The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume 2: Oakland Dragon Blues and Other Stories
by Peter S. Beagle
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Pub Date 16 May 2023 | Archive Date 28 Mar 2023
[STARRED REVIEW] “This two-volume collection is a must-have for all of them. Yes, essential, for whomever you are.”
“For over forty years, Peter S. Beagle has been the gold standard of fantasy.”
—Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and The Sandman
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.
A Note From the Publisher
[STARRED REVIEW] “This [second] installment, introduced by SF and horror writer Meg Elison, draws more directly from Beagle’s past, featuring multiple stories purportedly chronicling otherworldly encounters experienced by Beagle and his friends in their youth. Two other tales attribute unearthly abilities to Beagle’s dear friend Avram Davidson, the late (and somewhat quirky) writer. Some of the stories draw from others’ literary works, including a Tarzan/John Carter crossover that also serves as a not-so-subtle criticism of creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ bigotry and a gripping Patricia Highsmith–inspired story of a meek housewife summoning previously unknown inner strength when confronted by a new member of her bridge club who views her as prey. Two stories have something of a Twilight Zone resonance about them (which isn’t intended as a criticism of these two powerful tales): ‘Sleight of Hand,’ involving a woman mourning the recent death of her husband and child who’s granted an impossible second chance, and ‘Vanishing,’ about an unhappy man forced to confront his dark memories serving as a young American soldier monitoring the Berlin Wall. Of course, there are two tales of dragons invading California (one a work of metafiction and the other a buddy-cop story) and a chronicle of werewolf revenge that draws from an entirely different cultural tradition than the first volume’s ‘Lila the Werewolf.’ There are perhaps many readers who know Beagle only from his classic novel, The Last Unicorn (1968), unaware of his considerable body of long and short fiction; others are longtime fans already familiar with such gems as A Fine and Private Place (1960), The Folk of the Air (1986), and The Innkeeper’s Song (1993), among others. This two-volume collection is a must-have for all of them. Yes, essential, for whomever you are.”
“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
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
*Promotion at major trade and genre conventions, including Readercon, the International Convention for the Fantastic in the Arts, the World Science Fiction convention, and the World Fantasy Convention
*Author book launch event, tour, readings, and signings TBD
*Features, interviews, and reviews targeting literary and genre venues, including the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, NPR, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and San Francisco Chronicle
*Planned galley distribution and book giveaways to include NetGalley, Goodreads, Tor.com, Amazon, and additional online outlets
*Planned Instagram tour and outreach to influencers
*Advertising and promotion in national print, online outlets, and social media
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 32 members
These were another great collection of stories from Peter S. Beagle, it was what I was hoping for from the Last Unicorn and from Volume 1. It was so well written and I enjoyed each story in this collection. I'm grateful that I was able to read this and the first book and look forward to more.
“Not in this world.” Arceneaux’s voice was bleak and slow. “Maybe in some other world he back, but ain’t in this one.” He turned from the window to face Garrigue. “I killed Duplessis, man. Ain’t none of us come back from what I done, Duplessis or nobody. You was there, Rene Garrigue! You saw how I done!”
I love that Beagle's work is being re-assembled and published again, and that he has written his own introductions to these works. I'm especially delighted to find stories here that I hadn't read before, and to re-read old favorites with his intro in mind. Here, Meg Elison does a somewhat better job of writing the Foreword than Jane Yolen, whose Foreword should be trashed completely, but I wonder why have these Forewards in the first place? Just read the stories with Beagle's recollections, and enjoy his worlds and words.
I previously reviewed Volume 1 of Tachyon’s spring publication of Peter S. Beagle’s short stories. This reissue encompasses a large span of Beagle’s career and features some of his best work as a fantasist.
I had mentioned in my review of Volume 1 that Beagle is a natural storyteller and it bears repeating here. Of particular interest to readers new and returning would be the short introductions to each story, written by Beagle himself. They provide great insight into the original inspiration and a new lens on the story.
One of my very favorite stories is “La Lune T’Attend,” Beagle’s second werewolf short story, and my favorite werewolf short story. It’s not just about shape shifting and howling at the moon, but about complicated family dynamics. The entire collection is worth purchasing. My other favorites are “Sleight of Hand,” “The Story of Kao Yu,” and “Oakland Dragon Blues.”
I know there are many more stories in Beagle’s backlist, and I hope the publication of these two collections signal future publications. Some of my favorite stories haven’t made their way into these collections, but I have hope.
