We’re pleased to inaugurate the Royal Canterlot Library’s weekly story features with a look at one of the fandom’s iconic, most-beloved comedies.
Princess Celestia Hates Tea
[Comedy] • 8,536 words
Seriously, a lot.
FROM THE CURATORS: Normally, during our selection process, we take sides and discuss a story’s merits and flaws — but this one won a rare unanimous approval. So what makes this story of a revealed secret and an escalating misunderstanding so exemplary? First of all, it’s simply hilarious. “My poor boyfriend (who was just trying to get to sleep) was kept awake for some minutes thanks to my gales of laughter from this story,” Vimbert said. “This is fantastic in every way.”
Part of that comes from its unexpected depth. “It draws its humor,” Horizon said, “from … letting everyone’s plausible behaviors draw them into the most ludicrous possible situation. Then, just when you think you’re done, it punches you in the gut with an insight about one of the show’s deepest characters.”
Read on below the break for our interview with Skywriter — where he offers a theory about his story’s unexpected popularity, and shares his personal feelings about tea.
Give us the standard biography.
Hi! For all practical purposes, I’m Jeffrey C. Wells, better known to the fandom as “Skywriter”. I’ve been penning fiction for about sixteen years, ever since I earned the human equivalent of a writing cutie mark via a classic C.M.C. “Show Stoppers” scenario. (Skywriter: “Ugh! I don’t want to write! I wanna be an actor!” College Registrar: “Sorry, you need to take this class to earn your minor.” Director: “Also, your acting sucks.”) I started out in playwriting, branched out quickly to prose, and in recent years have branched out yet again to webcomic scriptwriting. You can check out my non-Pony prose over on my blog at scrivnarium.net, and my webcomic “Skin Horse” (whose coincidentally equine name is just that) can be found at gocomics.com/skinhorse. Check ’em out!
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
“Skywriter” came out of my first formal “My Little Pony” fanfic idea, back before I realized that opening with an OC story might be seen as bad form. In this story (which, mercifully, never saw the light of day), an unremarkable pegasus colt named Skywriter whose special talent is, you guessed it, skywriting, gets all depressed because his contrail manifests as a simple line of gray cloud-stuff rather than the flashier ones of ponies like Rainbow Dash. He consults the Mane Six for ideas about how one might obtain a more colorful trail, which only results in him getting sick from eating too many shiny red apples and crashing mid-flight due to the weight of his overly-gaudy costumes. Eventually, Celestia steps in and demonstrates that plain clouds can also be beautiful by setting the sun behind his sky-drawings, causing them to light up in all the colors he’s been dreaming of. It was mawkish and sentimental, but I found myself empathizing with the main character, who, like me, is a neurotic wreck who tends to blot out the sky with (in his case, literal) walls of text. Ergo, when I took the plunge and joined FiMFiction.net, that was the handle I chose.
Who’s your favorite pony?
In terms of pure canonical content, I’m a big fan of Twilight Sparkle. Her particular mix of adorkable nerdity and badass power-girlhood is relentlessly appealing to me. When you broaden things to include the fanon, I have a harder time picking between her and the other three Princesses. I love some of the things the fandom’s done with Celestia and Luna, and developing Cadance’s virtually-nonexistent character has been a hobby of mine for quite some time now.
What’s your favorite episode?
I have to pick just one? I loved “Winter Wrap Up” for its world-building and for giving us the series’s first big-theatre musical number, I dig the balance between frilliness and darkness that the writers managed to hit in “The Crystal Empire”, and I can watch “Hurricane Fluttershy” over and over again nonstop.
What do you get from the show?
Happiness? Hope? A sense of belonging? More than I would have expected from a silly little cartoon whose writing I frequently take issue with, in any case.
What do you want from life?
Happiness, hope, and a sense of belonging. Perhaps not coincidentally.
Why do you write?
