Myths are fine, says Ruth Spencer, but 21st cen­tury be­liev­ers need to get the im­age right

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is un­of­fi­cially but ut­terly the year of the uni­corn. Th­ese days you can’t throw a brick with­out hit­ting an iri­des­cent lip­stick, a head­band with a horn on it or a pair of rainbow faux-fur leg warm­ers. You should prob­a­bly stop throw­ing bricks. Lit­er­ally just a horse that knows how to ac­ces­sorise, the uni­corn is a strange sort of an­i­mal to be into. Here are five bet­ter myth­i­cal crea­tures to waste en­thu­si­asm on.


Two words: fly­ing horse. A uni­corn’s horn does noth­ing ex­cept pro­vide a con­ve­nient place to store your donuts. Pe­ga­sus has gor­geous swan-like wings that al­low him to soar through the sky ex­actly like a uni­corn can’t. Pe­ga­sus is also the son of Me­dusa, the snake-haired woman whose glance can turn peo­ple to stone, or to put it another way, #goals.


By far the coolest of the half-hu­man myth­i­cal beasts. A mer­maid’s skin is al­ways clammy, and a cen­taur is just a guy on a horse who can’t get off. A sphinx is a gi­ant lion — al­ready cool — with a beau­ti­ful hu­man head that knows fiendish rid­dles. It’s from An­cient Egypt so you know its eye­liner is on fleek. This is the kind of fab­u­lous beast you want at din­ner par­ties: keep­ing the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing with pithy ques­tions, eat­ing dull peo­ple who can’t guess the answers, and oth­er­wise just look­ing sternly re­gal. Ba­si­cally a cryp­tid Kim Hill.


Made of many an­gry snakes and with breath so bad it can kill a per­son, Hy­dra is all of us in the morn­ing. If you cut the head off one of her snakes, two grow in its place, which proves that who­ever came up with it had ex­pe­ri­enced pluck­ing. Hy­dra’s blood and venom are poi­son, even her scent is poi­sonous; as toxic as Brit­ney circa 2003. Get­ting rid of Hy­dra is the only time you’ll be glad to be de­hy­drated.


The phoenix is a per­fect myth­i­cal an­i­mal to have as a pet, be­cause it gives you an or­na­men­tal pre­tend bird to put in­side that or­na­men­tal pre­tend bird­cage you al­ready own. When it dies it re­gen­er­ates in a ball of fire, so you might want to in­vest in a flame-proof trivet to go un­der its perch — but un­like most pets you won’t have to ex­plain the con­cept of death to lit­tle So­phie while you flush it down the loo.

Veg­etable Lamb of Tar­tary

It’s not in Harry Pot­ter and good luck find­ing any themed birth­day dec­o­ra­tions, but the veg­etable lamb or Barometz is a myth­i­cal an­i­mal that could re­ally speak to a mod­ern gen­er­a­tion. A sheep that grows as a plant, it’s teth­ered by its stalk/um­bil­i­cal cord and sur­vives on the fo­liage grow­ing around it. When that’s gone, both lamb and plant die. This is prob­a­bly a metaphor for hu­man­ity’s blind, sui­ci­dal plun­der­ing of the Earth’s re­sources, or maybe for when your phone bat­tery runs out but your cat is sit­ting on you. Be­ing both a plant and a mam­mal may not be much, but at least the Barometz’s su­per power isn’t “has a horn”.

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