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Ask the Superhero: Unicorn Or Narwhal

Posted March 2, 2009

Originally published in Powell's Bookstore Blog.

At first blush this question is so ridiculous I cannot imagine answering it. You're pairing a terrestrial mammal against an aquatic one. One is magical, which conveys all sorts of unfair advantages and the other is Arctic, making it extremely hardy and resistant to the magical chilling breeze the unicorn is known to trot out in desperate situations.

To answer a little research is in order. The one time when these two creatures have ever possibly encountered one another goes back to the days when Atlantis was only 50% submerged (like the Netherlands). Narwhals are very social creatures and will congregate in places like Atlantis, where the locals were casting off all of their heaviest magical foods in a vein hope that the island/continent would not continue to sink. Some of these magical items would allow the narwhals to briefly exist on the surface and not flit off the first time they smelled some downwind sardine and krill pizza*. So we can say that it's possible for this matchup, if we suspend all known natural laws and allow the notion that the Atlantians had some recently escaped unicorns galloping away from their famed zoo.

It is even possible that the level of magic on the island would be strong enough that the narwhals would sprout legs, rather than flippers, and that they would be amenable to jousting their one horned brethren. Would they still be narwhals? No. They would be chubby unicorns. So we'll let the unicorns swim (not too hard to imagine) and they'll play a deadly little game of water polo.

Now that this horned and angry chess board is set we may commence.

As everyone knows, unicorns are made out of the tears cried into soft potpourri pillows in little girls' beds, who are weeping because their parents once again refused to buy them a pony for their birthday. This causes them to be gentle, loving, magical creatures, who are only angered when attacked, cornered, or see terrible renditions of themselves airbrushed on the windows of a van.

Enter the Narwhal, or "corpse whale." They grow up to sixteen feet in length. The spear coming out of the male narwhal is actually a tooth, not a horn, which can reach 10 feed in length. This is one of those times you have to revel in how awesome science is. Why spend all this time dreaming about unicorns when a whale can have a ten foot tooth?

The narwhal doesn't use the tooth for hunting, which would make you think that it could not successfully parry a blow from the unicorn. But how does he use the ten foot tooth? It's a targeting guide to shoot its eye lasers. The narwhal tooth's famed accuracy suggests that the unicorn might not even get close enough to gore the narwhal with its tiny horn.

The one facet of this battle that favors the unicorn is that it is wondrous and beautiful and nearly invulnerable due to the eldritch mane composed of little girl magic. But the likelihood that a minivan with a poorly airbrushed image of a unicorn will drive by right in the middle of the unicorn/narwhal joust is incredibly unlikely, and the unicorn will have little aggression to bring to the fight.

Given the combination of strength, size and lasers, any betting man would have to go with the narwhal.



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