Peter S. Beagle’s masterful expression informs the entertaining and thoughtful stories of THE OVERNEATH
Photo: Rina Weisman
In fact, there are occasions when Beagle’s deeper or more challenging concerns get crowded out by his strengths as a comic fantasist: this is most apparent in the “Trinity County” story, with its uneasy mix of dragons and hard drugs, but also occurs in “Schmendrick Alone,” when a light story ends with the supernatural death of Lord Buccleuch. Beagle is at his best when he balances the comedy with thoughtful metaphysics and mystery, as in “The Way It Works Out and All” and “Olfert Dapper’s Day.” In toto, this volume represents a worthy publication by Tachyon Press, an entertaining and thoughtful read.
Jason McIntosh at FOGKNIFE enjoys his first Peter S. Beagle experience.
Continuing my streak of reading only the most recent books by writers with careers reaching back a half-century, I borrowed THE OVERNEATH as soon as I noticed it on my local library’s new-fiction shelves. My knowledge of Beagle extends to dim memories of seeing the animated adaptation of 1968’s The Last Unicorn on HBO, and my eight-year-old self finding it too quiet and sad to enjoy. As such, I fell into this book with no expectations other than let’s read some fantasy shorts by a super-old dude. Well: I loved it.
I cannot lie: Knowing practically nothing about the author other than his age, I expected at every page to cringe at some evidence of oh-grandpa outdated cultural mores. Part of me had my bony finger raised and ready for an extended tut-tut session given the lack of women in the initial triad of unicorn stories, but these are immediately followed by two stories that neatly neutralized that complaint. Had I really wanted to reach for it, I’m sure I could have found something to offend in Beagle’s depiction of an ancient Chinese judge, or a Native American mystic, or a Jamaican-born exorcist. But I chose not to strain myself so, and allowed myself to instead feel utterly charmed at the diverse cast with whom Beagle has peopled these stories.
Personally, I found the book full of writing lessons, even though I seldom write fiction per se — the whole volume shot through with so much quietly masterful expression. I recall, for example, a particular moment in the final story as a reformed scoundrel prepares to end his exile in colonial Maine. He packs nothing but a few mementos from his time in the wilderness, each suffused with memory and experience, and reflects that he leaves with far more than he arrived with. I have to say that I felt rather the same way, by the time I finished this book.
(And if that sounds hokey, it is only because I can’t write as well as Peter S. Beagle.)
NARDIVIEWS lauds the collection.
I’ve been a fan of Peter S. Beagle’s work ever since I read The Last Unicorn, a cheerfully bittersweet examination of life and fairy tales. I also enjoyed IN CALABRIA, Beagle’s more recent take on unicorns. However, aside from a short sequel to The Last Unicorn, I hadn’t read any of Beagle’s shorter fiction. THE OVERNEATH is a collection Beagle’s short stories, some previously published and some new to this volume. It’s a great introduction to Beagle’s fiction.
With over a dozen stories, its difficult to derive any general themes or narrative threads from OVERNEATH. One common thread is Peter Beagle’s unique ability to mix and meld two opposite emotions into something greater. His stories manage to evoke both melancholy and wonder, cynicism and hope, frustration and love at the same time. Several of the stories, including the two about Schmendrick, involve people blinded by love. There seems to be a theme, an implicit message against trusting the heart… and yet it’s hard to read these stories simply as cynical diatribes against love. If there’s a message, it seems to be that people are flawed, although they might be touched by magic every once in a while – or a unicorn.
For more info on THE OVERNEATH, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story