everything you wanted to know about unicorns

Everything you always wanted to know about unicorns

What do you know about unicorns?

  • mythical creatures
  • look similar to horses
  • usually white
  • have a single horn protruding from the forehead.

What else is there to know?

It appears there could be much more to learn by engaging in philosophical discussions, especially with young children, about the existence of unicorns and their features.

For many years I have been a fan of Philosophy for Children (P4C), a pedagogical approach for teaching children to think critically, to wonder, question and reason. The approach is “taught” through student-led discussion in which the teacher is present to offer support, rather than leadership. Students are presented with a stimulus, about which they initially ask questions. When there are no more questions to ask, children discuss their thoughts and responses.

I knew unicorns would be a great starting point for philosophical discussions with children, so wasn’t surprised to find suggestions for conducting an enquiry into Unicorn Horns – Thinking about Things that Don’t Exist by The Philosophy Foundation.

The suggested discussion centres around fictional characters, including the more controversial ones such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy which I’ve previously discussed here and here.

What intrigued me most in the article was

“The problem (is) characterized in this statement ‘The Tooth Fairy does not exist’, which seems to say ‘there is something that does not exist’, but then if it does not exist then how can it be anything?”

Or another way of putting it,

“‘If there is anything that can’t exist, then it exists, so there can’t be anything that can’t exist.’”

Totally confused?

Me too! Please pop over to the article for greater clarity. Then maybe you can explain it to me.

The article continued with suggestions of other questions about unicorns that could be discussed; for example:

  • Are unicorns real?
  • If something doesn’t exist, can it have any special features?
  • How many horns does a unicorn have?
  • What if a unicorn is born without a horn, is it still a unicorn?
  • What if a horse is born with a horn, would it be a unicorn?
  • Since ‘uni’ means one, is any animal with one horn a unicorn?
  • What about a narwhal? Is it a unicorn?

My thoughts of unicorns this week were instigated by the flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a unicorn. It can be realistic or fantastical. Go where the prompt leads.

Now, I have written about unicorns before, here, here and here.

In a post about security comforters, I explained that a toy unicorn was of comfort to Marnie when she was feeling particularly vulnerable. Her need for it continued into her early school years and its appearance was an indicator to teachers that things were going badly for her again. When, as a confident adult, she returned to her childhood home, she found she had long outgrown the unicorn that had given her comfort as a child.

In some of Marnie’s stories, she was teased and bullied, mainly by a boy named Brucie. Fortunately, she had a good friend in Jasmine who was often there to offer her support.

In my response to Charli’s unicorn prompt, I revisit Marnie and Brucie and attempt to add a little philosophy to their discussion. I hope you like it.

Unicorns aren’t real

“What’s that supposed to be?” sneered Brucie.

Marnie bit her lip.

“Doesn’t look like anything to me,” he scoffed, inviting an audience.

“A unicorn,” she whispered.

“Miss said, ‘Draw your favourite animal.’ A unicorn can’t be your favourite animal–it’s not even real.”

Marnie continued drawing.

“Anyway, doesn’t look like a unicorn with those four horns.”

“They’re not horns.”

“Marnie’s unicorn’s got four horns,” laughed Brucie, a little too loudly.

Miss investigated.

“He said my unicorn’s got four horns. He said unicorns aren’t real.”

“How can unicorns have four horns if they’re not real?” asked Miss.

Brucie was silent.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

29 thoughts on “Everything you always wanted to know about unicorns

  1. Jules

    Imagination is a wonderful thing and should be allowed to grow just as a seed of corn.
    There is much we could debate on what was real or not ~ I enjoy Sci-fi does that mean that the fiction isn’t real especially when we actually do put humans in space?

    I always enjoy your sensitivity. And look forward to your ‘raven’ piece 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jules. I agree with you about imagination. I’m still not convinced either way about the “what is real?” debate.
      I hope you do enjoy my “raven” story.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Hugh's Views and News

    So many questions, Norah. And Santa Claus is not real? Are we really sure about that? 🤔
    I loved the outcome of your flash fiction. The tables were well and truly turned on Brucie. I believe that anything that exists in our minds is real. That frightens me a little, given how many of my short stories turn out.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. robbiesinspiration

    A lovely post about unicorns, Norah. My Gregory worked out that the tooth mouse and father Christmas did not exist in the form suggested by television when he was very young. His comment about Father Christmas was “He is the milk of human kindness”. His comment about the tooth mouse, “Now, where would a mouse get money from, ridiculous” – my five year old!

