This week’s story delves deep into the hidden mythology of Equestria to give us a touching, personal introduction to the monsters beneath its surface.
It Is My Fate To Enter Every Door
[Sad] [Slice of Life] • 3,399 words
Blythe Hyacinth Pie, Blinks to her family, makes her annual pilgrimage to Tartarus to see her grandparents and hopes for their redemption.
FROM THE CURATORS: One thing that impressed us all is the economy of the storytelling throughout. (It’s hard to believe the story clocks in at just over 3,000 words!) “One of the things I love about Cloud Wander as an author is how much characterization he can pack into the smallest spaces,” Chris said, “and Clyde Pie is an exemplar in this area; despite his presence being pretty much limited to the first few hundred words, I got a better impression of what he’s like from this story than from some that have spent a dozen times the verbiage on him.”
And it’s the interconnection of those ponies with the mythology that surrounds them that makes it such a treat. “This is a textbook example of how to do worldbuilding right,” Benman said. “Our glimpses of Tartarus tell us as much about the characters whose eyes we see through as they tell us about the underworld itself.”
Read on for our interview, where Cloud Wander — in his inimitable style — describes his own formative experience with a literary dive into monster-filled depths, and envisions Twilight Sparkle’s struggles with whipped cream.
Give us the standard biography.
“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” — Scaramouche by Sabatini.
Or, more simply: I am a native of San Diego, California, US. I graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in Computer Science. I have been a computer consultant, code monkey, database administrator, software developer and information-wrangler my whole professional life. I feel blessed that, for a short time, it was “cool” to be a programmer that wears Doc Martens. I mostly wear New Balance, these days. I’ve got wide feet.
A vivid memory: I was huddled in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of John Paul Jones Elementary, when a teacher challenged me: “What are you doing there?”
“Reading,” I said, a little impatiently. It seemed obvious. I’m holding a book right here! You are angry at me for reading? I was incredulous.
(Oh, by the way, as a small child, I could actually spell, “incredulous” and use it in a sentence. Also, “airlock” and “scorpion.” I was an autodidact, you might say.)
“Hand it over,” the teacher demanded, with a superior look, as if she had caught me reading porn or something.
It was Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
She hemmed and hawed over it for awhile. Then she gave it back to me. “That’s a little adult for you,” she said, gruffly.
“Oh, I can understand it. Can you?” I replied.
I really admire teachers. They do their best with the little monsters that they’ve been given to work with. But they’ve never liked me, for some reason. Go figure.
Sigh. Even today, I still need to work on my people skills.
I discovered My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic through Lauren Faust’s response to that fatuous essay that appeared in Ms. magazine. Miss Faust explained her goals and purpose in the new My Little Pony, and I was deeply impressed.
Watching the early episodes on YouTube, I suddenly realized, halfway through The Ticket Master, that I really wanted to know how Twilight resolved her dilemma. That’s good writing. Once you come to care, the writers have you by the heartstrings.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
“Cloud” is by way of Monty Python’s “Airplane” sketch. I was trying to come up with the pegasus equivalent of “Bob,” and imagined two parents, not very bright, playing “I Spy With My Little Eye” as they struggled to name the baby.
Mom, tired and a little pissed off, looks about and suggests, “Sky.”
Dad, apologetically, touches her hoof and reminds her, “It’s a boy, dear.”
“Okay. How about Cloud?”
That would have not been Dad’s first choice. But Mom has had a rugged day. “Cloud it is!” he rejoices.
The “Wander” bit is from Wordsworth: “I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills.”
Who’s your favorite pony?
Twilight Sparkle. I say this without equivocation.
There have been many late nights when I’ve imagined myself beside Twilight. She’s studying her books, while I’m working on my stories. When the rain starts, she asks me if I’d like a hot chocolate. I say, “yes,” although I’m embarrassed I didn’t ask her first.
So she stands at the little kitchenette in the Library, fussing over the milk. She asks me if I want whipped cream on mine and I tell her not to bother. But she presents me with a warm, stoneware mug with gobs of whipped cream.
We look at each other. We go back to our books. And, laughing to myself, I don’t tell her about the dab of whipped cream on her nose.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Sisterhoof Social.” There are just so many things to love in this story.
Rarity’s parents. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer to sit up and shout, what? what?! as Rarity trotted past her parents in the kitchen.
Rarity’s interaction with Sweetie Belle throughout the episode. Likewise, Applejack with Apple Bloom. We kind of assume that all ponies get along. But, here, at last, we see family, as troublesome as they can be.
