How the symbolism and appearance of the unicorn has changed throughout art history due to the influence of different cultures and attributes in society.
(An investigation on how society corrupts mythological/ sacred images and dilutes them down into the images we see in pop culture today.)
If you were to ask someone to envision a unicorn, the chances are the creature they're seeing in their mind resembles a horse with a horn on its head, sporting pastel colours, rainbow hair and an affinity for glitter, very much like the commonplace images of the unicorn we see scattered throughout pop culture in this day and age. However the concept of the original unicorn is a far cry from what we believe it to be today; previously viewed as a fearsome beast, a symbol of christ and purity, even being dragon like in other cultures, it's a wonder as to how we have diluted down the image of the sacred beast into what it is now, and it's a question that's still very much up for debate.
To start this investigation however, it would be best by taking a look at the origin of the unicorn, where did it come from?
Chapter 1:The first Unicorn and unicorns in different cultures
The first records of the unicorns existence appeared Pliny's encyclopaedia of natural history, however back then he named it the Monoceros, essentially meaning one horn. Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist who described the unicorn as ‘The fiercest animal, and it is said that it is impossible to capture one alive.' (Pliny, Bostock and Riley, 1855) and having ‘the body of a horse, the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, and a single black horn three feet long in the middle of its forehead.' (Pliny, Bostock and Riley, 1855) and his word stood largely as fact for a good 1,600 years. It is widely believed that the Rhino and particular types of antelope such as the Oryx, were often mistaken for a unicorn and lead to descriptions as such.
The unicorn has taken many forms across the continents throughout history, particularly in ancient China, where it is known as the Kirin (or Qilin).
The Kirin is a perfect example about how society and culture can have an affect on imagery and concept. ‘The ‘Qilin, Wade-Giles ch'i-lin, in Chinese mythology, the unicorn whose rare appearance often coincides with the imminent birth or death of a sage or illustrious ruler.' (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018) in most descriptions it has ‘a single horn on its forehead, a yellow belly, a multicoloured back, the hooves of a horse, the body of a deer, and the tail of an ox. Gentle of disposition, it never walks on verdant grass or eats living vegetation.' (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018) sighting one was said to foretell either a royal birth, but also predict imminent death. It's appearance varies slightly in different accounts, though they all have a few things in common, in that its physique differs from Pliny's, and it can always be described as sporting cloven hooves and a lion's tail, the Qilin is also known for baring scales, a beard, being ignited in sacred flames, and in some descriptions, having two horns or antlers instead of just the one horn. It is possible that the Kirin and Pliny's unicorn originated from the same source, as rhinos were present in Ancient China.
One could argue that Ancient China was the source of the fabrication of the unicorn having healing/magical properties. Rhino horns are a staple ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine, ‘the horn, which is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in boiling water, is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. (Nature, 2018) and it is still used in medicine across Asia to this day. However the European unicorn, which is more akin in image to the unicorn of today, differs greatly from the Kirin, (more so in appearance than law) though it is still rather strange in appearance as it is described as having a combination of features from different animals i.e. having a white coat and ‘Usually a horse's body, often with cloven hooves like a goat; sometimes the entire body looks like a goat's. A Long, white spiralled horn' (AMNH, 2018) a ‘Goat's beard.' (AMNH, 2018) And a 'Tail of a lion'(AMNH, 2018) this image of the unicorn is considered to be the most traditional out of all its appearances, this is also when the unicorn began its metamorphosis into its horse like modern appearance. So how does it still have similar healing medicinal ties as its Asian counterpart? Through a convoluted mix of folklore, religion and Narwhals.
