‘Look carefully and you’ll see them. Stone unicorns are everywhere. . .’
Guardians of the Wild Unicorns
By Lindsay Littleson
Published by Kelpies
Some of my all-time favourite novels are set in other worlds, such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Cornelia Funke’s wonderful Inkheart series. But right from the start, Guardians of the Wild Unicorns had to be set in contemporary Scotland. Unicorns are our country’s national animal and setting the story in the Highlands made perfect sense. There are statues of unicorns all over Scotland, from the Unicorn Fountain in Linlithgow Palace to the Merkat Crosses in Fife towns like Crail and Falkland. In the past, people believed that unicorns existed. They’re on our Royal Coat of Arms, part of our history.
But disaster has struck for the unicorn’s reputation. Something has gone terribly wrong. The unicorn has been stolen by toy and clothes manufacturers. It has been stripped of its strength and its dignity. Unicorns are being marketed as fluffy, sparkly, and strictly for girls. My strength as a children’s writer lies in creating realistic child protagonists to whom young readers can relate. In Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, my main characters, Lewis and Rhona, are dealing with serious difficulties in their home lives. Rhona is a young carer and Lewis has had to deal with his father’s alcohol issues. Combining their ‘real world’ problems with a sugary tale of cute, glittery unicorns would have jarred horribly and I needed to ensure that the unicorns’ mythical world had equal depth and darkness.
The unicorns in Guardians of the Wild Unicorns are neither cute nor sparkly. Like the heraldic unicorns of Scottish history, chained to symbolise their power and ferocity, my unicorns are fierce, wild animals, whose ancient magic makes them even more intimidating. Treating the unicorns as real animals made the task of combining the real world and mythical world straightforward to write. In the novel, the unicorns are the last of their kind, sheltering in Whindfall Forest in the Highlands. They are in danger, as are so many of the world’s wild animals, from human greed. The unicorns are being hunted, as rhinos are in Africa, because people believe that their horns have magical, medicinal powers and are willing to pay a lot of money for them, whatever the cost to the survival of the species.
My unicorns might be fierce, but no animal is a match for armed poachers. Endangered animals need the help of humans who are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect them, and Lewis and Rhona, two Glaswegian kids on their P7 residential trip, become the unicorns’ guardians. Rhona takes a while to believe in the existence of unicorns but when she is confronted with irrefutable evidence, she is as determined as Lewis to save them from a terrible fate. Magic begins to seep in to the real world, but as Lewis says, “it’s weird, but good weird.” Because if you’ve accepted the existence of unicorns, why would you not believe that magic is possible? Of course, the magic has to fit the story: fairies waving wands would have been totally inappropriate in Guardians of the Wild Unicorns. This is quiet, ancient magic, shimmering over the forest and in the peace of the walled garden, revealing itself in open doors and hidden messages. Until the story’s climax, when the magic becomes something far more powerful and deadly.
Guardians of the Wild Unicorns by Lindsay Littleson is published by Kelpies, priced £6.99