Tabitha St. Germain! Her talent as a voice actor simply dominates this episode.
The growth of Rarity’s relationship with Applejack. They were at each other throats in “Look Before You Sleep,” but here Rarity looks to Applejack for advice.
SPOILER ALERT! I am an old, cynical moviehound, but the switch between Rarity and Applejack totally fooled me. I had to go back to the episode a second time to figure out why. It was the “grape juice” scene. We see Applejack covered in grape glop and, later, when we see “her” covered in mud, we naturally assume it’s still Applejack. This is brilliant writing. This is why I love MLP:FIM.
What do you get from the show?
Hope. (The Seventh Element!) “That same small town in each of us.” (Don Henley, “The End of the Innocence.”)
Some nice folk made this show. Other nice folk watch and love it. We all hold this dream, I think, in one form or another. I hold hope for my dream of a place where I can wake up one morning, step outside my door and quarrel with my neighbor about which is better, a blueberry or banana muffin? And that is the most terrible decision we’ll make all day.
What do you want from life?
To die quietly. I have seen too many friends suffer for months, in pain, struggling to hold onto life, with so little result.
More immediately, I’d like some folks to read and laugh at my stories! I cannot tell you how alive I feel, when a reader comments on one of my stories.
My stories are all that I am, if you think about it.
Why do you write?
Because I love to read. And because I love the things I read, I want to contribute in my small way.
In my teenage years, it was because of ego. I wanted to be the youngest writer to win the Hugo award for most awesome fiction! So I wrote terrible stories that were rightly rejected.
And I stank. Well and truly stank, as only an eager, well-intentioned 12-year-old can stink. (I wish I still had those old stories. They were a hoot!)
I wrote about my first encounter with Captain Kirk and Mister Spock. Of course, they were in awe of me. “Captain, may I suggest,” said Spock, “that we add Ensign Mary Sue to the command staff?”
“She… has… potential,” said Captain Kirk, disappointed that I didn’t wear a shorter skirt. Um, Captain, my name may be Mary Sue, but I’m a guy, okay?
I drew an Elfquest comic strip for awhile. I’m not an artist. By today’s standards, I’m not even an cartoonist. But it was funny.
After years of struggle, I finally decided to just accept myself. I’m never going to be a bestselling writer. I’m never going to luxuriate in the accolades of my peers. But, really, who cares about that? I’ve got ponies to worry about.
I finally discovered joy in writing about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I enjoy immersing myself in the worries of Mrs. Cake, her dear husband and her worrisome children. I enjoy putting myself in Gummy’s head, looking out from his staring eyes.
I write because, for a little while, everyday, I live in Ponyville, the best place I would ever want to be.
What advice do you have for authors looking to draw on real-world mythology for their stories?
Ha-ha! “Real-world mythology” is a conundrum! But I understand what you mean.
Here’s another story: when I was in junior high, I had to write an essay about some aspect of Greek mythology. I chose the Temple of Athena.
As I was copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on this topic to my essay, I was suddenly struck by the thought: they believed.
They believed enough that they erected a temple to their belief and hope.
I have not disrespected a religion or “mythology” since then. Who am I, to say your beliefs are not true?
So, prospective authors, start from this point: assume that there is a grain of truth in mythology. They believe. And so should you.
But don’t believe blindly. Consider the consequences. If the Gate to Tartarus is just over the hill from Ponyville, then of course Tartarus will have visitors. There’s probably a concession stand out front selling T-shirts: DAMNATION! LET’S DO THIS!
More seriously, myths, legends and folklore speak to us on a deep level. After I began writing My Little Pony stories, I started to research “talking animal” stories. It’s amazing how deep that rabbit hole goes! Aesop’s fables, Native American mythology, Uncle Remus, The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh and Pogo.
Mythology has meaning. Sometimes the meaning is ridiculous. (Zeus did what to Leda? As a swan?!) But sometimes the meaning has terrible purpose. The whole of the Odyssey is, after all, a tale of a man who went to war and struggles to get home to his wife and family.
This story has minor points of continuity with other stories you’ve written about the Pie family. How does this affect your writing?
The one point that I hold to in my writing about the Pie Family Farm is that they are bound to the land. Lauren Faust once stated, if I am correct, that the Earth Ponies have their own special connection to the land. When I write about the Pies, I try to emphasize this.
In my story, “The Boneyard,” I suggested that, even after millions of years, Earth Ponies still recognized each other as kin. I thought this was a powerful statement about the connection between the generations of Earth Ponies. They are stone. They endure.