Chapter 2: Unicorns in Religion and medicine
Heading back to the 7th century, Isidore of Seville took an interest in Pliny's unicorn, and ultimately formed its sole vice; “The unicorn is too strong to be caught by hunters, except by a trick: If a virgin girl is placed in front of a unicorn and she bares her breast to it, all of its fierceness will cease and it will lay its head on her bosom, and thus quieted is easily caught.” (Gwydir.demon.co.uk, 2018) From this the medieval tale of the maiden and the unicorn was born, only a virgin woman could capture a unicorn, which in itself transformed the beast into a symbol of purity. When the unicorn's natural history was documented in medieval bestiaries, it was decided that it stood for christ. (It was common practice for animals in bestiaries to be compared to biblical figures) as Christ was captured and put to death, like the unicorn was by the maiden, this resulted in the unicorn being adopted by the church, and depictions of the beast in such tales were commissioned in large quantities, a good example of this being the unicorn tapestries ( see appendix 1) which can be seen today in the cloisters in New York, there are also replicas in Stirling castle (see appendix 2), as the original tapestries were hung there for a period of time. The tapestries portray the capture, death and resurrection of the unicorn in great detail, it is easy to see the parallels between the unicorn and christ. The unicorn also makes multiple appearances in King James' bible ‘Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? (The Holy Bible, Authorised King James ver., 1983) This catapulted the unicorn into the spotlight of medieval culture and firmly secured its place into european law, thus Unicorn horns quickly became a highly sought after item, almost to the point of mania. The horn, known as the alicorn, was said to be able to detect poisons and toxins in food and drink. ‘It was used to cure plague, fevers and bites from serpents and mad dogs. It was even said that poisoned wounds could be cured merely by holding a piece of the horn close to them. (Jackson, 2018) truly seen as a miracle cure during the medieval period, and due to its rarity, it was extortionate to buy, ‘There can be no doubt that, although the price varied from time to time, it was never cheap. In 1609, Thomas Decker speaks of the horn of a unicorn as being worth “half a city” and a Florentine physician observed that it was sold by the apothecaries for £24 per ounce. In 1553, one belonging to the King of France was valued at £20,000 and the value of one specimen in Dresden in the same century was estimated at 75,000 thalers.' (Jackson, 2018). So to address the elephant in the room, how could the Alicorn be used in medicine if the unicorn doesn't exist? They were substituted with Narwhal tusks.
Vikings and other northern traders acknowledge the unicorn's popularity and the demand for Alicorns, and decided to cash in, as it very much were. Narwhals reside in the Artic sea, and have been hunted for their tusks and for food for thousands of years, and conveniently for the Vikings, Narwhal tusks have an uncanny resemblance to the fabled Alicorn. ‘Many medieval Europeans believed narwhal tusks to be true unicorn horns, and would pay Vikings and other northern traders many times a tusk's weight in gold to own one. (Narwhaltusks.com, 2018), it's debatable as to why the medieval Europeans didn't cotton on to the scam, the most obvious reason being that this was the medieval period and that a majority of the population were not educated natural history and therefore didn't know about the existence of the Narwhal/ the nonexistence of the unicorn, and the Vikings always refused to reveal the origins of where they got the “alicorns” from, another potential reason being that the select few that could afford an education believed in sea unicorns.
‘In 1577, The English explorer Martin Frobisher led an expedition of 150 men to the northern reaches of Canada, in search of a passage to India and a fortune in gold. As they surveyed the islands near the coast, they came across something Frobisher could never have anticipated: a unicorn fish.' (Zimmer, 2018) clearly they had discovered the dead corpse of a Narwhal, which would lead to excerpts such as; “Upon another small island here was also found a great dead fish, which, as it would seem, had been embayed with ice, and was in proportion round like to a porpoise, being about twelve foot long, and in bigness answerable, having a horn of two yards long growing out of the snout or nostrils. This horn is wreathed and straight, like in fashion to a taper made of wax, and may truly thought to be the sea-unicorn.” (Zimmer, 2018) a bizarre concept indeed, however despite the Narwhal's discovery, alicorns were being sold on the market up until the 18th century.
So far it is safe to say that the real groundwork for the mythology and law of the unicorn was laid in the medieval period, but there are still a few prominent differences between the 16th century unicorn and our current variation, and a key factor that has a play in it all is gender.
