THE RAINBOW CONNECTION
Myths are fine, says Ruth Spencer, but 21st century believers need to get the image right
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”.