Unicorns have gone downhill.
They’re all rainbow sparkly now. Silly. You can even buy unicorn poo.
Little girls still love unicorns. My daughter has more than half a dozen. They’re purple, green, pink, rainbow. Soft, snuggly, and non-threatening, they’re guaranteed to give her mystical dreams.
But that wasn’t always the unicorn’s reputation.
Nearly 2000 years ago, Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote that “the unicorn is the fiercest animal, and it is said that it is impossible to capture one alive.”
Pliny’s unicorn doesn’t neigh. It bellows.
Seventh century scholar Isidore of Seville agrees. The unicorn “is very strong and pierces anything it attacks. It fights with elephants and kills them by wounding them in the belly.”
Not a creature you’d want to harvest poo from. Or let too close to your children.
But the ancient unicorn had a soft spot:
Leonardo de Vinci explains:
The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.”
Intemperance and not knowing how to control itself? Sounds like some of the bad boys I know!
It’s a story all women love. The unicorn is for them and them alone. Men cannot tame a unicorn. They can’t even get close to it. It’s the feminine gifts of purity, innocence, youth and beauty that win the unicorn’s heart.
Even now, unicorns are “girl stuff.” Boys’ backpacks feature superheroes; girls’ backpacks feature fairytale creatures.
But that’s beginning to change.
Men are VERY interested in unicorns.
A unicorn is their ticket to fame and fortune.
The hunters of old had to capture a unicorn, but modern-day hunters want to create one.
The term “unicorn” took on a whole new meaning in 2013, when Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures used it to refer to young tech startups worth more than a billion. Only 0.07% of startups achieve this distinction.
Now men in business suits want their own unicorn. And they don’t need a virgin to get it.
It’s the way of the world. A symbol of innocence and purity, reduced to dollars and cents.
When I tell my daughter the story of the unicorn, I omit that part.
I tell her about the medieval unicorn. The unicorn no one can capture.
Its ghostly presence in the forest shadows. Its savage horn.
I tell her about the girl who still believes in magic.
The girl with faith, hope, and courage.
She sits in the stillness of the forest, patiently waiting.
And if she’s good and kind and sits quietly enough…
She might be rewarded with the sighting of a unicorn.
“I’ll make sure there aren’t any hunters around,” my daughter assures me. “If I see one, I’ll stand up and say, ‘Hey! Put that gun away. You can’t kill this unicorn.’”
She doesn’t understand why anyone would kill a unicorn for its horn. Even if its horn did grant health and immortality. Even if its horn made you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.
My soft-hearted daughter. Who wants money when they could cuddle a unicorn?
If a unicorn shows itself to anyone, it would be her.
And that’s why we need unicorns.
We need girls to believe there’s some reward for being sweet and tender-hearted.
Otherwise, the world is too hard. Sexy beats sweet. Magic is for fools. The only reward for being a good girl is winning a boy’s heart.
So I’ll believe in unicorns for as long as she needs me to.
Provided that I can pass on the glitter and rainbows.