Chapter 3: Unicorn folklore in relation to gender
Today, the unicorn is something that is definitely associated with the female gender, the creature is considered ‘girly' and can commonly be found plastered on a variety of products marketed towards women of all ages, so people may find it hard to believe that the unicorn was once a symbol of masculinity, the most obvious indication to this being the phallic symbolism of the horn.
‘Horns have had sexual significance since the dawn of history—not only because of their shape, but because they represent the power, virility, and fierceness of the great god of fecundity worshipped by most early civilizations, the bull.' (Filthy.media, 2018) however its not just the horns of a bull that were seen as a symbol of virility and fertility, it was very much applicable to the unicorn (and pretty much any creature in the animal kingdom with a pair of horns on it's head) which has a long and rather sordid history relating to phallic symbolism, in some cases it's horn was viewed as almost a literal erection ‘Rabelais says of the horn, "Commonly it dangles like a turkey-cock's comb, but when a unicorn has a mind to fight or put it to any other use, what does he do but make it stand, and then it is as straight as an arrow." (Filthy.media, 2018) Referring back to the tale of the maiden and the unicorn, there are a few key factors that may have been glossed over when reciting the most recent version of the tale, particularly the sexual nature of it, ‘some of the versions specify that the virgin is beautiful and naked; that the unicorn "throws himself upon her"; that she offers him her breasts, he sucks them and "conducts himself familiarly with her"; that she "openyth her lappe and the Unycorne layeth thereon his heed"; and that she grasps his horn and thereby renders him capturable. All these are clerical versions in which the language is tame.' (Filthy.media, 2018) make of that what you will.
So with all this phallic symbolism, how has the unicorn become primarily associated with the female gender? Well it could potentially be the unicorn's own masculinity that led to it becoming a mascot fro femininity. It's been very clear from when the unicorn first emerged from the minds of the explorers and scholars that created it, that women hold all the cards when it comes to having power over the unicorn. Referring back to the tale of the maiden and the unicorn, in all variations, the young virgin girl is the most vital component for capturing a unicorn, it finds her irresistible and will go to her without fail. The story still remains at the core of unicorn lore to this day, though now its said that the girl only has to be pure of heart, Unicorns and women have been portrayed as having a bizarre etherial bond throughout the creature's entire history. A good example of a modern source that still carries many traditional takes on unicorn lore would be The Last unicorn by Peter s. Beagle. ‘The magician felt himself growing giddy with jealousy, not only of the touch but of something like a secret that was moving between Molly and the unicorn. “Unicorns are for beginnings.” He said, “for innocence and purity, for newness. Unicorns are for young girls.” (Beagle, 1968) the book highlights the beast's law and brings it to the forefront of the reader's attention by making the unicorn the protagonist, and surrounding her with very real characters, in the book, she is perceived as having an immortal grace in both mind and body, making her almost untouchable, only women have ever been able to lay hands on a unicorn, and when Molly does in the book, all other characters in their proximity go green with envy.
Chapter 4: The re-emergence of the Unicorn into pop culture
One could say that The Last Unicorn (Beagle, 1968) was one of the main reasons for the unicorn revival in pop culture towards the end of the last century, the book was viewed as an instant fantasy classic as soon as it was released, which later led onto an animated film adaptation of the book in 1982 by Rankin and Bass. Despite being an American film company, the film was also produced by Masaki Iizuka and animated largely by their Japanese partners, who would later go on to form Studio Ghibli, as a result the character designs are a very unique, baring a resemblance to both American and Japanese styles. The unicorn, the protagonist, was quite feminised in the film, having a more slender physique, with flowing hair, big doe eyes with long lashes, and a star around her horn, it is evident that they had designed her to appeal to a female audience. The film was also released during a time where aspects of Japanese culture, such as anime and manga were being to gain popularity in western culture, which in turn, had a huge affect on the way businesses marketed towards young people, particularly girls. Products, toys and cartoons, got pinker, sparklier, and cuter the more the 80s progressed, however this was process that had been in the making since before ET was a glimmer in Steven Spielberg's eye, and Disney was responsible.
