Undignified Positions.” Gordon doesn’t end up getting everything he wants (it wouldn’t be a Beagle story otherwise) but one has a sense he’ll be fine. A pitch-perfect voice, a wonderful sense of whimsy, and a great ending. Seriously, this should be a chapter book followed by an animated short.

“The Stickball Witch”: One of Beagle’s “memory” tales involving his childhood friends, like many of Beagle’s stories it shows us the magic in the everyday. More specifically, it has fun with the classic “old neighbor every kid in the neighborhood is terrified of” story.

Favorites from Volume II

“The Rabbi’s Hobby”: probably my favorite of the two books. The story veers back and forth between the young narrator’s anxiety over learning Hebrew for his bar mitzvah and the quest he and the rabbi tutoring him set themselves on to find a young woman whose image in a photograph struck them both deeply. Warm, funny, a wonderful depiction of an inter-generational relationship, and a profound mediation on loss. Some of the best aspects are what Beagle doesn’t do here — plot moves that a lot of lesser writers would have chosen, though I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers.

“La Lune T’Attend”: a riveting werewolf story (I liked this one far better than the one in Volume I) where the werewolves are two old men who have shared a horrible secret (beyond being werewolves) for much of their lives, one that now threatens not only them but their families.

“The Vanishing” an old man falls asleep in a waiting room and wakes up back in his old life as a soldier on the Berlin Wall, with his old Russian counterpart on the other side also there. A well-paced story of guilt and atonement, both in the past and present.

“The Bridge Partner”: a taut, suspenseful little quasi-horror story that begins, believe it or not, at a bridge game. There, mousy little Mattie is matched up with a new partner who at the end of the game whispers to her, “I will kill you.” Things only get more tense after that.

“Sleight of Hand” A woman, after an unspeakable tragedy, goes off for a mindless drive to try and escape her life and runs into a magician from her childhood who is much more than he seems. Another exploration of grief and love, the story itself is good, but it has some of the finest sentences in it of the collection.

“The Rock in the Park” Another “childhood” story, and also another where a moment of magic breaks through the usual routines, in this case, a family of lost centaurs. Also a good look at the power of art/creativity.

“The Story of Kao Yu” Set in ancient China and focused on the main character, a judge who falls in love with a thief brought before him. A good story but this one won me mover mostly for the perfect voicing.

“Trinity County CA”: a truly fun “what if” story — what if dragons are real, and what if drug dealers use them to guard their meth labs. Suspenseful, action packed, great dialogue, wonderful depiction of the dragons, and a perfect type of story in that magical realism way of changing just one thing about the world.

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As a huge fan of both Peter S. Beagle and unicorn fiction generally, this short story collection did not disappoint!

Of course, it doesn’t just contain unicorn stories. Within these pages you will find stories about death, werewolves, time travel, angels, magic and cats (and mice). There are fairy tales and folk tales, and even a quartet of Aesop-style animal fables.

The writing is superb throughout, whether the author is working with realism or the outright surreal, or magical realism where the story is in the human drama and the fantastic is incidental.

With plenty of humour and tragedy and everything between the two, there is something for every fantasy reader in this collection, making it a great introduction to the shorter works of this master storyteller.

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An amazing collection of short stories from Peter S Beagle. I have always enjoyed his stories, ever since The Last unicorn, however I did not realize how much I would enjoy his short stories. My favorite was probably The Fable of the Ostrich. I highly recommend this collection for any fans of fantasy and literature. 5 out of 5 stars. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.

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The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume 1: Lila the Werewolf and Other Stories by Peter S. Beagle
Review by Sam Lubell
Tachyon Publication Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616963880
Date: 16 May 2023
Links: Author's Wikipedia Entry / Amazon Link / Show Official Info /


Every reader of fantasy has read (or at least knows about) Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn which has been turned into an animated film, a graphic novel, stickers, and even a tarot deck. But fans of the book who have not discovered Beagle's short stories are missing out.

The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume 1 is a collection of 16 short stories plus an introduction by Jane Yolen that serves as an excellent primer to Beagle's shorter work, with one story from the 1960s, one from the 70s, one from the 90s, 12 from the 2000s, and one from the 2010s. Many of the stories are fully or partially autobiographical and give a better sense of the author's own life than most other single-author collections.

The stories include:

"Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" is a charming and oddly touching story of an aging academic and a rhinoceros that claims to be a unicorn and debates philosophy.

"Come Lady Death" is the story of a bored elitist London socialite who invites Death to attend her ball.

"Lila the Werewolf", which is also available as a standalone novella, is a character-driven narrative about a New York City man who discovers that his live-in girlfriend is a werewolf.

"Gordon, the Self-Made Cat" is about a mouse who decides to become a cat and winds up the star pupil at a school for cats.

There are four short animal fables – "Moth", "Tyrannosaurus Rex", "Ostrich", and "Octopus". My favorite is the dinosaur story that has a Tyrannosaurus Rex being told about the oncoming asteroid and the mammals' secret plan to evolve.

"El Regalo" features a twelve-year-old girl who must constantly save her eight-year-old brother from the trouble his witch powers cause.

"Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and The Angel" is based on Beagle's real-life painter uncles who probably never had an actual angel demand to be painted as happens in this story.

"We Never Talk About My Brother" is about Esau, the last of the great TV news anchormen who has the power to cause the news he reports.

"King Pelles the Sure" is a cautionary tale about what happens to a gentle and kindly monarch when he desires to be remembered as a mighty war leader.
"The Last and Only; or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" features a Californian who turns French and loses his American identity.

"Spook" has a verbal bad poetry duel between Walter the Spook, a haunt who accuses the homeowner of murdering him 170 years ago, and the homeowner, Farrell, assisted by the mysterious Andy Mac. It includes samples of bad poetry (and the reader can tell Beagle had a lot of fun writing this).

"The Stickball Witch" is another tale based on Beagle's childhood, when boys in the Bronx played a form of improvised street baseball and dared each other to rescue balls hit into the yard of a woman they all thought was a witch.

"A Dance for Emilia" is another autobiographical story about the narrator's relationship with the girlfriend of a recently deceased old friend of the narrator and the cat that she inherits.

All the stories in this volume are well worth reading and demonstrate the unique genius of Peter Beagle. These are definitely fantasy as literature with the fantastical element frequently low key. Volume two is also out with even more great stories by this fantasy legend.

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Thirty years ago my little girl used to watch The Last Unicorn video on repeat which made me buy the book and I fell in love with Peter Beagle's writing. I've since read many of his books but this was my first collection of short stories by him. What a delight. Bite sized portions of Beagle to indulge myself on. I see there are other collections. I have some catching up to do!

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