Why do we love unicorns so much?

We asked some unicorn experts exactly what it is that they love about the mythical beast

Pin It
Unicorn

Most people can’t remember the exact moment they realised they really fucking loved unicorns. How can you? It’s not like you can remember the first time you loved the smell of freshly cut grass, or the sweet nicotine-y brain fuzz of a cigarette, or the sound a cash machine makes when it’s whirring your money.

Tracing it back, I was always a My Little Pony fan. More recently, I have found myself strangely drawn to overpriced unicorn iPhone covers, my finger tracing their glittered edges as I try to persuade myself that it’s OK to drop upwards of £20 for a phone case covered in what are essentially tiny white mythical horses. 

Human beings have universally loved unicorns since their earliest incarnations in ancient Greek texts, and they show no sign of going away. We’ve probed into the age-old question of why human beings always have and still do love unicorns. Here’s what we found.

FIRST, A CHART

It’s pretty rare that I get to include charts in my articles, so I’m pretty pleased about this one. Here’s some data from Google demonstrating how unicorns have been searched globally over time. Because Google doesn’t want to tell you exactly how many people are searching for a term, they instead rank search terms on a basis of 1-100. One means that so few people are searching for unicorns that they can’t index the figures; 100 represents peak search interest. In December 2015, the figure searching for ‘unicorn’ in the UK was 100. That’s a lot of unicorn fans out there.

PEOPLE IN THE OLDEN DAYS REALLY LOVED UNICORNS TOO

I hate to break this one to you, Instagram-using millennials, but you’re not the OGs when it comes to unicorn fandom. People have liked unicorns for a really long time. I’m not talking pre-internet. I’m talking proper olden days, back when the majority of people lived in poverty and our royal families were chronically inbred. Oh, wait.

Anyway, according to the website Unicorn Dream, which sounds like a reputable historic source if ever there was one, “written accounts of unicorns date back two and a half millennia”. Unicorns were worshipped in ancient Babylon, described in the works of Pliny the Elder, and even Aristotle found time to write about them.

TECH KIDS LOVE UNICORNS

Christoph Ono is the founder of Cornify, which he started in 2009 as “kind of a ridiculous joke”. Cornify allows you to add unicorns to web pages and photos – there’s even a Chrome plug-in.

“I was working as a developer in New York and my boss told me off because I kept putting unicorn images in slide shows,” says Ono. “So I created Cornify one morning, not really thinking anything of it, and it went viral.”

Unicorns are kind of a nerd in-joke in tech circles, and successful tech companies in Silicon Valley are often called unicorns. But this alone is not responsible for Cornify’s success. I ask Ono if he can put a finger on why the idea has proved so successful.

“I think in part it’s due to pop culture,” he says. “So you often see memes of famous people like Vladimir Putin riding unicorns. And unicorns seem to pop up everywhere. It’s almost impossible to say anything negative about unicorns, I find. No one ever says anything bad about unicorns. I’m not quite sure why Cornify is so successful, but it’s definitely been a fun outlet for my inner seven-year-old girl.” 

Incidentally, this is Ono’s email signature. I think you’ll agree – it’s pretty cool.

THE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO SELL YOU UNICORN TEARS

So you can now buy a product called ‘unicorn tears’, which is basically premium gin in a bottle with bits of edible silver glitter in it and a unicorn label. Some might say this is a cynical marketing ploy designed to entrap cash-rich unicorn lovers. I’m not saying this, because I’m still hopeful that their PR might send me a bottle. I love unicorn tears, me.

I spoke to Ben Redhead from Firebox, the company that manufactures the unicorn gin. They tell me sales are “phenomenal”, and they’re currently working on helping other mythical creatures get their moment in the sun. “Narwhals (essentially the unicorn of the sea) have also been having a moment. Word on the street is that pufferfish are set to be big for 2016 too.” What a brave new world we live in.

THE ARTIST USING UNICORNS TO EXPLORE SEXUALITY

Spike Dennis is a British-based artist who explores unicorn myths through performance art and cross-stitching. He’s also the author of the Unicorn Porn blog, which is hosted by his alter-ego, Farmer McPhallus. Dennis is fascinated by the intersection between unicorns, sexuality and masculinity in our technological age. I asked him to explain why he loves unicorns so much.

“All of my research was leading me to this idea of unicorns being very phallic creatures, and throughout history they’ve been linked to sexual potency and masculinity. For example, unicorn horns were described as an early form of Viagra in some writings. What interested me as an artist was seeing how this fluffy pink creature which is often associated with girls actually had its root in powerful masculine myth.”

Dennis dresses up as Farmer McPhallus in order to “explore my wild-man alter ego. It’s something that goes back to pagan times, actually, the idea of the wild man and reconnecting to the earth through these ancient rituals.” As part of his research into unicorns, Dennis also stumbled across a popular medieval tale called The Story of the Hunt for the Unicorn. “The only way to trap a unicorn was to lure it with a young virgin. So I created a dating profile for a ‘horny young virgin’ and posed as a teenager to lure in guys online to create my art.”

THE SELF-PUBLISHED UNICORN EROTICA

If all this talk of horns and unicorn phalluses is getting too much for you, you can dive into the world of unicorn-themed erotica. Here’s an erotic story from ‘TrixieJ’ about some sofa-based fun with her pet unicorn and a bowl of honey. I won’t ruin it for you, but suffice to say, things get kind of sticky.

THE UNICORN FARMER

Jessica Marquis is the founder of Unicornomics and author of Raising Unicorns: Your Step-By-Step Guide To Starting and Running a Succesful – And Magical! – Unicorn Farm. She explains how to set up a unicorn farm:

“You want to make sure your livestock is happy, healthy, and fed just the right amount of lavender-infused ambrosia. You want to ensure their safety from the predator El Chupacabra, as well as provide access to intellectual, physical and magical exercise facilities. A unicorn without an appropriate outlet for its inherent enchantment may displace it, resulting in your water supply turning to ice cream or your entire farm transforming into a bounce house.

Also, to be effective in the business, keep track of the numbers. A unicorn farmer without sn accurate inventory and an annual report is just a farmer with a dream – a really cool dream that involves unicorns, but not a dream that can be monetised.”

FINALLY, AN UNWELCOME TRUTH

Unicorns aren’t actually real.

More Arts+Culture

Like this?
Like Dazed on Facebook