Disney's 1942 film, Bambi was a hit in Japan, the country had just recently opened its doors to the rest of the world and was receiving a lot of influence from the west, though its not a matter of how many Japanese fans the film got, but a matter of who, Osamu Tezuka, known as the father of manga, was a massive fan of the film in fact ‘to say Osamu Tezuka was a fan of Walt Disney's works is something of an understatement. According to statements made by Tezuka himself, he saw Walt Disney's Bambi (1942) over 80 times when it was first released in Japan in 1951. Impressive as that is, in a time before the advent of home video technology, many of those repeat viewings can probably be attributed to the fact that he was doing research for his own manga adaptation of the tale.' (Tezuka In English, 2017) and he did indeed go on to make his own adaption, and incorporate a lot of elements from Disney i.e. the big cute eyes and small mouths, into his own style, and because of his huge influence on the manga industry, it became a trend that has stuck throughout the years.
Going back to the previous point on Japanese influence on marketing in the 80s, many animation companies based in Japan during the time, worked for bigger American corporations on children's cartoons, to help save face and time, obviously this had an affect on the style of animation, but it also had an impact on the toys and merchandise their American counterparts produced. A good example of this would be Hasbro's My little Pony, production started in 1982, the same year The Last Unicorn (Rankin and Bass, 1982) was released, this would be the first mainstream appearance of a more modern unicorn. The brand was originally called My Pretty Pony (Hasbro 1981), however it had to be revamped after it didn't take off very well, the ponies were made to be smaller, pastel coloured and given symbols on their flanks, and of course the name of the brand was changed to what it is today. The first wave of toys to be released were just normal brushable pony figurines, however the toy line really took off after Hasbro released the television special; My little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle (Toei Animation, 1984) The film was animated by Toei Animation in Tokyo, and featured a variety of new ponies, including Pegasi and unicorns, and this was a pivotal moment for how unicorns were going to appear in pop culture for years to come. The ponies in the animated feature were given big doe eyes, multicoloured hair and coat colours in various shades of pinks, blues, yellows, greens etc. Including the unicorns, who were also gifted with a multitude of magical powers, such as teleportation. The Tv special was such a hit that a toy line matching the characters in the special were released, Toei was commissioned to do a tv series and sales for my little pony sky rocketed. It was the first series of toys that brought brushable equine figures into the spotlight and pretty much every company in the 80s followed suite. From Barbie, to the littlest pet shop, even dungeons and dragons, numerous toy brands and cartoons were bringing in unicorns into their merchandise because the fantasy genre was so successful with both boys and girls in the 80s, Mattel's She-Ra princess of power (a spin off from He-Man) heavily featured the fantasy genre in both its toy line and the cartoon, in both she has a steed called Spirit, ‘Spirit is the horse of Adora, serving as her She-Ra alter ego's steed Swift Wind.' (En.m.wikipedia.org, n.d.) ‘Spirit's transformation gives him the appearance of a winged unicorn with the ability of speech.'
