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U is for Unicorns

April 27, 2015

unicorn  I’ll bet you didn’t see this one coming, eh?  Actually, because of kitsch culture, so many literary symbols have become Cracker Barrel gift shop fodder.  Years ago, I made the mistake of saying out loud that I liked rabbits.  (I even had a live rabbit for a short time, but he eventually went “to live on a farm”–or at least that’s what my parents claimed.)  I have accumulated several lovely glass or china rabbits.  Meanwhile, I have been given some of the most cartoonish, unoriginal ones ever.

My mother like unicorns–same story.  As hard as it may be to find a unicorn in the real world (particularly in comparison to rabbits), they are everywhere in little knick-knack stores.  That poor child in Glass Menagerie could have replaced the broken one with no trouble nowadays.

Where is the line between art that establishes the beauty of a symbol and the commercialism that runs it into the ground (and out onto the markdown table)?  I have no definitive answer, but I can tell then difference when I see it.

Unicorns, though, most often evoke one of my favorite passages from one of my all-time favorite books, T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. If I had my favorite dog-eared paperback copy, it would probably flop right open to the passages in which the four nephews of Arthur go hunting for a unicorn in a futile attempt to get their mother to notice them.  Boys being boys, their plan goes somewhat askew.  As anyone then knew, it takes a virgin to capture a unicorn, so they conscript a young kitchen maid. Then, one way or another, they end up not with a live unicorn, but with the head of a formerly living creature.  It looked a bit worse for the wear–and their mother didn’t even notice.

You don’t get stories like that these days, and certainly not from tacky trinket shops.

I won’t even start on Watership Down and rabbits.

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