You know writing about unicorns or a unicorn people is not that uncommon. Even in my own time I've written at least 5 stories about unicorns specifically. (The first being a paragraph I wrote in 2nd grade.) I've also read various myths and stories relating the animal itself including "Into the Land of the Unicorns" by Bruce Coville, "The Unicorns of Balinor" series, "The Obsidian Trilogy" by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory and "The Last Unicorn" by Peter Beagle. (Yes, I read the book and have the movie.) I've also read a couple of short story collections about the beast and so on and so forth.
Lately on DeviantArt, where I find lots of visual inspiration, I find lots of Unicorn people as a race. Not just furry art either. I knew I wasn't alone in my imaginings of such things. (I mean one story I wrote was about a unicorn who turns into a girl. Completely unoriginal by the way). But the myths are very different.
At least in my mind, the Classic Myth, of the Unicorn was that is was a shy, fragile beast that could only be lured by a pure maid. The creature was a symbol of purity and sacredness. Something about that still holds charm for me. Many of the stories I read base the unicorn off of this notion. It is a beast of purity that loves pure things.
Some of the more modern takes make Unicorns prudish or stuck up. Arrogant unicorns are quite fun to read. "The Last Unicorn" is one of these since the unicorn is NOT human, she has no feelings of regret and places herself as something above and beyond human standing. (Until she's turned into one herself...but I won't spoil things). Actually, it's quite common for unicorns to be as arrogant as elves in LOTR.
Whenever I write a unicorn into my story, I take my influence from what I have read before of course. In one story I wrote (Angel Gate), the character of the Unicorn (named Unicorn) was a bit of an oddball. He was drawn by pure lads instead of pure maids which was going to be a plot device since the protagonist was looking for a new KING. I didn't give things a second thought because there was nothing sexual about the Unicorn seeking the pure lad over a pure maid. (I actually never distinguished the gender of the unicorn either in the writing). However, when I shared my story with a friend they pointed out that I had written a "gay unicorn" unintentionally.
This leads to the other modern view of the Unicorn being a symbol of homosexuality. (Phallic horn and all.) Obviously this clashes mightily with my preconception of the unicorn being a beast of purity. However, it's probably more common to find the "gay" strand in a unicorn character than not. And I've fallen into the trap time and time again. Because to me, the unicorn was never a symbol of anything sexual, until that fated day when I was told my unicorn was gay.
I recently decided to rewrite that story for NaNoWriMo last year and this time took into consideration what happened. Unicorn was a pivotal character in the story and this time give a male gender. I also changed the creature to something more carnivorous and dangerous because he was originally sent to kill the protagonist. In this version, the Unicorn can only speak into minds of virgins and anyone outside of that can not hear his voice. Thus he relies on the protagonist and some of the lesser characters to have himself heard, since he actually is a very wise and practical creature. His role was still the same. He was to "sense" pure hearted candidates for the new king, but in this case was more of an assistant since the protagonist had "signs" to follow. Still, despite my trying to put up that wall, I feel the hint of gayness in his character as he expresses true concern for the future king. I've actually abandoned this story (not because of poor unicorn) because I ran into a wall with the two main characters and the events to follow. I could not motivate myself to write more.
In a role play, I created a unicorn shape-shifter character for the sake of the story named Apollos. He was a young spoiled brat, which are fun characters to write and torment. He was obsessed with purity and cleanliness to the point of annoyance for almost all the characters except the stupid one (also played by me). Being the last of the white unicorns that were suppose to select a new high priestess if she should ever die (similar to the series 12 Kingdoms where the kirin (Chinese unicorn) chooses the next emperor. I really LOVE that myth). However, it turns out that the character he chooses is actually a new high priest because he likes him the best. There were even slight tones of affection towards him and distaste for the girl who liked him. (Although I ultimately intended those two to be together. :3) It was just SO easy to fall into that.