(En.m.wikipedia.org, n.d.) the toy itself is based primarily off the mould of a horse, with the horn placed on the forehead and the wings attached to the saddle. All of the above has had a massive affect on the film industry and pop culture in general, one could almost definitely say that it was during this time period that the unicorn truly started to resemble a horse more than its traditional counterpart. A good example of this would be
Ridley Scott's film Legend (Embassy International Pictures N.V, 1985), which was released in 1985, the plot is as follows; ‘Darkness (Tim Curry) seeks to create eternal night by destroying the last of the unicorns. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his friends do everything possible to save the world and Princess Lili (Mia Sara) from the hands of Darkness. Enter a world of unicorns, magic swamps, dwarfs and rainbows.' (G.co, 2018) the film is a live action feature and used horses to play the unicorns, as there were no real ones available at the time. It was probably easier to use a horse to play a unicorn, as CGI was still in development at the time and horses were easy to train and bared the most resemblance to the mythical creature with the help of a fibreglass alicorn and tactfully hidden bridle. Scott wasn't the only person to use this method to create the beast, Robert Vavra, one of the most famous equine photographers in the world, based an entire book of work on the unicorn, titled; Unicorns I Have Known (Robert Vavra, 1983). The book was published in 1983 and within it you'll be able to find over a hundred pages of Vavra's photography of said ‘unicorns' and just under a hundred pages of his take on their law alongside illustrations, again for obvious reasons, horses were used for the photo shoots but because of Vavra's excellent photography skills, the illusion was practically seamless and the book became a best seller, many using it as their go to for unicorn law ‘In 1983, renowned photographer Robert Vavra published Unicorns I have known. The best seller was an oversized photo collection of what appeared to be real unicorns in real locations. When I received the book, probably in '84 or '85, it quickly trumped the black-and-white illustrations of The lore of the unicorns as my primary resource. My favourite photo is on page eighty-five. A lone unicorn canters along the edge of a barren woodland in winter. (Hirt, 2011). Images like these clearly had a knock on effect in pop culture, instead of being a substitute, the horse effectively became the unicorn, and this was well and truly solidified in the 90s upon the arrival of the one and only Lisa frank at the peak of her career.
Lisa Frank is notorious for her retina burningingly bright and colourful images and products which primarily feature cute animals such as tiger cubs, puppy's, dolphins, kittens, ponies and of course unicorns. If unicorns weren't colourful enough before, they definitely were in excess when Lisa portrayed them. Lisa's unicorns primarily consist of a white body of a horse, a rainbow mane and tail of a horse, rainbow hooves and a rainbow horn, and she splattered them all over her products, which ranged from stationary to shampoo, all of which were staple items in any home that belonged to a young girl growing up in the 1990s. Lisa names most of the characters that appear in her illustrations, One of the unicorns is called Markie. ‘Markie, one of Frank's first characters, lives “in the clouds above the Fantastic World of Lisa Frank” (a.k.a. “Airfluff Island”), likes butterflies, exploring, collecting stars, cloud hopping, and dreams, and hates “hesitation, bad smells, [and] bullies.” (McCarthy, 2015) purely by the written description, you can see how much of a far cry Markie is from the original unicorn, you couldn't imagine such a ferocious beast living on an island of clouds, collecting stars, dreams and butterflies. Lisa really pushed the fantasy aspect of her work beyond its boundaries, to the point of it being the equivalent of being punched in the eye by the sugar plum fairy. it wouldn't be difficult to believe if someone were to say Lisa frank is the reason why unicorns live over the rainbow now.
All of this is well and good, having looked at the the history of the unicorn and why it's primarily associated with the female gender, however, that still doesn't explain why the unicorn took off in commercialism and consumerism in the past century, one important question needs to be looked at to get an insight as to how it was so successful in previous pop culture, that question being; why do girls like unicorns so much?
It's a question all of us have asked ourselves at some point in our lives, be it in the playground at school, or sitting at a desk reading this right now, and there are broad spectrum of answers, but the most arguable would be that the unicorn is a gateway animal that panders to young girls imaginations. “Horses, unicorns and dolphins are borderland creatures; gateway animals to other worlds,” (The Kitchen Sisters, n.d.) They symbolise dreams and achieving, relating back to the tale of the maiden and the unicorn, little girls dream of being special enough for a unicorn to come to them “I think for many young girls, there's a fantasy that someday you will be recognised as the secretly beautiful, magical thing that you are," (Wbur.org, 2011) "The unicorn will be attracted to something ineffable about you, secret from the rest of the world.” (Wbur.org, 2011) so essentially, young girls like unicorns because they are an asset to fulfilling their imaginations, and bringing about magic to not only their worlds, but to themselves.
