Today’s theme is unicorns. They have appeared visually and in writing for centuries.
|Public Domain . By Maerten de Vos 1532-1603|
Did you know unicorns were mentioned in the Bible? Well, the King James Version, anyway. The translators who translated from Hebrew to Greek thought the word should be “monoceros” and the Latin word for that was “unicornis” and... Never mind. And never mind that the creature concerned was probably a single-horned now extinct wild ox or maybe even a rhinoceros.
Apparently, they are all over the place, including the ancient Indus Valley.
So, what do we know about them? They really should have cloven hooves and a goat’s beard and tail. Calling someone unicorn bait means they are virgins, as unicorns were supposed to calm down when a virgin came along, so they were used to trap the unicorn. What would you do with the animal? One legend is that the horn purified your drink so you wouldn’t be poisoned. There were quite a few of those horns around in the Middle Ages, probably taken from narwhals, which are known as the unicorn of the sea.
Let’s check out unicorn appearances in some fiction.
|Admiral Kirilli and Maggie the unicorn by Robert Jan|
They appear in Harry Potter, of course, twice. The Potterverse unicorns are the traditionally beautiful white creatures, innocent and glowing. Drinking silvery unicorn blood will save your life, but the side effects are not pleasant. In The Philosopher’s Stone Voldemort gets Professor Quirrel to drink it for him. In The Goblet Of Fire, the replacement teacher, Professor Grubbly-Plank, teaches the class about unicorns in Care Of Magical Creatures, while Hagrid is hiding out in embarrassment. After studying Blast-Ended Skrewts, the unicorn is a relief.
The Once And Future King has a unicorn hunt, by the Orkney princes, who get a peasant girl to come along as their virgin. They kill it, cut its head off and... regret it.
Unicorns are not always shown as pleasant creatures in fiction. In Terry Pratchett’s Lords And Ladies, the unicorn is the pet of the thoroughly nasty Queen of Faerie. It’s insane and when it comes out into the human world, it runs around menacing and killing. But a virgin can still tame it. And one does. She is able to bring it into the village using a single hair from her head, and has the blacksmith give it silver shoes. It is just an animal, she says, and not responsible for what it has done.
Another scary unicorn appears in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. Peter Grant is a policeman and a wizard in training. In the course of the novel Foxglove Summer, our hero encounters the fairy otherworld and a terrifying unicorn that can and will kill you. It’s connected with a couple of little girls who think it’s something out of My Little Pony.
Then again, there are unicorns which are not vicious, but not pretty either. In Gillian Polack’s The Wizardry Of Jewish Women, a mother and daughter perform a spell that brings a Shetland pony sized unicorn into their garden.
The first place I ever saw a Shetland unicorn was on Lost In Space, where daughter Penny Robinson finds one on another planet. It sounds a bit silly, but I got the idea from this episode and used it in my own fiction - first in Star Trek fan fiction, then in my YA novel Wolfborn.
In Wolfborn, a mediaeval werewolf novel, a young man called Armand has been bragging about his many girls. However, when he is stuck in Faerie with his mountain pony, Dapple, he discovers to his horror that Dapple is a disguised unicorn - it’s a self defence thing, to make them less attractive to hunters. In Faerie, they appear as they really are. Armand’s best friend, Etienne(the novel’s hero) falls about laughing. Armand is not impressed.
There are plenty more references to unicorns in fiction, but these are a few I have read(or written!). What about you?