Peter S. Beagle, who wrote an informative introduction to The Secret History of Fantasy (at the right of your screen), is a fantasy writer's fantasy writer. His marriage of beautiful prose with intriguing premises ultimately leads to some of the best fiction I've looked at in the last decade. Beagle's story "Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" is a representative tale, and one of the most optimistic short stories I've encountered in many years.
The eponymous professor provides a great character study. After a semi-reluctant chaperoning of his niece to the local zoo, the incredulous rationalist is forced to confront a life with a philosophy-debating rhino who thinks himself a unicorn. As his relationship with the rhino (who travels to the university to listen to the professor's lectures) grows, we get a chance to see how shared passion and companionship make what seems like an empty life more round and vibrant.
The story, masterfully paced, sprawls efficiently across a span of decades. When the professor loses his one true friend at the university, the reader's heart breaks for the old man. When his career arches brilliantly into twilight, it is his horned friend who is there to guide him into the next phase of being.
This story is beautiful with a capital "B," and it's one whose impact on the reader will be felt for a very long time. It's a story that demands introspection, and asks us to reconsider what it means to be a part of a friendship.
Anthology to Date:
"The Small Assassin" ~ Ray Bradbury
"Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" ~ Peter S. Beagle