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Charli Mills

    Excellent idea to bring philosophy into your post and story, Norah. Philosophy can feel like a tongue-twister for the brain sometimes. And yet, I agree with Steve — you understand the paradox of existence enough to stop a bully in his tracks. I think this was one of the philosophies I studied in college and if I remember correctly (which I don’t always) it was one of the arguments for the existence of God. That in order to say God doesn’t exist you must first acknowledge he does. I’m glad Miss stepped in with Brucie and Marnie and we all got a good moment out of her question!

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Charli. I was thinking of the God debate as I wrote the post, but didn’t want to initiate a religious discussion. I’m happy to participate in one though. 🙂 It seems there may be a distinction between being “real” and existing.
      I’m pleased the story worked. I struggled with it a bit. At first I had Brucie adding the horns to Marnie’s picture, but couldn’t figure out where to go from there – so I made it as his way of interpreting lines on her drawing. I wasn’t sure whether he should be silent (as I said), or silenced, or whether his mouth gaped. I guess as long as it worked, that’s what matters. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Charli Mills

        I like that flash fiction forces us to make those decisions. I don’t think one way is necessarily better than another choice (silence versus being silenced) but it’s a way to experiment. In longer prose, we don’t have to make those cuts and sometimes we don’t take risks in writing. Whatever the religious debate, long live flash fiction! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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  5. dgkaye

    Loved the story Norah. Getting back to writing about something that doesn’t exist – how do we explain fictional worlds and world building in stories that are merely created from the mind and purely fiction. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  6. Annecdotist

    I love how you’ve turned this prompted into philosophy discussion. It is quite weird discussing something that doesn’t exist when making it the subject of discussion somehow brings it into existence. I think I’d need a five-year-old to explain the philosophy to me fully, but I thought I could understand your first quote better than the second – which is puzzling if they mean the same thing. Thanks for another thoughtful post.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I agree that it’s weird, Anne, and I’m not sure if they mean the same thing. That was my interpretation and, as I said, I was a trifle confused. I don’t know how we prove something doesn’t exist, if just saying it doesn’t exist means it does. I do miss my philosophical discussions. I’m not sure if I was more or less confused at the time, but I think I felt more sure of my understanding. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Steven. It’s nice to see you back here again. I am confused, though. I don’t know how we prove that something doesn’t exist. Seems as soon as we say it doesn’t exist, it does! I don’t think it would work with a million dollars in the bank, though. 🙂

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      1. Steven

        Indeed not, although… have you checked your bank account yet? In my non-philosophers comprehension, I think to some extent it is a bit of a play on words depending on how grounded your thinking is.

        My interpretation of the problem is that if you can say that something doesn’t exist, then that implies that you have been able to describe certain characteristics that compose of and identify that item. In that action, you formalise the description of the object and metaphorically bring it into your existence. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to approach it from the other way… we know what things exist and if we find that something is genuinely indescribable, then how can it possibly exist?

        I would definitely agree with Anne’s statement that the first quote (about the Tooth Fairy) was easier to get a handle on compared to the second one; it seems a little more tangible to comprehend to me. The “Tooth Fairy does not exist”, implies that you can describe what the Tooth Fairy is, so you (and I) know exactly who/what you are talking about. Therefore the Tooth Fairy (as a concept) must exist. If it didn’t, how could you/we be discussing it? Similarly, unicorns are “real” because you and I know what we are both talking about. Although, admittedly I had never considered a four-horned variety.

        Liked by 2 people

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you for attempting to clarify the situation about existence and non-existence for me, Steven. By this definition, it seems as if there is nothing that doesn’t exist. Nothing that we can imagine, anyway. It reminds me of what is often said about young children as they develop language – until they have words (or maybe thoughts) to describe something, it doesn’t exist to them. Having the language to describe it, brings it into existence for them.
          I don’t think Marnie’s unicorn had four horns. Brucie was just being mean about her drawing. 🙂

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