Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved unicorns. They decorated my childhood bedroom in way of a border running the walls, in pictures and drawings and stuffed animals. Books bore them on the cover. And yet for all this, the image that sticks out most in my mind is that of the Lady Amalthea clinging to the cliffs just under Hagsgate castle, afraid of the sea; she has forgotten she is a unicorn at heart, a creature of rare beauty and grace and magic.
I’ve always loved The Last Unicorn, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I actually picked up the novel and read it. And oh, how beautiful a story it is!
I found an illustration in a magazine to celebrate the novel, and knew it was for me. I clipped it and put it in my journal. And as I continued to work, to play and paint and doodle, I found a small image of a woman’s feet in water.
I flashed to the Unicorn, backing up, ready to take her fate.
The unicorn and the Red Bull stood facing each other at the arch of the bow, and the unicorn’s back was to the sea. The Bull moved in slowly, not charging, but pressing her almost gently toward the water, never touching her. She did not resist him. Her horn was dark, and her head was down, and the Bull was much her master as he had been on the plain of Hagsgate, before she became the Lady Amalthea. It might have been that same hopeless dawn, except for the sea.
How many times in our lives have we faced our own Red Bulls? Those fears that grip our hearts and take over, squeeze until our chests hurt and can’t take in another breath? Let someone or something in our lives steal our strength and bravery until all that is left is a beauty with her head down and horn darkened by her own lack of belief in her magic?
Oh, darlings, I’ve been there. The process is gradual. You don’t feel it happening until you wake up one morning and wonder who, exactly, you are, and how did this great beast get in here, trapping you between it and the wall?
Yet she was not altogether beaten. She backed away until one hind foot actually stepped into the water. At that, she sprang through the sullen smolder of the Red Bull and ran away along the beach: so swift and light that the wind of her passing blew her footprints off the sand. The Bull went after her.
It may have been only her hooves, but she was woken up. You see, even when we feel powerless, when we feel there’s no magic left within us, when we feel unworthy and can feel that sea swelling around our feet, the foam rising over the skin of our calves, we’re reminded that there’s nothing to be gained by going into the sea. Others have been trapped there, seen only in the crest of the waves, the foam of the sea, specters and warnings of what can happen.
So the next time you feel beat, think of the Unicorn. She fights for love, for the fate of the rest of her kind, for prophecy, but mostly, she fights for herself.