Browsing DeviantArt and finding others who have similar unicorn characters, I find that I'm not the only one who falls into this trap. In fact, it's more common to find a gay unicorn character than a straight one. And I find myself somewhat disappointed. It has become something of a novelty now. There are 2 artists that I found that had characters drawn exactly how I wanted to draw my own unicorn people (who actually I drew before creating fully). Except drawn in a much better art style than mine. They were charming in looks and supposed personality, but what caught me by surprise (I mean really I shouldn't have been surprised) was their sexual preference.
So why this thought bubble? Because I'm writing a novel series about a unicorn people. They shape-shift into their half-human form so they can relate to elves and fae. Yet also have animal forms to defend themselves and perform specific tasks. (Also called their "pure" form).
I've taken influence from every myth I enjoy: Unicorns of Balinor, the Last Unicorn, Classic Myth and 12 Kingdoms.
From Unicorns of Balinor I have various colors for my unicorns other than white.
12 Kingdoms I take the idea that the unicorn is a "heavenly beast". (Really, the kirin stuff in that series is SO fascinating and deep. I can't express its awesome sauce.)
The Last Unicorn takes the idea of arrogance, power and almost otherworldly quality.
Classic Myth is where the magic and desire for purity comes in for at least the white variety.
My Myth for Songs of the Brinds
Brinds (my unicorn people) take their root in religion and faith (heavenly beast). They believe they are a chosen people and that is why they are the ONLY creature in the world that can perform magic (in a loose sense of the term. Magic is more of a natural phenomenon.) And the thing is, they ARE the chosen people just like the Hebrews of ancient time where I also got lots of influence. And just like the ancient Hebrews, they are capture and exiled.
The various "clans" (or races actually) are defined by their powers and looks. Originally each "clan" was going to have specific duties. The White Unicorns where the center of religion and society that needed protection. Fire and Iron Unicorns were their army and protectors. Water Unicorns were their mouthpiece. But that went away after various iterations of the myth.
The White Unicorns in my tale are still incredibly special in their powers and there is a desire to protect them. They're kind of like the Tribe of Levi in the Old Testament you know. (The tribe of Priests fyi). They were the only tribe that was allowed to touch and carry the Ark of the Covenant. That's where that influence comes from.
The other tribes don't have specific jobs, but have special talents relating to various tasks.
I've gotten off topic haven't I? Yes. Well back to unicorns then.
I think the trouble with a Unicorn "people", giving them somewhat human appearances and everything is that they become less of the myth. Just like in the Last Unicorn, when the Unicorn became human she was dying and rotting and she could feel it. She started to lose her "unicorn-ness" the longer she was in the human body. Suddenly she had human emotions and could love and regret. There lies the problem of making unicorns too human. They lose a bit of their arrogance and immortalness.
The only unicorn "people" that somehow maintain their "heavenly" origin are the kirin in 12 Kingdoms. They're shape-shifting unicorns and are in-tune intimately with the "Way of Heaven". (Oriental Philosophy). Even the one character who had his empress fall in love with him was able to maintain his aloofness and fail to return the emotion. They could feel emotion and pain more deeply than humans perhaps that's why. Still their sensitivity to evil (represented by bloodshed) caused them pain and if their emperor sinned is caused illness and eventually death if the sinner did not repent. There was just something that remained stoic and pure about the creatures. And that may be because there was no use for sex in the world AT ALL because everything was born from egg-fruit on the trees. (That solves that problem!)
But the trend goes if a Unicorn becomes human, they lose their immortality and connection to holiness. I made my unicorn people very much human on purpose though. There are only loose ties to the myths where my inspiration came from. And I stick with my Western Philosophy (sex is good! ;D) and actually spent some time figuring out how "genetics" work and how the inability to bear a child through intimacy is seen as ungodly.
I feel I may be giving too much of my story away now. And I've drifted off on so many tangents that it's time to wrap up. So let me sum up the thoughts I've shared thus far.
-The Classic Myth as inspiration
-The modern common stereotype of homosexual unicorns
-My feelings about the mixing of human qualities with the immortal myth
-My many examples of unicorn myths that I like and find inspiring
-How I've used my myths and common myths to bring my story to life.