WORMSKIN

2/11/2014

Paperbacks | The Lore of the Unicorn by Odell Shepard


Picked this up the other day  -- at one of the last two used book shops in this area. It's a really depressing development. At one time not too many years ago, we had a total of eight shops in the tri-city area. And some of them were quite extensive. Not much overlap of content either -- each shop had its own particular flavors and clientele. It's a fucking bummer, to say the least.

So The Lore of the Unicorn (1930) is an exploration of the unicorn as a mythic figure throughout history. Not very far off from the approach seen in Frazer's Golden Bough, Robert Graves' White Goddess or the work of Joseph Campbell. 

It's interesting to see the underpinnings of the whole virgin/unicorn relationship laid out so clearly. Shepard explains that maidens (typically beautiful and always chaste) were thought to attract the unicorn, so naturally the idea developed that you could use a virgin girl to entrap one of the beasts. It's said they're drawn by the scent of innocence and so will lay their heads down on the lap of the girl, opening up that sweet coup de grace for the huntsmen hidden -- one assumes -- behind the trunks of trees with sharp knives ready to hack into the unicorn's neck in hopes of severing a major artery. Lurid stuff, folks.

5 comments:

  1. There is a pretty disturbing unicorn-lured-by-virgin scene in "The Once and Future King".

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    1. My mind immediately went to Ridley Scott's LEGEND.

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  2. I've got a hardcover reprint from the 1980s or 90s that has been staring me down every time I go to my bookshelf of things to read. I should pick it up soon.

    If you like this sort of thing, I would recommend anything by Sabine Baring-Gould (well, any of this books on history/folklore/curiosities).

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    1. Thanks, Mike! Yeah, I totally dig this sort of thing.

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  3. That image on the cover is a tapestry you can see at the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, NYC. If you have never been, DO IT. It's a wonderful museum. I suggest going during the Medieval Festival every September.

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