Thank you to Tachyon and NetGalley for providing an electronic reading copy. I’ve also pre-ordered the hardcover for my personal library.
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.
You know how when you are at a restaurant and the food is to die for, there's a phrase that people say: This is so good, I want to kiss the cook! Well, I want to tongue Beagle. Completely frenching it up. I guess you could say "Compliments to the Chef" but too many people have already complimented Beagle. He doesn't need the praise anymore.
I won't dock points for it, but I'm calling out the publisher. At least in the version I read which may or may not make it to the final printing, there were over three pages of praise for Beagle. This was in both volumes of the collection. I understand if you have a blurb from Neil Gaiman or George R.R. Martin on the front and back of the books. It's all marketing. I think it's a waste of ink having pages of it on the inside, followed by an introduction where a third party then goes and praises Beagle and his writing at length. Does anyone sit there and read all these quotes?
My favorite story in this collection is the one with the Rabbi. What stands out above the rest is how easily this could have turned into an awful story. Minor spoilers but I won't give away the goat: If the woman had turned out to be the lady in the photos after all and fell in love with the Rabbi, that would have killed the story. If it turned out to be her mother, and then in turn she and the Rabbi fell in love, it would have flatlined. Beagle told the perfect story by not falling into any conventions. It has the right amount of everything.
Between the two collections, I'm inclined more toward this second volume. Beagle is fantastic. I may have to read The Last Unicorn after all.
I received an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.
I recently read the first volume in this set. I loved it. My expectations were high for this second book, and were absolutely fulfilled. Peter S. Beagle is a treasure. His stories abound with wry humor, heart, and gentle depths. I adore his fictional-autobiographical tales that use his own NYC childhood and friendships for inspiration, and the there are several such stories in this book. I also loved 'The Rabbi's Hobby" and "The Bridge Partner"--wow, breathtakingly good stuff. These stories remind me that I should read more of his books, too. What a writer.
The Good: Short story collection of quiet, comforting magical realism
The Bad: Wide breadth of subjects; 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. In this group of stories, Beagle seems to write about people in his life, both from childhood and adulthood, and I'm surprised how well he translates them to characters on the page.
In this second volume of his essential collection, I again note the breadth of genres—from children’s to adult stories, fairy tales to urban fantasy, with dragons, unicorns, werewolves, and ghosts. There are a few more stories that fall on the scifi side of this typically fantasy-focused author. Many stories are gritty, with high stakes and action-packed fight scenes. But, in the end, there is always an elegance and grace that round out this contemplative magical realism collection.
The stories in order:
Sleight of Hand – ★★★★★ – A woman sets off in her car with no destination after the loss of her husband and daughter. She becomes fascinated with a magician in a small town diner, and although she doesn't remember him, she may have met him before. Step outside of time in this story about second chances.
Oakland Dragon Blues – ★★★★★ – A dragon appears in a busy intersection in Oakland demanding to see his maker. A self-referential story on the magic of creation.
The Rock in the Park – ★★★★★ – The first of five tall tales about Beagle's childhood with his misfit friends in 1950s Bronx. One afternoon while Peter and his friend Phil lounge on their favorite giant rock in Central Park, a family of centaurs timidly asks for directions.
The Rabbi's Hobby – ★★★★★ – While preparing for his bar mitzvah, a young boy and his Rabbi become fascinated with a young woman on an old magazine cover, who it seems upon some investigation never existed. I love the interplay between the two narratives in this one, and how they come together at the end.
The Way It Works Out And All – ★★★★★ – Beagle's friend Avram sends postcards from around the world one day after the other, too fast to have covered the distance by standard travel. Over dinner, the friend reveals his method—a special inter-dimensional mode of travel through the Overneath. Suprisingly suspenseful and terrifying.
The Best Worst Monster – ★★★★☆ – A hideous monster, created by his master to sow fear and destruction, develops a conscience. A sweet little morality tale about living with Beppo the Beggar as inspiration.
La Tune T'Attend– ★★★★★ – Two aging Cajun werewolves, who never revealed their true nature to their wives and children, must protect themselves and their families when an old enemy returns. A real supernatural territorial battle of vengence.
The Story of Kao Yu – ★★★★☆ – A traveling judge, fair and patient and stern, respected by all, often deferred the most heinous of crimes to the judgement of chi-lin, the Chinese unicorn. But when Kao Yu falls in love with a small-time thief, he sacrifies his purity, his truth, and his relationship with chi-lin.
Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You! – ★★★★☆ – A police officer and his perky new young partner investigate small-time illegal dragon breeding operations in rural Trinity County, California. Surprisingly gruff and procedural, with the magic of extremely dangerous dragons.
Marty and The Messenger – ★★★★☆ – The second tale in this collection about young Peter and his childhood friends. Marty is the small one with the limp, a polio survior, but he'ss also the smartest kid in the group, so it's no suprise to Peter when an alien species contacts Marty through his lunch jello to ask for assistance preventing the decline of their species. Most of the childhood stories have a magical realism, but this one falls a little too far outside of the realm of possibility for me. Still, it's cute.
The Mantichora – ★★★★☆ – The second story in this collection about Beagle's friend Avram, who is the last person on Earth to speak Mountain Mantichora, mostly because he's the only known survior after speaking with a Mantichora. A Yeti also makes an appearance.
Mr. McCaslin – ★★★★★ – Another tale about Peter's childhood, with all his friends in tow, as they help a dying man finish a long letter to his estranged daughter. If only they can keep death, in the form of a dark terrier, from getting into his apartment. This may be my favorite of the whole collection.
The Fifth Season – ★★★★☆ – The last supernatural childhood tale in which one of Peter's friends' deceased father shows them a horde of waterguns, with which they spend all daying playing in the park. This one isn't as much about ghosts as it is about the make-believe of childhood battles and truces, and wishing the magic of childhood would last forever.
Tarzan Swings by Barsoom – ★★★★☆ – What if Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars got in fight?
The Bridge Partner – ★★★★★ – Mattie's new bridge partner seems normal, but at the end of every game and encounter, whispers discreetly so no one else can hear, I will kill you. I see myself in timid Mattie, and this story kept me awake at night, reading feverishly under the covers.
Vanishing – ★★★★★ – The last thing Jansen remembers is waiting for his pregnant daughter in the lobby of the doctor's office. He awakens in a place from his previous life, serving as a guard at the Berlin Wall. But upon further exploration, beyond the Wall is only emptiness. There is only Jansen, the Wall, and ghosts of his past.
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!
This is volume 2 of a the collected short stories of Peter S. Beagle, who is arguably one of the best living fantasy writers today. The two volumes together are a sweeping collection of his genius and range.
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. There were only a couple that were familiar to me, despite owning most of his published collections (of course, we probably have to allow for my memory, but still). Perhaps the ‘essential’ refers to the essence of a person; most of these works have some autobiographical element, whether it is childhood relationships or the explorations of a dear friend.
The introduction by Meg Elison is brilliant and appropriate; so much better than the prior collection.
Sleight of Hand: classic Beagle about a woman in the initial stages of profound loss. The main character is a little too single-noted to obtain the emotional resonance in his other stories.
Oakland Dragon Blues was just this side of corny, but I love the choice of policeman as narrator. I forgive Beagle writing himself in, because it was fun and has really great bits:
“A creature out of fairy tales, whose red eyes, streaked with pale yellow, like the eyes of very old men, were watching him almost sleepily, totally uninterested in whatever he chose to do. But watching, all the same.”
Just tell me you haven’t walked past an old man like that on his porch.
The Rock in the Park: The fall entry in the childhood series from The Green Man Review. “There are whole countries that aren’t as territorial as adolescent boys.” I adore the idea of the map, and love the nod to the visual arts.
The Rabbi’s Hobby: an unexpected standout that might stay in my favorites. It has the feel of time period fiction, centered a young man experiencing larger-than-life anxiety facing his bar mitzvah. Both he and his rabbi become distracted by series of magazine photographs: “When we were at last done for the day–approximately a hundred and twenty years later–Rabbi Tuvim went on as though I had just asked the question.” A mixture of low-stakes comedy and high-stakes memories.
The Way It Works Out and All: Beagle’s friend Avram sends him a series of unlikely postcards When he runs into him in NYC, he takes the narrator on a tour of the Overneath: “He had been born in Yonkers, but felt more at home almost anyplace else, and I couldn’t recall ever being east of the Mississippi with him, if you don’t count a lost weekend in Minneapolis.”
The Best Worst Monster is a fun little children’s type story of a monster who decides not to monster. A little less heavy-handed than most of the type.
