Despite its short run of just twenty-six episodes, Kleo the Misfit Unicorn leaves a lasting impression on children living in Canada during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The French-Canadian children’s television series became popular with children under the age of five during its original run, in 1998. The premise of the series, (created by Gordon Stanfield) draws from folkloric aspects, but how and why? The following statement is taken from Wikipedia.org:
The only winged unicorn in existence. This is the star of the show, sent from the unicorn home world of ZaZma on a special mission: to aid the departure of those who arrive in Misfitland, but don't really belong there. She's the misfits' leader, and she becomes more assured in her role. (Wikipedia.org)
Well, Kleo is considered a “misfit” because she is a unicorn possessing wings. However, the nature of the aforementioned situation is more than just aesthetic and visual. From a folkloric perspective, winged unicorns are believed to be a sign of “bad omen” or “bad things to come”, and even “the end of the world”. However, winged unicorns also represent goodness and peace. Throughout this article, I will touch on why civilization has believed this to be true over time.
Unicorns and Folklore:
The mythological creature often referred to as the unicorn was first mentioned around the fifth century B.C.E., and resembles that of a domestic horse with the exception of the singular horn exceeding from its forehead:
The unicorn appeared in early Mesopotamian artworks, and it also was referred to in the ancient myths of India and China. The earliest description in Greek literature of a single-horned (Greek monokerōs, Latin unicornis) animal was by the historian Ctesias (c. 400 BCE), who related that the Indian wild ass was the size of a horse, with a white body, purple head, and blue eyes, and on its forehead was a cubit-long horn coloured red at the pointed tip, black in the middle, and white at the base. (britanica.com)
Although the aforementioned statement provides the origin story of the unicorn within the realms of mythology, 1998’s Kleo the Misfit Unicorn draws from darker aspects of the unicorn legend narratives. Keeping that in mind, alternate versions of the unicorn legend deviate from its original form through variation. Moreover, this allows the legend to continue garnering the interest of civilization throughout the centuries.
The Pegasus, or Alicorn:
Although similar in appearance, the traditional unicorn and the Pegasus or Alicorn are actually separate mythological creatures. Keeping that in mind, the concept of variation remains a significant part of the folkloristic world. Moreover, the titular “Kleo” is proven to be closely-related to the Alicorn instead. Drawing from the issue of “misfits”, Kleo is considered a misfit because she deviates from the traditional depiction of the unicorn mythos. However, the depiction of Kleo provides its own legend narrative separate from what was previously mentioned from Britannica.
With respect of folklore, the winged unicorn or “Alicorn” is considered a possible variant of the traditional unicorn legend. Keeping that in mind, the issue of the lack of certainty as to whether the winged unicorn is a true variant of the traditional depiction is what makes it folklore. Although the 1998 children’s television series does not portray Kleo as a “bad omen”, this idea comes from legends of the past:
Ancient Assyrian seals generally depicted winged unicorns (and winged bulls) as representives of evil. Due to these depictions relating the Alicorn to evil or at least destructive behavior, it is possible it is more closely related to the Bicorn. In a few contrasting cases, some winged unicorns represented (or at least sided with) light. (mythology.wikia.org)
The concept of the winged unicorn representing “evil” draws from society’s fear concerning things they do not understand. With respect of its original depiction, the unicorn legend was known for its beauty and somewhat peaceful nature. In terms of a unicorn possessing wings, ancient civilization viewed this as evil and the “bringer of the end of the world” because of its significant deviation from a mythological creature admired for its beauty and other aesthetic qualities.
Gordon Stanfield does not incorporate the issue of winged unicorns as depictions of evil and “the end of the world” in his 1998 children’s television series. However, he does integrate the issue of winged unicorns serving the “greater good” for the world. Throughout its twenty-six episodes, Kleo consistently helps others as a means of finding their place in the world. The concept of Kleo helping others, as well as those who believe themselves to be misfits, corresponds with the issue of winged unicorns presented as a depiction of “saviours” and “bringers of light”. Although Stanfield does not touch on the legend narrative of winged unicorns as evil, he does effectively teach valuable lessons to children concerning the “greater good” the world has required since its existence.
(c) The Modernist Son, 2020