The Unicorn Treasury: Stories, Poems, and Unicorn Lore

The Unicorn Treasury: Stories, Poems, and Unicorn Lore

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Filled with the most popular legends about the mythical unicorn and including original poems and stories, this collection brings together the singular talents of Bruce Coville, Madeleine L'Engle, Jane Yolen, C. S. Lewis, Myra Cohn Livingston, and many others. A perfect companion to Coville's own bestselling Unicorn Chronicles and an ideal gift for the child who has always wondered about these glorious beasts, The Unicorn Treasury is sure to find a large and enduring audience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780152052164
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/28/2004
Series: Magic Carpet Books
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,251,496
Product dimensions: 7.46(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.54(d)
Lexile: 870L (what's this?)
Age Range: 7 - 10 Years

About the Author

BRUCE COVILLE is the author of over 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher is an Alien, the Unicorn Chronicles series, and the much-beloved Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. His work has appeared in a dozen languages and won children's choice awards in a dozen states. Before becoming a full time writer Bruce was a teacher, a toymaker, a magazine editor, a gravedigger, and a cookware salesman. He is also the creator of Full Cast Audio, an audiobook company devoted to producing full cast, unabridged recordings of material for family listening and has produced over a hundred audiobooks, directing and/or acting in most of them. Bruce lives in Syracuse, New York, with his wife, illustrator and author Katherine Coville. Visit his website at

Read an Excerpt

WHAT IS A unicorn?

At first glance the answer may seem so obvious that the question itself is silly. Everyone knows that a unicorn is a horse with a horn stuck in the middle of its forehead.


Well, yes-and no. The answer is much more complicated, and considerably more interesting, than that.

What unicorns actually do look like has been a matter of some dispute for several centuries now. Some old accounts give them white bodies and red heads, with a short, three-colored horn. Others give them elephant's feet, a boar's tail and other equally improbable traits.

Oddly, while writers continued to disagree over what unicorns look like, artists kept coming back to the same basic idea: an animal much like a horse, but (in the better pictures) lighter and more graceful, with many goat-like qualities. In particular you should expect a unicorn to have a silky beard and hooves that are split, or cloven, like those of a goat.

But even though we can describe a unicorn as having some of the traits of both these animals, in truth these creatures are far more magical than either a goat or horse could ever hope to be. Even the best descriptions fall far short of what you would see if you actually met a unicorn some moonlit night beneath an apple tree. (Not a bad place to look, by the way. Some unicorns are wisdom personified, and wisdom can, indeed, often be found beneath an apple tree on such a night.)

Unicorns have many strange abilities. But of all the things they can do, it seems we are most fascinated by their power to heal. For the touch of a unicorn's horn can pull us away from death, toward immortality.

Unfortunately for the unicorn, the horn retains its power even without a unicorn attached- which has led people to hunt it rather ferociously.

The basic method for catching a unicorn is fairly simple. A pure young woman is taken into the woods and placed beneath a tree. Since unicorns are irresistibly attracted to such young ladies, if there is a unicorn in the vicinity it will come and lay its head in this maiden's lap. At this point she may sing to it, or slip a golden bridle over its head.

Once the unicorn has been tamed in this manner, the hunters leap out from hiding and either capture or slaughter the beast. When they do, the greatest prize, of course, is the horn itself. (Though some people also believe there is a precious jewel, a "carbuncle," hidden underneath the horn.)

The correct term for the horn is "alicorn," a word some people think was invented simply because "unicorn horn" sounds so awkward.

Alicorns are among the most powerful of magical items. They were prized by popes and kings because they provided protection against all manner of evil, including epilepsy, pestilence and poisoning. A horn set in the middle of a table would begin to sweat, or form a dew, if any of the foodstuffs had been poisoned. Even a little powder filed from such a horn was an antidote to the most toxic substances. Small wonder that in a place like fourteenth-century Italy, where poisoning was a common way to deal with one's enemies, these horns were considered treasures indeed.