La Lune T’Attend is a modern werewolf tale, more or less, a Creole counterpoint to Lila the werewolf and ultimately, far more satisfying. I loved the dynamic of the two old men.
The Story of Kao Yu is the story of a traveling Chinese judge, his retainers and the unicorn who occasionally visited his court: “China is one of the few countries where sadness has always been medically recognized.” Now this is how to modernize a Judge Dee tale.
Trinity County, CA: You’ll Want to Come Again and We’ll Be Glad to See You! is a modern urban fantasy setting. What if the county needed animal control for all the illegal dragons? Nice interplay of older, experienced worker and ‘new blood’ coming into the job.
Marty and the Messenger is a strange little story loosely based on Beagle and his childhood friends, but with a silly twist. “But I was great on aptitude tests, where you didn’t actually have to know anything.” Definitely captures the feel of potential at that age.
The Mantichora was written especially for this collection. Avram is a researcher who goes to talk with the last mantichora, but pushes his luck: “It went on all night, and by pale morning, A.D. was an older man.”
Mr. McCaslin: another one of the ‘back when we were kids’ stories, Mr. McCaslin was the Irish neighbor suffering from a lung ailment: “We were kids: we had all known people who had died, but never anyone actually in the process, sentence spoken, date of execution set.” When he asks him for a favor, they agree.
The Fifth Season: The last story about Peter and his three friends–he’s almost sure–about a farewell moment in the neighborhood park. Reminded me very much of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes in every way but plot. “He made a soft sound that I can still summon up, even after so much time, and never will.”
Tarzan Swings by Barsoom: of them all, this is my least favorite. Having not been party to Tarzan nor John Carter, it isn’t particularly entertaining, turnabout or no.
The Bridge Partner: a surprising story from Beagle, who I often associate with a more fantastical, dreamy mysticism; this delves into the cat and mouse between a killer and her intended prey. Initially alarming, it was a very good read. One of the ones I recalled, which says something for staying power.
Vanishing: Beagle writes that this was a challenging, ‘kidney stone’ of a story that went through eleven drafts. It’s a curious choice to include in this collection, full as it is of childhood and transitional moments.
The final section contains ‘Abouts’ for each of the contributors: Peter S. Beagle, Meg Elison and Stephanie Law. These were short and sweet. I enjoyed reading more of what Elison is up to since Book of the Unnamed Midwife, but as an admirer of the other two, didn’t contain any new details.
My only complaint, truly, is that my Paperwhite Kindle can’t do justice to Stephanie Law’s illustrations. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more suitable author-artist pairing, and I would love to see these in color. I guess I’ll content myself with her Instagram. Highly recommended for fans of the fantastic and short stories.
Four and a half stars, rounding up. Lovely writing, evocative moods; if each story wasn’t amazing, the collection as a whole is.
Many, many thanks to NetGalley and to Kasey Lansdale at Tachyon Publications for an advance reader copy. As always, my opinions my own. As always, quotes subject to change, but I think they give a lovely flavor of the writing.
The second of the "Essential Peter S. Beagle" anthologies, Volume 2 focuses on more recent works. Included are some adaptations from podcast appearances, etc. If you only know Beagle from The Last Unicorn, these will give you a good idea of what else he has to offer.
Standouts in this volume include:
Oakland Dragon Blues - a depressed, modern day dragon written in opposition to Ursula K. LeGuins dragons (as Beagle points out, probably the best way to go)
The Way It Works Out and All - a collection of postcards ostensibly sent to Beagle from an all-knowing correspondent, this borders fiction and memoir in a really fun way!
These short stories are groundbreaking, heartbreaking, fantastic and very enjoyable. Each one is fresh, incredibly original, unpredictable, and masterfully crafted. I particularly enjoyed "Tarzan Swings by Barsoom" being a big fan of Burroughs, I really loved the approach to this one. And the illustrations in this book are top notch as well. I thought the first volume of Beagle's essential stories was wonderful, but I think I like this one better. I read the entire book in a single day. Really great stuff!
"The essential second volume of bestselling author Peter S. Beagle's (The Last Unicorn) short stories, including one previously unpublished and four uncollected stories, shows again that Beagle 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.
A dilapidated dragon, a frustrated cop, and an unapologetic author square off over a dangerously abandoned narrative. The seemingly perfect addition to a weekly card game hides a dark secret from everyone but her teammate. A deeply respected judge meets his match in Snow Ermine, a gorgeous pickpocket.
