Monday, 13 January 2014

The Natural History of Unicorns

This year I have begun by ending, by finishing books I have been reading on and off over the last year. 4/5, just one more to complete! My most recent conquest definitely deserves a mention here: The Natural History of Unicorns, by Chris Lavers.

Any of you with a mythological bent will probably have seen this book pop up on your radar, and if you haven't yet checked it out I urge you to do so. Lavers takes you on a fascinating journey through thousands of years of history, mythology, misrepresentations and poor translations to demonstrate how the unicorn does and does not exist. 

He is objective with the information and at times writes with the flare of a novelist, by drawing the reader in with detailed accounts of expeditions or by adding twists and turns and bursts of new information that change the perspective of the last ten pages. As a reader this can at times make it tiring to read; the sudden changes of pace and density of information require a fair amount of effort to keep up with, and although this is the main reason it has taken me so long to finish the book, I promise you it is worth the effort. 

Lavers concludes the book by stating that it is unlikely we will ever find the original source of the unicorn myth, and I think that if we're searching for a written text, then he's probably right. He's already shown that the unicorn can end up in the Bible because translators didn't recognise a word, but made the logical assumption that a unicorn was meant based on the stories they had heard - this, to me, is a clear demonstration of the power of oral traditions and the lasting affect they can have on history, whether we're discussing the Bible or fairy stories. 

(And, on the subject of fairy tales, Lavers introduces some incredible sources of fairy tales and folklore form ancient civilisations that I personally cannot wait to look into further!)

I think the unicorn is the perfect subject for a story that begins with the age old and beloved phrase: Once there was and there was not...

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, I bought this book a couple months ago and haven't read it yet! Good to know you recommend it :)