As might be expected, an item both so valuable (horns sometimes sold for ten times their weight in gold) and so rare (some legends have it that there is never more than one unicorn on earth at a time) was a great temptation for frauds.

With so many people selling false alicorns, it was necessary to find a way to determine which were real. Some of the tests included:

o Drawing a ring on the floor with the alicorn. A spider placed in such a ring would not be able to cross the line, and in fact would starve to death trapped within the circle.

o Placing the horn in water, which would cause the water to bubble and seem as if it were boiling, even though it remained cold.

o Placing a piece of silk upon a burning coal, and then laying the horn on top of the silk. If the horn was truly an alicorn, the silk would not be burned.

o Bringing the horn near a poisonous plant or animal, which would burst and die in reaction to it.

The trade in alicorns was very real in the Middle Ages, and many noble houses listed one of the mystical horns among its treasures.

However most of us today would agree it is far better to leave a unicorn's horn where it belongs: on top of its head!

With its horn properly in place, a unicorn can do many wonderful things. One of the most well known is purifying water for other animals, a trick known as "water conning." Generally this takes place where there is some venomous animal haunting the water hole. The serpent, or whatever, will slip out at night and poison the water. But at dawn the unicorn comes and dips its horn in the pool. Immediately the water is clean and pure once more.

Three famous warriors have been connected with unicorns-Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Caesar's connection was minor; he wrote of a unicorn that lived in the Hercynian Forest. But of Alexander it is actually said that he rode a unicorn-the famous Bucephalus, who many think was only a horse, but others claim was a unicorn. (Considering the fame Bucephalus gained as a warhorse, he was probably a relative of the kar-ka-dann, which you will meet below.) It is also said that Alexander and his men once had a battle with a tribe of unicorns. As for Genghis Khan, it is written that in the year 1206 he set out with a great army to conquer India. As he was standing in a mountain pass overlooking that great country, a one-horned beast came running up to him and knelt three times in token of reverence. The Mighty Khan took this as a signal from his dead father, and turned his army back.

Clearly, unicorns are known the world over. In addition to the horned horse-like/ goat-like creature we are familiar with, there is the Chinese unicorn, called the K'i-lin, which had a multi-colored body and (some said) a horn twelve feet long.

K'i-lin was very special to the Chinese. It was a creature of great power and wisdom, and its appearance was always a sign of good fortune. The most famous example happened over 2,500 years ago, when the K'i-lin came to a young woman named Yen Chen-tsai. Into her hand it dropped a tablet made of jade, the beautiful green stone used in much Chinese art. On the stone was a message, prophesying that she would become the mother of a "throneless king."

The prophecy was true, for Yen Chen-tsai became the mother of the great Chinese sage Confucius. Confucius never wore a crown or commanded men. Yet his teachings did as much to shape China as the power of many kings and warlords combined.

It was said that K'i-lin walked so softly its hooves made no sound. Some believed that this was because it was so soft-hearted it did not want to crush the blades of grass beneath its feet. It had a voice like a thousand wind chimes, avoided fighting at all costs and lived for a thousand years.

How different was the unicorn of Persia, the fierce and ferocious kar-ka-dann, a terrible beast that could attack and kill even an elephant! The only thing that could tame this savage animal was the ringdove; so soothing did the kar-ka-dann find their gentle calls, that it would lie peacefully beneath a tree where they were singing for hours on end. Though other animals couldn't even graze in the kar-ka-dann's territory, the ringdove was actually allowed to perch on the beast's horn.

Despite its worldwide fame, there are those who believe there are no more unicorns. One reason people give for their disappearance is that when Noah built the Ark, the unicorns didn't make it on board, either because they were too large, or too silly-playing games and frisking about until Noah couldn't wait any longer.

