On the Tenth Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier explores the Unicorn, a critical character in his series Cry Havoc, launching with Image in January.
Click links for previous Days of Myth-mas:
On the First Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us… THE ZOMBIE.
On the Second Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … THE HORRIFYING PENANGGALAN.
On the Fourth Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … THE LITTLE PEOPLE.
On the Sixth Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … THE BLACK HOUND.
On the Seventh Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … THE ANGELS OF MONS.
On the Eighth Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … THE KAPPA.
On the Ninth Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … OTTAR THE SIMPLE.
Throughout Myth-mas, Si Spurrier has explored the monsters haunting folklore, beasts like the Black Hound, the placenta-eating Penanggalan, the horrifying Yara-Ma-Yha-Who, and of course, the Zombie. Today, Si brings us the most horrifying creature to date . . . the Unicorn.
By SI SPURRIER
I’m mentioning this one not so much because of the mythology itself, but some practical considerations – call it reverse-euhemerism – which have always bugged me about it.
Let’s have a whistlestop non-history of the world’s most famous monoceros equine anyway. The unicorn first pops-up in mindblowingly ancient relief carvings from the Indus valley – we’re talking First Recognisable Human Cities type ancientness, here – except if we’re being completely honest they’re probably just goats drawn in profile, hence one horn instead of two. On such flimsy source material classicists like Strabo and Pliny the Elder place the unicorn in their natural histories (that is to say: emphatically not mythological, but a completely bollixed misinterpretation of reality).
Whatever you might have heard about unicorns making an appearance in the Bible: you’re wrong. All that Noah-left-them-behind wank is completely invented, and the “re’em” mentioned in the Old Testament is almost certainly an aurochs (think Big Fucking Bull) mistranslated by overenthusiastic scholars. They had good reason: by the early medieval period the unicorn had already been rebranded as an unlikely metaphor for a violently savage nature, tameable only by chastity and virtue, and hence became quickly associated with the Holy Virgin. Which in turn got the poor pointy-faced fuckers all muddled up with the Catholic mystery-tradition of the Incarnation (divinity-made-flesh, basically), which led to a whole bunch of ghastly heraldic and pseudomagical traditions (unicorn horn? That totally cures poison!) whose net effect seems to’ve been a booming trade in narwhal tusks.
And on and on and on.
The unicorn, basically, is a big empty cipher. A stupidly-designed animal with no meaningful origin which has been appropriated as a symbol of a billion different things at different times. Today’s “rainbow-shitting icon of extreme campness” really isn’t any more or less arbitrary than any of the other associations it’s worn over the centuries.
Stories, remember, are resilient, flexible, eternal parasites. Fear them, adore them.
Anyway, my personal fascination with this quintessential stabby-faced horse derives from applying a little bit of anatomical common sense. Ask yourself: srsly, what’s that horn for?
Now, look, I know I’m taking this too seriously, but just think about it. Work with me here. No way is that thing a weapon, or even a mating/display/rutting implement. You look at the adaptations in stag skulls (detachable/regrowable antlers with peripheral swipe-arcs: not for stabbing), rhino and goat skulls (enormously reinforced shoulder/spinal structures for battering), sawfish skeletons (perfect lateral symmetry, linear-focused pressure), and so on, and you’ll quickly realise that if any unicorn were ever dumb enough to try and use its horn for anything stabby or swipey it’d break its stupid neck. I wondered for a while if it might be some sort of ovipositor, or (creepier yet) a kind of gamete-delivering face-penis, not unlike an octopus’s dedicated sexytime-tentacle, but on the shaky assumption that a unicorn is technically a mammal we can probably rule those out.
No, sorry, I’ve thought about this, and by the principal of Occam’s razor there really is only one physical adaptation seen in the natural world which fits the bill. It’s called an eggtooth. You’ll see it on the heads of newborn birds and reptiles: a little spike which allows them to chip their way out of the egg.
As I’ve said, unicorns are probably not – as far as I’m aware – oviparous. In which case I’m afraid we must accept that the proud and chivalrous beast comes into the world not through a biologically normal birthing process, but by slashing its way out of its screaming mother’s viscera in a blood-squirting orgy of matricidal horror.
Sorry about that.
NEXT: THE COMPTE DE SAINT GERMAIN.