In “It Is My Fate To Enter Every Door,” Clydesdale Pie embodies this spirit. He is stoic and determined. He understands that his purpose is to serve the land.
But then, there is Emma. His joy. His gift from the land. With her strange, crystalline eyes, filled with kindness and desire.
I know that a lot of writers see Pinkie Pie as a random goofball. But I see her as combining the stoic nature of her father (and, by extension, all Earth Ponies) and the strange legacy of her mother.
It’s hard to write about Pinkie Pie. She tends to dominate every scene she’s in. When Pinkie is on-stage, everpony else is just the straightpony.
My own notions about the Pie Family are about Inks, Blinks and Josh. (Yes, I followed the “Pac-Man” model of Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde.)
Incunabula Susan Pie, “Inks,” is the strong daughter that supports her father. Blythe Hyacinth Pie, “Blinks,” is the strong daughter that support her mother.
Joshington Traveller Pie is the ne’er-do-well brother of Clyde that, as a colt, ran away to join the circus. He’s a joker and a storyteller. In many ways, he’s like a more sedate Pinkie Pie.
We meet quite a few of Blythe’s parents and grandparents, and they all have very different ways of relating to their offspring. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Blythe’s mother and father adore her, for different reasons.
Clyde loves Blythe because on chilly mornings, Blythe is always there with mugs of hot cocoa. Blythe is a peerie girl, but when she puts on her harness, she pulls as hard as she can, and her father knows this.
Emma loves Blythe because her daughter carries the burden of her heritage with grace.
Blythe’s grandmother is a monster. Echidna is the mother of monsters. Since this is a My Little Pony fan fiction, I modeled Echidna after Catrina*, from “Escape from Catrina.” She is casually cruel, greedy, gloating and indifferent to the suffering she causes. She cares nothing for her children; she has so many, what would be the point?
Echidna is fascinated by the comings and goings of the bushwoolies, precisely because the bushwoolies are not her children. They surprise and delight her, although she won’t admit this, even to herself.
Echidna has collected Blythe’s notes to her. Echidna simply doesn’t know what to make of them. Sometimes, she puzzles over them, thinking them clues to a hidden treasure. “Love?” What is that?
Blythe’s grandfather is a monster. Typhon is terrible. His rage shakes the stars. But, under the cooling balm of Blythe’s visits, Typhon briefly knows peace.
Typhon is, in a way, in a more terrible place than Echidna. He knows that he has done wrong, but he only knows how to respond as a monster, through threats.
I would like to hope, in an elder age of Equestria, a time will come when the Princesses welcome them both to the Lands Above. “I understand your uncertainty,” says Luna rushing forward. “But come! My sister and I have so much to show you!”
You create a strong divide between the “mundane” world of rock-farming ponies and the magical otherworld of Hel. Where does Master Sergeant Mooch fit into this topology?
Master Sergeant Mooch stands before the Bridge of Sighs and considers his ill-fitting armor. He is the last “mundane” gate that you will meet if you plunge into Hel.
“The Bridge of Sighs,” for those curious, was the suggestion of Lord Byron, who noted that this bridge was the last sight the prisoners had of light and life before they entered their prison.
I’ve thought a lot about the Diamond Dogs and wondered about their role in Equestria. This notion that they are they are the guards of Tartarus strikes me as natural, given that Cerberus, in my imagining, is the god of good dogs.
For the Diamond Dogs, the town below the Gate of Hel is their Ponyville. They raise their pups, enjoy sausages from Sweet Doggie Acres and educate their children at Miss Charybdis’s Behavioral Academy. And when called to the point, they go.
I kind of like dogs, as you might tell.
Once you abandon the companionship of dogs, you are lost to your own devices. Which, I think, is what makes Blythe courageous in this story. She is relying on nothing but her own conviction.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I wrote this story for a competition, so I was in a hurry. I wanted to write this one bit, cartoonish, about the Coyote vs Roadrunner relationship between Vixen and Laelaps.
But, after all the nonsense, Vixen would just look back at her enemy and say, “It’s just you and me, ‘Laps. You ready to go on.” And he’d bark, “Yep! Yep! Let’s go!”
And the two of them would run on, through the Lands Below and the Lands Above, plotting and scheming against each other, the worst of enemies and the best of friends.
* “La Catrina has become the referential image of Death in Mexico.” Okay, “La Calavera Catrina” is a picture of a skeleton, but this left me speechless.
(You can read or download It Is My Fate To Enter Every Door at FIMFiction.net.)