The inimitable Bad Horse asked me this question once, and I probably can’t say it any better now than I did then. I write because of a number of reasons, all depending on what you mean by the word “because”. In a purely causal sense, I write because my college wouldn’t let me take the acting classes I wanted. In an artistic sense, I write because I have the power to string words together in a way that eventually pleases both me and other people, and I enjoy pleasure. In a pragmatic sense, I write because people are sometimes paying me to do it. And finally, in a spiritual sense, I write because creation is the only thing that can even metaphorically drive back entropy, because it placates the voices in my head, because life is way too damn short, and because I am a writer.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Keep writing, even when you’re discouraged or uninspired; but also learn to tell when a story needs to sit for a while for further percolation. Find something safe and physical to do that doesn’t take much conscious thought, because physical activity has a way of freeing the meditative mind. Always know where you’re going with a story, but at the same time always give yourself and your characters the freedom to deviate from that path on the spur of the moment. Find inspiration in trivial things, trust your gut, and pay attention to those times when a detail of the world around you seems to stand out from the background noise for reasons you can’t explain. Cultivate your fascinations. Play.
Many of your stories prominently feature the show’s alicorns. What is it that makes them good characters?
I frickin’ love alicorns! (Even though I still hate the bastardization of the term.) I’ve always liked the trope of “hyper-powerful ostensibly-enlightened beings who nonetheless still struggle with everyday concerns”, and beyond that, each one has her own particular charm. I love Celestia for being an ancient magical tyrant-smiting warrior-goddess who is equally comfortable attending girly little tea parties, and I love the thought of her dealing with persnickety Canterlot ponies who simply cannot understand that her occasional bouts of silliness are not simply eccentric foibles but are instead a very real safety valve against the mind-numbing strains of immortality. I love Luna because she tries so hard to be loved, and because more than any other character in the show she exemplifies the truth that the mere act of finding your destiny and special purpose in life does not guarantee of a smooth road thereafter. As mentioned earlier, Cadance doesn’t have a lot of definition yet, but I love watching Cadance and Celestia play off one another in my head, especially if you hypothesize (as I do) that Cadance became Celestia’s Luna-surrogate after her banishment and that Cady has spent her entire life soaking up the emotional byproducts of Celestia’s enormous regret. Finally, Twilight is Twilight. We covered my fondness for her above.
You’ve said you almost didn’t post this story, and yet it’s by far the most upvoted fanfic you’ve written. What do you think accounts for its popularity?
Well, it’s not a big time-commitment, for one thing. Neither is it a big emotional commitment; an E-rated light comedy (its arguably-dark ending notwithstanding) is about as low a barrier as you can get on that front. Additionally, it turns out that tea is a very emotional thing for people! Some folks view tea with a positively sacred reverence, while others (perhaps befuddled by the first group and unable to understand what’s so all-fired sacred about an insipid boiled-leaf beverage) actually seem to experience an unusually-strong emotional backlash against it. I think the former camp may view the story as a playful little slap while the latter camp sees it as the tale of a heroine comically struggling with the same feelings that they themselves have, and thus both groups can find enjoyment in it.
In the end, though, I don’t know. The story is bizarrely popular. I think it might be the second-most read single work of fiction I’ve ever written, full stop. I did not expect it to become this thing.
What are some of your comedic influences, and what lessons did you learn from them that helped you craft this story?
Like most nerds of any stripe, I grew up reading the works of Douglas Adams and Sir Terry Pratchett. From Adams I learned that mundane frustrations and incongruities will become hilarious if you just keep escalating them beyond the point of sense and reason, and from Pratchett I learned that written humor relies on the timing of its language just as much as live-action humor does. I like to think that both lessons are on display in this story.
How does writing fanfiction differ from writing professionally (e.g., for your webcomic Skin Horse)?
There’s a lot less pressure, for one thing. Fanfiction has no deadlines except the ones you give yourself. It’s never going to become part of your portfolio (although, the Internet being the Internet, one always needs to be mindful of publishers who will look outside your portfolio to see what else you’re up to…) There is no worry about whether or not you’re going to be able to sell something (or, in the case of Kickstarter incentives, whether people are going to feel like they got their money’s worth) because, hey, you can’t professionally sell unlicensed derivative work in the first place. It’s very relaxing, inasmuch as anything I write can be considered relaxing.
What’s your own personal opinion of tea?
I like tea and will almost always accept pre-prepared tea when it is offered to me, but I don’t like it enough to bother making it for myself most days. Plus, I don’t own a kettle, so the whole ceremony aspect, which I understand to be half the charm, is reduced to me dunking a little paper bag in a mug of microwaved water. It’s hard to get too enthusiastic about that.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m honored and flattered to be part of this new archive! I hope to see it filled with wonderful things. Thanks to everyone for reading, and for being part of such an amazingly creative fandom community. Pony fans are best fans.
(You can read or download Princess Celestia Hates Tea at FIMFiction.)