A Tuesday Ten: Let there be Unicorns!

So . . . just last night I went to see The Last Unicorn on the big screen.  Considering how much I loved the movie as a girl, and still love it as an adult it was a high point in fangirl delight.  Still living in that glow, I realized I had a list to do.  So why not unicorns?  I figured it would be easy to put the list together.  And then I started listing the ones I knew . . . and realized that most of my favorite unicorn stories are either young adult or pure adult fantasy.  I admit to some surprise.  Oh there’s a whole bevy of unicorn and princess treacle out there (keyword search “princess” and “unicorn” in Goodreads and you’ll see what I mean).  But when I’m looking for more substantial fare, more meaningful or interesting Unicorn tales, they are hard to come by.

With the inclusion of some picture books, I managed to make it to ten, but it wasn’t  near as simple as I thought it should be!

1.

Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville (Scholastic, 2008)

This is the third book in The Unicorn Chronicles.  Usually I list the first in a series, but I really loved the cover art on this one, so felt I had to include it.  Young Cara, the preteen who is the human protagonist of the series,  Has become a friend and ambassador to the unicorns, and must help to protect them from the evil that seeks to destroy them.    From what I’ve read, the first two books in this series: Into the Land of the Unicorns (1994) and Song of the Wanderer (1999)  are much lighter and more innocent in tone.  This third book and the fourth: The Last Hunt (2010) are a bit more complex and darker in tone.  Coville is one of the few to actually address the trope of young girls and unicorns, and does it fairly well.  He’s  another unicorn fiction story as well :Sarah’s Unicorn (1979).

2.

Birth of the Firebringer by Meredith Ann Pierce (Firebird, c1985)

Unicorns vs. Gryphons!  Our young protagonist is a unicorn prince destined for heroics and great deeds.  Unlike the traditional view of unicorns, Meredith Ann Pierce has crafted a race of warrior unicorns, fierce and battle-ready!  This book is first in a trilogy that also includes: Dark Moon (1992) and Son of the Summer Stars (1996).  Dramatic high fantasy plotting devoid of human characters and a favorite for those who remember them.  While I was never as attached to this series as some of the author’s other titles, I had friends who really loved them as tweens.

3.

The Road to Balinor by Mary Stanton (Scholastic, 1988)

The first book in the 8-book series, Unicorns of Balinor. A young readers series that, while simple to appeal to intermediary readers, is one of the series I could find that didn’t quite seem so candy coated..  In this first book, we have a young girl who has lost her memory, but it turns out she’s not from Earth.  Instead she is a princess sent to Earth in an effort to protect her from the war raging in her parents’ kingdom.  With her is her unicorn companion, and the two of them must find the road back to Balinor.  It’s not an original plot and I don’t think it tries to be, but it’ll appeal to the right crowd.  What makes this series notable to me is that Mary Stanton is also a writer for YA/adult readers and is clearly fond of horses.   The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West (Baen, 1988) besides being a book with one heck of a wild title is a great horse fantasy for adult readers.

4.

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea (Disney-Hyperion, 2013)

The first of my picture book additions to the list.  This is a delightful new offering from Bob Shea this year.  Goat thinks he’s pretty cool until Unicorn shows up.  Unicorn has plenty of sparkle and magic and Goat grows more and more frustrated as Unicorn outshines him at every turn.  That is, until he actually talks to Unicorn and finds out that  there’s a lot of cool stuff he can do that Unicorn can’t .  It’s a great picture book that really takes the tropes of what unicorns are all about and runs with them, throwing sparkles and chuckles in every directions.

5.

Here There Be Unicorns by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Wilgus (Houghton Mifflin, 1994)

For the unicorn lover, this collection of unicorn stories and poems by Jane Yolen exploring all the tropes and traditions of this horned horse.  One of several themed collections that Yolen has created over the years.  This one is sadly out of print, but hopefully fans of unicorns will find a copy!

6.

Nobody Rides the Unicorn by Adrian Mitchell, illustrated by Stephen Lambert (Arthur A. Levine, 2000)

A young orphan with a stunning voice, an evil king and a magical unicorn all come together in this story.  When the king uses young Zoe’s voice to lure and capture a unicorn, Zoe decides to help the creature escape. A beautiful little picture book with unusual illustrations.

7.

A Glory of Unicorns compiled and edited by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Alix Berensy

Twelve short stories by various authors that have to do with unicorns.  While I have not gotten ahold of this anthology meself, from the reviews I’ve read, Bruce Coville has curated a collection of tales that spans many different angles and types of unicorns which should appeal to readers uninterested in the regular cliche version of the creature.   Anthologies are a wonderful way to dip into new authors and/or new subjects and genres.

8.

The Unicorn and the Moon by Tomie dePaola (Ginn & Co., 1973)

I didn’t discover this little obscure picture book until I was searching for unicorn items.  When the moon gets stuck between two hills, a unicorn tries to free it with help from a griffon and an alchemist.  Tomie dePaola wrote about a unicorn.  Who knew?  I’ll have to see if I can find a copy of this book lurking about somewhere.

9.

Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark (Aladdin, 2013)

This is one of those books I had to include for the sheer role reversal of the creature.  Bad Unicorn is about an evil carnivorous beastie who is after our protagonist.  There frankly are not too many evil, people eating unicorns out there in fiction.  While this story may not be a favorite, it does in fact fit the list and can be truly said to be one of a kind!

10.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle (Dell Yearling, c1978)

You didn’t think I’d leave out my favorite fiction unicorn in Middle Grade stuff, did you? Gaudior is technically an alicorn (watch out for a new generation of kids that know the term–with Twilight Sparkle’s transformation into one on My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, they may have that term ready to hand for the future!)  Charles Wallace is taken on a wild adventure with a Time Traveling unicorn in order to save the Earth from imminent war and possible destruction.  You actually get to see quite a bit about Gaudior in this book, including the fact that these creatures hatch from eggs.  They’re not the only unicorns in the Time series, however. Many Waters (1985)  features virtual unicorns.  They exist only when they are believed in.

Extra Stuff:

My favorite unicorn novel, and one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time is The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle.  This is one unicorn story that I’ll never outgrow!

One of the best known songs about unicorns one that’s sung by The Irish Rovers. The lyrics of The Unicorn Song, are from none other than the late, great Shel Silverstein.

I did my first Flashback Friday post on The Last Unicorn, which you can find Here.

What are your favorite unicorn stories?  Can you spot any that I might have missed? Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on October 2, 2013, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. I couldn’t keep that one on the shelves last year, the zombie argument added fantastic boy appeal.

  2. Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns is surprisingly good.

  3. Ruth Guerrier-Pierre

    Nice list.

  1. Pingback: A Tuesday Ten: Cryptic Cryptids and Mythological Monsters | Views From the Tesseract

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