The wizard Nikos has a choice: Does he take the gangly teenager Schmendrick under his wing and away from the scorn of the boy’s family, or does he leave Schmendrick to fend for himself?
In a moment of clarity—and perhaps pity—Nikos takes on Schmendrick as his apprentice. Nikos soon realizes that despite his student’s—and his own—best efforts, Schmendrick would be better off avoiding magic.
The story of Schmendrick and Nikos appears in The Overneath (Tachyon Publications), Peter S. Beagle’s latest collection of new and previously uncollected short fiction. While longtime readers of Beagle’s work will recognize these two characters from the acclaimed 1968 fantasy novel The Last Unicorn, The Overneath introduces new characters, including a New World unicorn, a Dutch con man, and unicorns borrowed from Persian and East Asian folklore.
Beagle never sought to write about unicorns, or even to write fantasies. But it seems, Beagle admits, that he often can’t keep from writing about unicorns. Why? “I have no idea,” he says. “But if I’m not careful, I’ll have a unicorn on my grave.”
A child of the Bronx, Beagle grew up telling himself stories. After receiving a scholarship and studying creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, Beagle (A&S ’59) has gained millions of fans across generations, won some of the science fiction and fantasy genre’s most prestigious accolades, and continued to share his stories—both fiction and nonfiction.
In 2018, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America honored Beagle with its lifetime achievement award; with this designation, he joined the ranks of previous recipients, such as Ray Bradbury and Ursula Le Guin.
If readers take anything away from Beagle’s work, he hopes it would be this: “However much of a struggle it is, you have to be kind.”
Like Nikos with young Schmendrick, kindness can appear in the strangest of forms and travel in the most unexpected ways.
“That’s all I know,” says Beagle.
Even after six decades of publishing, Beagle’s story crafting appears as mystical as some of his characters.
“Most of the time, all I can do is tell myself the story, and trust that the story knows where it’s going.”
Beagle is happy to pick up the trail that stories leave for him. As for whether or not the trail leads to a unicorn, he won’t know until he finds it.
By Karee-Anne Rogers
Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker (Bottom Dog Press) Lori Jakiela (A&S ’92G) spins irreverence and dark humor in this compilation that shows the regrets and joys of the working class who enjoy polka and fish fries. From the mall to the bingo hall, the stories also illuminate the personal journey of Jakiela, now an English professor at Pitt–Greensburg.
The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates (Liveright Publishing Corp.) A broken relationship pushes 30-something Isabel from New York to Pittsburgh, where she finds herself amid an intricate reexamining of the Abraham story of the Old Testament. Jacob Bacharach’s (BUS ’13G) latest novel poses questions on familial relationships, self-examination, and acceptance of modern-day prophets no matter how flawed.
My People, My People, My God (Kharis Publishing) When the electricity is cut off, Donald L. Marbury’s family learns to depend on candles, one another, and faith. For Marbury (A&S ’71), a television broadcaster turned minister, this faith empowers his collection of essays, short stories, and poems. Marbury’s work investigates racism, poverty, migration, and the search for meaning in one’s life.
Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me (Sky Pony) First-time author Carrie DiRisio (BUS ’15G) creates a book where satire and young adult novel tropes collide to create Broody McHottiepants, a narcissistic hero/vampire/athlete/whatever who sets out to change the narrative of young adult main characters while learning to be more than just the sulking bad boy of adolescent dreams.
This story appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Pitt Magazine.