display | more...

Contrary to popular belief, the unicorn actually resembles a horse only slightly. Rather, the unicorn has a slight build quite similar to a hart, a type of deer. The single horn is often spiralled, but can also be completely smooth, sometimes with a slight curve. The unicorn also sports a beard similar to a goat and its tail resembles that of a lion, being long and thin and with longer hair only on the end. Finally, the unicorn has cloven hooves, also like a goat or deer. Coloration is commonly a pure white body, dark hooves, with the horn being depicted as silver, gold, or pearly white. Often, if the unicorn is of evil intent, though, it will be described as purest black from the tip of its horn, which can be a wicked weapon, to the cloven hooves, which are no less dangerous. Even good unicorns can be dangerous foes, which is why those who sought to capture them used bait.

While virgins were often employed in the capture of unicorns, it was not so much the purity of the body, but the purity of the spirit that attracts them. Although maidens were most often used, it was not unknown for those without a maiden handy to use a young boy as bait, although it was much harder to find young boys with pure spirits. Once the unicorn was mollified by the bait, the hunters lying in ambush would often slay it with spears before it had a chance to react.

The unicorn has been hunted for a variety of reasons. Most common was the legend of the power of its horn, usually referred to as alicorn, although that term has come to also refer to a winged unicorn (often miscalled a pegasus, which has no horn), most likely in response to that term being used in the book A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle. The horn is rumored to be able to cure ills, purify food and drink, and restore health. One is supposed to powder the horn and sprinkle it upon whatever one wishes to have it affect, or in the case of a person, to be ingested. This ability has also been tied to the horn of the narwhal, which is often called the unicorn of the sea by sailors. The living unicorn is fabled to purify streams and fountains with its horn, which is likely the source of what is believed to be the power of the horn itself.

Unicorns are quite prominent in the worlds of literature and art. A sample of books about unicorns includes: The Transfigured Hart by Jane Yolen, Birth of the Firebringer by Meredith Anne Pierce, The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle, The Amber series by Roger Zelazny, The Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks and The Unicorn Creed, the sequel to Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. There are also several books that center on unicorns in art, such as The Unicorn Tapestries by Adolfo Salvatore Cavallo, which I received as a gift last Christmas. They are also commonly depicted as heraldic figures, usually representing strength, nobility and purity and often found opposite the lion in the crests of royalty. They can also be found in movies as well, such as the films Legend and the animated adaptation of The Last Unicorn.