Authors: Lucille Recht Penner
To Miranda Lebofsky Penner
To Lynn and Julie—and, of course, Curious-Jen …
whom I dare not leave out—and all those young
dreamers who would ride a unicorn
The sun goes down. It is dark in the forest. A deep pond glitters in the moonlight.
One by one, thirsty animals gather around the pond. But they are afraid to drink. They know that snakes drink from the pond during the day. The snakes poison the water.
The animals wait. A gentle breeze blows
toward them. They sniff the air. Help is coming!
A graceful white shape glides silently out of the trees. It is a unicorn. The unicorn kneels down and dips its long silver horn into the pool. Then it rises and bounds away.
The animals lower their heads and drink. The unicorn’s horn is magical. It has made the water safe.
This story about a unicorn is hundreds of years old. There are many, many old stories about unicorns.
In some stories, unicorns are huge and fierce. In others, they are small and gentle.
Most are shy and live alone. A few are playful. They like to run and leap with other unicorns.
In one way, though, all unicorns are the same. Each one has a single horn in the middle of its forehead.
means “one horn.”
Why are there so many stories about unicorns?
Some people thought they had seen them.
A beautiful antelope called an oryx lives in Africa. An oryx has two horns. But if you see it from the side, one horn is hidden
behind the other. It looks as if the oryx has only one horn. The early Egyptians painted pictures of the oryx that looked that way … like a unicorn!
Maybe this is one way legends about unicorns began. A person saw the pictures. He told another person. Parents told their children. And over the years, people grew up believing in unicorns.
People around the world imagined unicorns in different ways. A European unicorn was enchanting. It was white as snow with a soft, flowing mane and silky tail. A spiral horn grew out of its forehead. The horn was made of ivory, but it gleamed like silver in the moonlight and sparkled like gold in the sun.
From a distance, it was possible to mistake a European unicorn for a horse. They were about the same size. But unicorns ran faster than horses. And farther. They could run for a hundred miles without getting tired. Nobody riding a horse could catch one.
A sweet smell of cinnamon was often the only way to tell if this kind of unicorn was nearby. Hardly anybody ever saw one because they were very shy. They spent most of their time hidden away far from people. Their favorite places were deep forests where tall trees grew close together.
Male unicorns lived by themselves. Babies lived with their mothers, who kept them hidden in the darkest part of the forest. Sometimes mother unicorns met in a field of flowers and let their babies play together.
Then they hurried back into the forest.
A baby unicorn could not protect itself. It was born without a horn. But its horn started to grow right away. It took about a year for a baby unicorn to grow to its full size. Then it went off to live by itself in the woods.
You have probably seen pictures of European unicorns. Artists have been painting them for hundreds of years. But there were also many other kinds of unicorns roaming the world.