In Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, I find the character of Molly Grue is something of a cipher. She seems to serve as a councilor and all-around wisewoman, but never seems to take an active role in the course of events. And there are a few points where the book seems to go out of its way to add some mysterious elements to her.
One such element is when Molly sings the song of Elli - associated earlier by Mama Fortuna with Old Age, death and decay. Schmendrick's reaction seems to make it clear that her knowledge of this song is surprising and significant (chapter 6):
Schmendrick peered over the unicorn's back into Molly's territory. "Where did you hear that song?" he demanded. It was the first he had spoken to her since the dawn when she joined the journey. Molly shook her head.
"I don't remember. I've known it a long time."
Another intriguing point is when, at the book's closing, Molly refuses to tell the others the unicorn's parting words to her - vehemently swearing she will never tell as long as she lives.
"I'll never tell," she said, a little frightened, but flushing oddly. "I remember, but I'll never tell anyone, if I die for it - not even you, my lord." She was not looking at him as she spoke, but at Schmendrick.
While this is entirely plausible whatever the particulars of the character, I feel an absence of connection to the rest of the book. I don't see anywhere in the book that Molly is facing issues that would provoke such a reaction from her; so, this seems to address a side of Molly that is not revealed in the book.
In conclusion, I feel there's a lot more to Molly than we see in The Last Unicorn. I get the sense that either (A) Molly has a backstory that we're not privy to, and/or (B) Molly serves a symbolic or thematic purpose in The Last Unicorn, rather than being directly crucial to the plot.
Can anybody shed light on Molly's character, in either of these directions or in both? Who is Molly, and why is she so important to the book?
I'd be happy to hear answers drawing on any combination of:
- Any reference Beagle himself has made to the issue
- "The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version," or any other related fiction by Beagle (or, indeed, the film, which I haven't seen)
- A thematic analysis of the book