From heartbreaking to humorous, these carefully curated stories by Peter S. Beagle show the depth and power of his incomparable prose and storytelling. Featuring a newly published story, "The Mantichora," an original introduction from Meg Elison (Find Layla), and gorgeous illustrations from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (Shadowscapes), this elegant collection is a must-have for any fan of classic fantasy."
And volume two arriving on the same day!
Youtube Link goes live April 26th
Imgur Link goes to the Instagram Graphic that goes live May 2nd
Blog Link goes live May 2nd
The first collection of Peter S. Beagle short stories in this two book series was one of my biggest surprises of the first quarter of 2023. I hadn’t read Mr. Beagle’s work in probably 20 years so I was not ready for how much I loved it. The second volume was very similar in tone and style, with just a few stories that I enjoyed but wasn’t completely sure about.
The strongest stories by far for me were the stories that followed his young friend squad as boys and their ‘magical’ encounters. These are fantastic, the type of ‘Magical stories about kids for adults’ that would make Stephen King and his (slightly obnoxious) child characters weep. They have an adults depth with a child’s wonder and it shines beautifully in the stories.
Besides that the only weak stories for me were those that seemed to borrow from elsewhere. Perhaps they felt dated or old fashioned, or it’s just my preference for those self insert stories, but I struggled a bit with stories such as the werewolf one. Set in Louisiana it focuses on two old werewolves of Creole descent and family as they fight a returned evil. I think I connect and see more of his love for his home town and the topics and peoples he knows in those other stories.
Regardless this collection is still fantastic. I’ve already requested copies for my birthday and I will 100% reread them. I cannot wait to return to the story about the backwoods dragon breeders - I live in moonshine country so that really amused and delighted me.
4.5 out of 5 Illegal Dragon Eggs
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.
As in Volume 1, Mr Beagle is so adept at weaving these fantasies into and through the characters' lives that I read the whole volume in an afternoon/ evening. The stories are not rooted in any one "type". The mood and tone of each is set by the characters and their community of events and actions. They feel three dimensional. The friend that recommended Peter S Beagle to me is going to get a BIG present as these are some of the best fantasies I've read in awhile.
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.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine
The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume II is the second 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, including one previously unpublished, four previously uncollected, and several which were unfamiliar to me. There wasn't a dud 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.
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.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes
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.
I just adore Beagle's writing. Thats all there is to it. His stories are absolutely beautiful. I read his earlier work in high school and now as an adult I still equally love his writing. I cannot recommend his work enough. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me this arc to read.
Another amazing collection from the greatest living author, (in my humble opinion)Peter S Beagle. His second volume of short stories continued to keep me enthralled after finishing the first collection. I would say the most memorable story for me was Sleight of Hand. Another 5 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend this collection, as well as volume 1. Thanks for Netgalley and publisher for the ARC in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.
Thank you so so so much NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for access to this beautiful and enchanting arc!!
Peter S Beagle has owned my heart since I was a very, very small child, and my love for this fantastic human and his beautiful prose has only grown as I've grown up. This collection of short stories are not only entertaining but also incredibly touching. My favourites of this collection include The Rabbi's Hobby and Trinity County, CA, but really I love all of them <3
Another superb collection of fantasy stories that richly invoke the author’s childhood streets, friends and imagination.
Inside these pages are dragons and centaurs, ghosts and illusions, monsters (supernatural and human) and werewolves, unicorns (of course!), aliens, death dogs, time travel, a jaunt through the Overneath and an Edgar Rice Burroughs homage mash-up – so an eclectic mix of different sci-fi, fantasy and speculative styles across the stories.
My personal favourites were the stories based on the author’s childhood friends: ‘The Rock in the Park’, ‘Marty and the Messenger’, ‘Mr McCaslin’ and ‘The Fifth Season’. They really conjured up a nostalgic atmosphere of hot childhood summers lived in your wildest imaginations, roaming wild and responsibility-free… I felt like I was transported back in time with each one.
I was less keen on the Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired ‘Tarzan Swings by Barsoom’, which makes sense as I haven’t read any of that authors work and so felt pretty lost in space with the whole adventure. I’m sure fans familiar with the original stories will love it though!
As usual though, Peter S. Beagle knocks it right out of the park when it comes to fantasy of any description, short stories in particular, and the knack of bringing the world into vivid focus in ways you hadn’t thought to see it before.