Year of the Unicorn Essay - Critical Essays

Andre Norton

Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Year of the Unicorn Analysis

Year of the Unicorn contains many themes of importance for young adults. The first of these is the idea of finding one’s identity and place in the world. In a related theme, the story deals with what it is like to be an outcast or a misfit in society. Finally, the novel looks at what it means to trust and love another person. Norton explores all these issues in the rich fantasy setting of the Witch World.

Gillan has no idea of who she is or from where she has come. Brought to the Dales on an enemy ship as a child, she has no memory of her previous life. She is taken in by a good family but eventually winds up in the cloisters of the Dames, a religious sect in the Dales where she has few friends. Gillan picks up a few hints that she might come from a land across the sea. She chooses to go with the Were Riders to do something else with her life and to avoid a bleak future in the cloisters. What she finds are further hints about her true identity, but none of much help. She is called a witch, but that epithet tells her little. As with many stories of self-discovery, Year of the Unicorn uses the journey or quest motif. Gillan’s physical journey leads her into Arvon and partial answers, but it is not until she goes into the dream land literally to find herself that she discovers what her powers truly are and who she is. She realizes that the answers have been inside her all along.

One of the reasons that Gillan wants to find out about herself is because she is a misfit in society. While most of the Dale folk are fair-skinned with light hair, she has black...

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