Copyright © 1988 by Bruce Coville

"The Lore of the Unicorn" copyright © 1987 by Bruce Coville. "The Unicorn in the Maze" copyright © 1987 by Megan Lindholm. "Unicorn" copyright © 1957 by William Jay Smith. Used by permission of the author. "A Net to Catch the Wind," by Margaret Greaves. Copyright © 1979 by Margaret Greaves. Reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. "Riddle" copyright © 1987 by Myra Cohn Livingston. Excerpts from A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L'Engle, copyright © 1987 by Crosswicks, Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. "Ragged John" copyright © 1987 by Bruce Coville. "Homeward Bound" copyright © 1987 by Bruce Coville. "The Paint Box" first appeared in The Flattered Flying Fish and Other Poems, by E. V. Rieu. Copyright © 1962 by E. V. Rieu. Chapters 14, 15, and 16 from The Transfigured Hart, by Jane Yolen. Originally published by Thomas Y. Crowell. Copyright © 1975 by Jane Yolen. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc. "The Unicorn," by Ella Young, first appeared in the March 1939 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Used by permission of The Horn Book, Inc. "The Snow White Pony" copyright © 1987 by Ardath Mayhar. "What News the Eagle Brought," from The Last Battle. Copyright © 1956 by C. S. Lewis. Used by permission of the Estate of C. S. Lewis. "Unicorn," by Nicholas Stuart Gray. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd., from Grimbold's Other World, by Nicholas Stuart Gray. Copyright © 1963. "The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn" copyright © 1987 by Patricia C. Wrede. "Starhorn" copyright © 1987 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. "The Court of the Summer King" copyright © 1987 by Jennifer Roberson. "The Strangers," by Audrey Alexandra Brown. First printed in Challenge to Time and Death (Macmillan of Canada). Copyright © 1947 by Audrey Alexandra Brown. "The Boy Who Drew Unicorns" copyright © 1987 by Jane Yolen. Used by permission of the author's agent, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Table of Contents

The Lore of the Unicorn1
The Unicorn in the Maze9
A Net to Catch the Wind29
The Valley of the Unicorns (from A Swiftly Tilting Planet)49
Ragged John75
Homeward Bound77
The Paint Box97
The Transfigured Hart (from The Transfigured Hart)98
The Unicorn111
The Snow White Pony112
What News the Eagle Brought (from The Last Battle)128
The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn144
The Court of the Summer King165
The Strangers189
The Boy Who Drew Unicorns191

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Unicorn Treasury: Stories, Poems, and Unicorn Lore 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
skstiles612 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When my daughter was younger and we owned a ceramic business, she painted a unicorn that she still has today. As she got older and more adept at painting it was repainted a lavender with sparkles all over itl The mane and tail were glittery pink and it had a golden horn. It came as no surprise when she handed me a book full of unicorn stories, poems and unicorn lore. The stories were very crisp and refreshing. This collection of stories and poems were told by some of my favorite authors like C.S. Lewis, Jane Yolen and Madeleine L'Engle. That is not to say the other contributors were not good. I was not familiar with many and that made the book even more charming. The cover art was gorgeous. It takes anyone who has ever loved fairy tales and transports them back into that world. It was snatched up the minute I put it on my shelves. This is a must read for all who love unicorns.
the1butterfly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book from the days of my childhood when I was obsessed with unicorns. This is a collection of tales by different authors, which, as is to be expected, vary in quality, but some are quite good. It also includes poems interspersed throughout, and some very nice illustrations.
momgoose More than 1 year ago
This is a great collection of a variety of poetry and stories and great illustrations
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book if you love fantasy and unicorns. I liked this book because it has many stories about unicorns, like one where a boy turns into a unicorn. But not all the stories have the unicorn being nice. In one, the unicorn holds a girl captive! If unicorns appeal to you, read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i remember when i was in third grade i always used to check this out... i even memorized the unicorn with the long white horn poem (and somehow i still remember it even though i am a freshman in college!!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I was in sixth grade,91/92, I loved this book. I would check it out from the library all the time. Great Art everything. It lets your imagination go.