One of the things I enjoy about the fantasy transformation webcomic Exiern is its sense of whimsy. I will admit that when Thomas Knapp took over writing duties from Drowemos, I was a bit concerned that this element of whimsy might be misplaced as Knapp shifted the story away from its fanservice roots and closer to classic fantasy storytelling. Fortunately my concerns were misplaced, as the latest update with Tiffany and Princess Peonie shows; interestingly, Knapp used this moment to answer a question that honestly never crossed my mind: why Tiffany is able to ride the unicorn that was summoned at the start of the comic.
I find this amusing as I am quite aware of the mythos behind unicorns and how they only allow virgins to ride them. The thing is, in many ways Tiffany was reborn when Typhan-Knee was afflicted with the curse that transformed him into a woman (which actually brings about an interesting question: would someone transformed into a woman be virginal, seeing that their body is being recreated into a new female form… and the concepts of male and female virginity tend to differ on several levels). The thought that Typhan-Knee had never been with a woman prior to being cursed never really entered into my view of the character. Nor, honestly, did it matter.
What’s interesting is Peonie’s wording as she taunted Tiffany over her apparent lack of “conquests” – the concept that only those of “pure virtue” can ride a unicorn. I must admit that I don’t particularly consider “virginity” to being an aspect of virtue. Instead, I would see a person’s character as integral to that… and for all that Tiffany is from the barbarian tribes to the north of her world, she appears to be fairly honorable in her actions and in keeping her word. And for that matter, back when the dark wizard Faden regained his power, the unicorn abandoned Tiffany when she chose to pursue the wizard rather than save the life of a young boy whose hand Faden stole.
In short, she acted out of vengeance and anger, traits not associated with virtue… and the unicorn spurned her. And this also says something about Peonie’s character. We’ve seen she is weak of will and was subject to Faden’s control even when his power was at its nadir. She also has acted selfishly and without considering others (such as when she had Tiffany tied up so the priests could try and break the curse on her… despite the fact Tiffany distrusts the priesthood). Whether or not she’s virginal (and given that Peonie doesn’t deny the insinuation suggests she is not) ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is the type of person she is; she is her father’s daughter.
While it would be easy to brush aside this comic as superfluous, it did serve an added purpose beyond answering the unasked question on how Tiffany can ride the unicorn: it provide Knapp with the opportunity to indulge in whimsy before the story starts to darken. In this it’s the artwork that pulls this off, especially with the conniving post of Peonie… and Tiffany’s open-faced innocent smile at Peonie’s shock. It also continues with the conflict between Tiffany and Peonie that flared up after Peonie followed them and once more entered into harm’s path.