Many years later, as I watched The Last Unicorn as an adult, I was to remember that distant day when I first met Molly Grue. I don’t remember the exact day or even age that I first saw that movie, and I got the book when I was in high school. But I remember that from the first time she come on screen, Molly won me over. I love the Unicorn/Amalthea, I love Prince Lir, I love Schmendrick the Magician, but Molly is the favorite. And at some point when I was growing up, it suddenly clicked.
I have already mentioned I grew up on a steady diet of fantasy and fairy tales. So as a kid, Molly’s speech sounded like someone who had wanted to see magic all their life and now they were grown up and they could no longer really enjoy it because, you know, adults have responsibilities. For a long time I was pretty sure this was what it meant. But thanks to the internet, to people talking about how they also loved Molly, how they identify with her, of how her character is more complex than it seems at first, that made me realize why my love for her had only grown- as Melanie Meadors says in her post, I grew up to be Molly Grue.
Ok, so I didn’t run off with a band of outlaws. And I love Robin Hood but see him more as a myth.But I am not the kid I was twenty years ago, or the teen I was ten years ago- I would definitely wonder why a unicorn came when I am “this”. Molly never gives specifics of what she means by “this” but we all know what she means. Other people have also talked about how this story handles gender. If there is any doubt Schemndrick clears it up in the book by telling Molly that “Unicorns are for beginnings…for innocence and purity, for newness. Unicorns are for young girls.” Molly simply answers “You don’t know much about unicorns.”
I am not a young girl anymore. And I believe innocence and purity have become rather problematic expectations of women. The idea of a woman being “new”, like some product kept in it’s package, is overrated if you ask me. I am pretty sure by the magician’s standards unicorns wouldn’t come close to me even with a ten foot horn. It is an aspect that a lot of people in society believe and I am very clear on that. I know a lot of other young women who probably would also find themselves never meeting their unicorns. Trust me, I would probably also ask the unicorn what use is it to me now. I know that some of those women would also be in tears and demand to know where it was before.
But Molly’s speech doesn’t end there. When told the Unicorn is the last of it’s kind she says: “It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue. …It’s all right. I forgive you.” At first, the magician is appalled at all these demands but none the less, Molly joins them on their adventure. It takes less than a page for the Unicorn and Molly to bond. We are told there is something between them, something that ties them together. And it’s this bond that leads to a lesser quoted conversation between Molly and Schmendrick.
Midway through the story the Unicorn is threatened, finding herself just moments of being captured and disappearing with the rest of her people. Schmendrick “saves” the Unicorn by turning it into a girl. As he begins boasting of his magic and how it helped, Molly begins asking him what he has done. When he keeps boasting she tells him that he is ” [a] poor man, you magician, don’t you see-“. He doesn’t understand what she means and declares he saved the unicorn she answers: “”I didn’t know you meant to turn her into a human girl. You would have done better-“She did not finish, but looked away from him. One hand continued to stroke the white girl’s hair.”
Molly’ reaction to the change is I think what cinches the identification I already felt when she demanded the Unicorn answer for itself. It speaks volumes that she was about to tell him the Unicorn was better off not being saved. She is in tears when the Unicorn echoes these words. I am not gonna say that being trapped/dead/lost forever was better. I don’t think being a woman is a punishment. But it’s not easy either. there is a lot of places around the world where Molly’s declaration probably rings too true. Even in places that declare themselves bastions of equality there’s a huge amount of barriers placed in front of women. I ‘m sure a lot of people will say I’m exaggerating and that we live in a post gendered word. But trust me and others when we say it’s not easy.
When we become adults,when we grow out of the princes dress and into learning that we will wont ever see a unicorn and what our new roles as women should be, it’s easy to think the Unicorn was better off captured. It’s easy to see why Molly angrily asks how the Unicorn “dares” to appear to her now. Women are told that if we follow a path like Molly we will end up ruined, loosing any chance of ever meeting unicorns. It may seem like something farfetched but is it? Don’t think about unicorns, instead think of women being afraid of the world around them. Let’s instead think of girls that get called out of classes because a teacher thinks they are “distracting”. Let’s think of unicorns as education, safety, health, security, opportunities, families, love, anything and everything women could want in life. And think of all the ones that denied this.
Now think of Molly and how once the Unicorn is a young woman and begins to feel like a human she supports her choice. Molly when the rest of the unicorns are freed and she sees herself surrounded by them she is dumbstruck. If we say those unicorns are hopes and dreams and desires of young women everywhere, I hope some day I can be as dumbstruck because someone has released the unicorns in the world. It would mean that more women, young and old, will meet these unicorns. They wont have to be angry at them coming so late when they no longer mean anything else. They wont have to think that being turned into a woman is a punishment and a terrible fate. They would think it’s crazy to believe that unicorns are not real because they see them all around. In the mean time, you can be sure that if I have a daughter she is also going to see and read The Last Unicorn and hope that if I don’t get a chance to meet mine, she will live surrounded by unicorns.
Featured Image: Variant cover for IDW’s adaptation of The Last Unicorn done by Frank Stockton