Mystery May

Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 5 to 6
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.62

     challenging words:    billy-goat, cloven, narwhal, uncatchable, Rowling, Shel, purity, symbolize, viking, often, mythical, legend, rhinoceros, wooly, throne, magical
     content words:    Ice Age, United Kingdom, Lewis Carroll, Shel Silverstein, Irish Rovers, Great Flood

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By Cindy Grigg

1     Unicorns have often been written about in books as gentle animals. They usually have magical powers and seem to symbolize purity and goodness. Unicorns are mythical creatures. No one knows for sure if they ever lived, or if someone just imagined them. Most people think of unicorns as an animal that looks like a horse, except that it has a long, spiral horn coming out of its forehead. However, in older stories, unicorns had billy-goat beards, lions' tails, and cloven hooves. Cloven hooves are hooves that are split in the middle, like a deer's hoof. All animals that have horns today also have cloven hooves. In some stories, unicorns were able to fly. Always, unicorns were seen as good creatures, shy, mysterious, beautiful, and uncatchable.
2     Whether or not unicorns were ever real creatures is one of the great mysteries of the past. There are ancient cave paintings of animals that seemed to have a long horn coming out of the front of their heads. Fossils have been found of a type of wooly rhinoceros that died out during the last Ice Age. Since a rhinoceros does have one horn on the front of its head, it may have been the animal that began the legend of the unicorn.
3     Part of the legend of the unicorn is that their horn could protect a person from poisons, diseases, or from being killed. Many cups and goblets found in European museums today were believed to have been made of unicorns' horns, when in fact they were made from the horn of a narwhal. A narwhal is an arctic whale that has a "horn," actually a tooth, which can grow up to nine feet long. Viking and other northern traders sold the narwhal teeth as "unicorn horns" for many times their weight in gold.

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