Chapter 5: The generation effect on the Unicorn
Returning to unicorns in pop culture now, there was a lull in their popularity during the 2000s, but we have recently seen a revival in the 2010s, again there are many attributes as to why, but the main one would be that the generation that grew up in the 80s, where unicorns and fantasy reigned supreme, as previously discussed, are now in influential positions in industries such as film, animation, toys, marketing, etc and are bringing to the table what had influenced them as children, this including unicorns. A good example of this being the resurrection of the My little Pony franchise. My little Pony hadn't been doing so well towards the end of the 2000's, the brand was on its third generation and had been losing popularity because of it being viewed as too girly, and as a girl who grew up with this generation of ponies, it had become very pink. Toward the end of 2010 Hasbro debuted My little Pony Friendship is Magic (Hasbro Studios, 2010), the cartoon was directed and produced by Lauren Faust, co producer of the power puff girls and fosters home for imaginary friends. Faust grew up in the 80s and was a huge fan of My little Pony, especially the tv special My little Pony; Rescue at Midnight Castle (Toei Animation, 1984), so when she was developing the show she based it off the original TV series that she watched when she was little, to the point where she even recycled characters from the original show and it was a huge success ‘I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the absolutely amazing, incredible, astounding crew of MLP:FiM for all their hard work and dedication. I'm so grateful to have such a talented group of artists give their all for what could have easily been seen from day one as silly, girly fluff unworthy of their time. Together I think we helped prove that “for girls” does not have to automatically equal “lame.” (Faust, 2011) the show had one of the first and most interesting fan phenomena's ever seen at the time, the rise of the brony. What is a brony you ask? A brony is a fan of my little pony friendship is magic, who is outside the show's target demographic of little girls, often being teenagers or young adults, and the general consensus is that the majority of them are male. ‘And a gigantic thank you to the fans of the show!!! The kids, the parents and all you bronies!! The array of people this show has touched has completely exceeded my wildest expectations!' (Faust, 2011). All this attention slingshotted My little Pony back into the spotlight, people seemed to enjoy the new take on the old show, there seemed to be a lot more variety in characters, and a lot more unicorns. Faust's style was very different in comparison to the previous three generations of My little Pony, the style included bold lines, flat block colours with basic shading, even bigger eyes on the ponies as well as larger heads, more stylised hair and more simplistic symbols for ‘cutiemarks' the pictures on their hind quarters, all of this helped with animation style, it was all computer generated and produced in America, which made the whole process easier overall, and many other companies that marketed towards kids followed in Faust's footsteps and for a good 5 years toys and cartoons were being made in the same style as My little Pony Friendship is Magic.
In 2016 the unicorn became a trend in pop culture again, and once more this could be put down to being a generational thing, evidence or this being that unicorns were beginning to be marketed towards an older audience as well as the usual young girls, as kids who grew up with unicorns in the 80's and 90's are now adults, which opened up a whole new market for unicorns, and because of demand, you could pretty much find something unicorn related on every product under the sun, however because of the need for unicorns on products, the meaning of having one on an item became skewed, you didn't even need a unicorn on a product for it to be considered a unicorn product, as long as it contained pastel pink, purple or blue, rose gold or glitter, it could be marketed as such. The trend became a pop culture phenomena and many articles were written on it, to be honest its fairly reasonable, even unicorn toast was a thing. ‘The recent unicorn trend began around 2016 and has mostly been fuelled by instagram, it seems unicorns are the perfect subject of snaps on the photo sharing website. Marketeers and manufacturers have also helped drive the trend as unicorn-themed toys, clothing, stationary, and other products can be made with ease and without any expensive licensing costs. In the last few years unicorns have been seen everywhere, including on children's television, gay pride marches, and selling beauty products.' (Higgypop, 2018) cosmetics in particular profited hugely off the unicorn trend, a brand launched in 2016 called Unicorn Cosmetics, originally Unicorn lashes, that released a set of brushes with pastel brush