The Natural History of Unicorns

2009-05-27 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Natural History of Unicorn

Chris Lavers

Granta

THE unicorn long ago became a creature with powerful symbolic meanings and, to that extent, belongs mostly in mythology or the iconography of Christianity at various stages. But has there even been a real unicorn? Well, yes and no, according to this intriguing, small-format hardback. The author suggests that a number of real animals (the Indian rhinoceros, several mostly Tibetan creatures) have contributed to the myths. He also suggests that some very ancient Near and Middle Eastern artworks played their part. And his book contains a sprinkling of relevant black-and-white photographs. The rest of the myth-body is probably due to the human imagination. So the unicorn, like so many elements in mythology, stands on that fine line between the so-called ordinary world and that of the imagination where myths tend to be generated.

For all the irrational, certainly imaginative factors involved in the unicorn-story, this book itself is thoroughly researched and painstaking, both historically and zoologically, with an enlivening vein of humour running through it. The author is an academic geographer with a strong natural-history bent, and has bestowed loving attention and a fair dash of speculation on his subject. Apart from the unicorn itself, there are other fascinating elements in the book: the gallery of odd characters throughout history (from as early as Classical Greece) who have written about, or gone hunting for, unicorns in different parts of the world (including the Congo jungles); a lot of detail about real creatures one doesn’t usually bump into (the Tibetan Kiang, the Yak, the Narwhal); information about the widespread trade in types of ivory such as walrus tusks; and the discovery of woolly rhinoceros skulls and horns in Arctic areas (something which he thinks may have contributed, startlingly, to myths about the giant bird, the Roc). The book is a trip into both natural history and a kind of mythological zoo.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/Sport

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.