…Okay, stay with me on this one.
While I spent the last weekend sick, I had time to do some musing on my novel getting type-casted as being middle-grade, despite knowing my prose is at 9th grade reading level, my main characters are seventeen (if sometimes decidedly immature, but…teenagers), and while the goblins are ridiculous, the hobgoblin is a real threat. I also knew most of the elements I used in my query/first 10 appear in other YA and even adult fiction books, so it couldn’t be them. What did that leave me with?
Now, I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up watching The Last Unicorn on repeat from the ages of 6 or 7 till…present. I love that movie. I can quote that movie from memory, and I’m due for a rewatch. And I can quote most of the Butterfly’s speech at that. Around 10, I found Bruce Coville’s A Glory of Unicorns and then his Unicorn Chronicles series. (I discovered The Unicorns of Balinor too young for it to click with me, the shortness started driving me nuts.) As a teenager, I kept hoping unicorns would feature more prominently in the Harry Potter series or in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books since they keep getting name-dropped along with the werewolves. I read the Acorna series by McCaffery, but it wasn’t the best thing ever since it was very much sci-fi and that isn’t my cup of cocoa most of the time (plus I got bored about the time the lead got a girl and gave up).
And now as an adult writer who keeps getting told her YA book is too MG in sheer concept, I have to wonder. At one point was it decided that after the age of 12, we no longer like unicorns? That they are meant to be cutsey and wootsey and pretty, but we have to grow up and start liking “serious” books that talk about the world around us, or that if we must do fantasy, shouldn’t we read about dragons, who can be both good or bad or neither and be beasts or companion?*
When I googled unicorns, I didn’t pull up images of Amalthea. I didn’t pull up pictures of fantasy artwork featuring them, like the poster that was in my childhood bedroom up until my mother sold her house four years ago. I didn’t even pull up pictures from old medieval texts, where they were trying to hash together what a unicorn looked like, and boy, were those a mess.
I pulled up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters. I pulled up cute, stout little chibi figures. I pulled up rainbow and glitter silhouettes. I even pull up a couple of collections of Unicornos, a collection of figurines big out of Asia with different crazy designs that reminds me of MLP in a lot of ways. Or I pull up the horn with a smile and big eyelashes underneath, which is the latest fad, particularly for these “unicorn” cakes. Worse, I pull up super cheap figurines and stuffed toys that are fine for those about age 9 and younger, but any older and you will get some funny looks.
This strikes me as odd. Now, I liked the first two seasons of MLP, but let me tell you, I’d have never admitted to that in high school. (Especially since the show got increasingly juvenile after Faust left.) And as for what I did have… Amalthea faced hardship, and had to change the fundamental core of what she was in order to save the others. Lightfoot and his people went to war, so people could continue to be happy, could continue to have art and music and joy to their lives, for without them, humans were a sad, miserable lot. I wasn’t embarrassed about enjoying those characters, because I knew that they could withstand the scrutiny. Yes, I was able to immerse myself in a fantasy about unicorns, about creatures called to young girls mostly, but they weren’t these one-dimensional ideas, they were actually people with personalities and flaws and growth.
So that now leaves me with a question. Has the world changed? Have teenagers decided they are too old for unicorns, that they don’t need the ideals but instead need the dark and the gritty reality of their world, or only knights and dragons? Or have we, the adults, just decided that they don’t need it anymore? That it’s just a security blanket of childhood, and that there is no depth to be found there?
I hope it’s the latter, and that we can change it. Because I don’t know about you all, but I still need unicorns. I still need to believe in something fundamentally good…even if some of them are jerks, like Moonshine, or a little too interested in fighting, like Sunny will grow up to be.
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