fibres and handles moulded into the shape of alicorns with an iridescent finish, the brush set quickly went viral and sold out overnight on multiple occasions and of course large corporate make up brands such as Too Faced and Tarte followed suite, releasing entire cosmetic lines based around the mythical creature. ‘Daniel Levine, has managed to some how get himself the title of “trend expert” and says that a trend like this happens when,”there's an established cultural interest in something that matches up with the current zeitgeist, celebrities publicise it, and the fad is visually interesting enough to take off on social media.” (Higgypop, 2018) The unicorn was so popular that people scrambled to make whatever they could as akin to the unicorn as possible, it was almost like a competition, because anything new that came along, that alluded to a unicorn was basically guaranteed to go viral, and that meant thousands of followers on social media for the person who created something new and in trend.‘Right at the frontline of the unicorn fad was a food blogger from Miami who posted a photo of her unicorn toast, it was shared thousands of times across various social media networks.' (Higgypop, 2018) In recent years the unicorn has also become somewhat of an LGBTQ mascot, one of the most obvious reasons being that rainbows and unicorns now go hand in hand, which correlates well with the pride flag, but it has also become a mascot because of its long standing history with sexuality and both genders. ‘The unicorn has also done its bit for the LGBT community in the last century. The rainbow flag was created by American artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 as a joyous symbol of the diversity of the gay community. It became prominent during the gay rights protests of the 1970s and 1980s. Rainbows and unicorns are so intrinsically linked (the association is also a Victorian invention) that it's unsurprising that the magic creature started to appear on T-shirts and banners at Gay Pride around the world.' (Fisher, 2017)
And so we arrive at the unicorn of today, there are many variations however they only slightly differ from each other, the most common place image of one essentially includes; a horse with a horn on its head, its coat is either white, pastel pink, lilac, or on rare occasion powder blue, it's mane and tail also comes in the same choice of colours with the exception of the extra option of rainbow hair, and its horn and hooves can be seen in gold, silver, rose gold or a strange indescribable iridescent colour.
I've always had my suspicions that the 1980s had an influence on the appearance of the unicorn, particularly My little pony, so I was pleased to know that the franchise was basically the driving force behind their association with rainbows and glitter, as it had a knock affect on the rest of girls toys in the 80s, I dare say the unicorn would of turned out different if My little pony hadn't existed, but that could also be said about Bambi (Disney, 1942) and it would have had even more collateral damage, because Japanese culture wouldn't of been the same as it was, and we wouldn't of had the 80s as we know it.
The amount of phallic symbolism I had to dig through whilst researching the maiden and the unicorn made me a tad uncomfortable, considering that the unicorn holds many fond childhood memories for me and a lot of other girls, and the fact its primarily associated with innocence in this day and age, though I wasn't too surprised by it, phallic symbolism was also a running theme in general in the Middle Ages. It was necessary to touch upon it.
I believe it has arrived at this description because of the things we have previously discussed in this essay, but also because of the rise of internet culture and particular trends circulating on social media i.e. the rose gold and pastel hair fad being combined with other trends such as the unicorn to help popularise it even more and create profit from it. In conclusion I believe the most pivotal moments for the unicorn becoming what it is today, from the fearsome sacred beast it once was, was it entering religious culture at the time it did, the same goes for other mythical creatures such as the dragon and the griffin, because religion was pop culture during the medieval period and that in turn acted as a gateway to common day pop culture. What I have learned by writing this dissertation is that it is commonplace for trends to resurface in pop culture a few years after it has broken through into mainstream society for the first time, because people will remember and return to it, almost like a snowball effect, and it will progressively be adapted and modernised to fit to society each time it does so, the unicorn is a perfect example of this, though it is slowly going out of trend again, it will be interesting to see how it fairs the next time it pops up again in ten to fifteen years
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