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Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle
Peter S. Beagle, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Subterranean Press, 456 pages

Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle
Peter S. Beagle
Born in New York in 1939, Peter S. Beagle graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1959. His works include the novels A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn and The Folk of the Air, as well as non-fiction books and the screenplay for the animated film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The Last Unicorn became an animated film in 1982. He lives in Davis, California.

Peter S. Beagle Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: We Never Talk About My Brother
SF Site Review: A Fine and Private Place
SF Site Review: The Line Between
SF Site Review: Giant Bones
SF Site Review: A Dance For Emilia
SF Site Review: Tamsin
SF Site Review: Giant Bones

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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When the name Peter S. Beagle is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind are unicorns. In Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle, there are plenty of unicorns to satisfy his fans, but there are more stories without the iconic beast, and the volume thereby demonstrates the breadth of Beagle's writing and interests.

Beagles produces his first potential unicorn in the very first story in the collection, "Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros," in which a philosophy professor finds himself having a series of conversations with a rhinoceros he meets at the local zoo. Although the rhinoceros claims to be a unicorn, Gottesman refuses to believe such a thing is possible, even as the rhinoceros speaks to him and moves into his home. The story is enjoyable, although it mostly seems to happen, more a slice-of-life piece than an actual story.

Unicorns return in other stories, such as "Julie's Unicorn," but most notably in "Two Hearts," which won Beagle the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. This story is set in the same universe as his novel The Last Unicorn and although it contains several of the same characters, it can hardly be called a sequel. Relating how a gryphon is terrorizing a small village, Beagle has a young girl seek aid from King Lir, running into Schmendrick and Molly from the novel on her quest. The story looks at what being king, or in fact any sort of ruler, means with regard to responsibility, and also looks at the limits that are imposed on those same people.

Responsibility also comes into play with Beagle's Japanese fable "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri," about a commoner who serves Lord Kuroda as a Chief Huntsman. After marrying a shape-shifter, not only does Junko's luck change, but he also finds himself more ambitious as he tries to provide for his wife, Sayuri. Both Junko and Sayuri allow themselves to remain ignorant of what is happening, Junko of Sayuri's actions, both of Sayuri's true nature. However, rather than allow them to remain in a state of bliss, or even to fully enjoy their fates, Beagle looks at the cost of turning such a blind eye to one's responsibility, making this fable both bittersweet and a cautionary tale.

Just as King Lir has certain responsibilities in "Two Hearts," and Lord Kuroda has his role in "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri," Beagle takes another look at royalty, and therefore any leader, in "King Pelles the Sure." Although confidence is important in a leader, Beagle points out that confidence can be misplaced. In this case, King Pelles feels the need to seek glory on the battlefield. Reason comes from the mouth of the king's vizier, who has seen what actually happens in war.

And just as Professor Gottesman had to deal with a creature unseen by others, so too do the title characters in "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel." David remembers back to the day an angel appeared in his uncle's art studio and how Uncle Chaim allowed his obsession with fully capturing the angel's spirit in art led to changes in Chaim's personality and life. Beagle does an excellent job of portraying someone who has lost all perspective and refuses any attempts to help him.

Another case of obsession run amuck is in "The Rabbi's Hobby," in which Joseph Malakoff, a young boy studying for his bar mitzvah, finds his lessons sidetracked by a rabbi whose hobby gets him derailed into trying to discover the identity of a model who appeared on vintage magazine covers. Their quest to discover who the model is offers a contrast to Uncle Chaim's obsession as it helps the rabbi to make connections in the world and helps Joseph discover the meaning of helping others.

Mirror Kingdoms contains eighteen stories by Beagle that run a gamut of styles and venues, but have a tendency to look at recurring themes through different lenses. Readers who are only familiar with Beagle's The Last Unicorn will be rewarded with the follow-up tale of Schmendrick and Molly while they also have the opportunity to read more of Beagle's stories and discover how broad his talent is. The stories in Mirror Kingdoms are drawn from a broad variety of sources, many of which may have eluded Beagle's readers, meaning the stories collected, which range from 1963 through 2009 for their initial publications, are almost sure to offer something new to all readers.

Copyright © 2010 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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