This week’s story wanders far afield from the Equestria we know, painting a dark and compelling picture of an ancient tragedy.
The War And What Came After
[Dark] [Adventure] • 21,487 words
The earth had belonged to the People since time immemorial, until the ponies came to push them out. For centuries, they have hidden in the forest and the hills, slowly losing ground to their enemies.
But now the gods have chosen two young warriors.
FROM THE CURATORS: The majority of our debate over this story centered around its distance from the show — it’s essentially original fiction seasoned with some Equestrian spice. “For most of the fic, I was listening to a little voice in my head saying “at what point does this tie in to FIM in any way?'” Chris said. However, it won him over: “I never felt like I was wasting my time with it — that’s what I want out of a good story … and the characters are all beautifully grey yet sympathetic.”
Ultimately, that detachment from the source material gave the story room to show off one of its strongest features: its exemplary worldbuilding. “A satisfying story for me on many levels,” Horizon said. “I especially love his use of language to reinforce his setting.”
Read on for our interview, where Norsepony discusses the magic of writing, the joys of research, and which kinds of elves make the best ponyfic protagonists.
Give us the standard biography.
Howdy, I’m Norse Pony. Originally from San Diego, California, I have somehow found myself living in the middle-north of America, where the weather can’t make up its mind whether it’s going to roast you or freeze you, and the bugs are so plentiful that they’ve got their own seats in the state senate. I fall into the “above average” age bracket in this fandom but otherwise fit neatly into its average demographics, for good or ill. I’ve been part of the fandom since somewhere between season one and two. I’m a nerd about the art of animation, which is a big part of the reason I started watching MLP in the first place. I came for the animation, and stayed for the everything else.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
In my non-pony internet life, I go by the name of one of the Norse gods. So calling myself Norse Pony seemed both logical and thematic, and also a skosh less pretentious.
Who’s your favorite pony?
In the show, Rarity. I’m a sucker for good voice acting, and Tabitha St. Germain is a great VA. Her skill makes me love nearly every line Rarity delivers. Plus, Rarity is the creative among the cast. As a writer, I feel a sense of kinship to her.
To write about, my favorites would have to be the royal sisters, and particularly Celestia. Worldbuilding is my favorite part of writing, and there aren’t many characters with as much potential for worldbuilding as them.
What’s your favorite episode?
That’s a hard question. I think I’d have to go with Lesson Zero, because it’s so wonderfully over the top. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Suited For Success, because it’s the episode where I learned that Tabitha St. Germain is my favorite VA. In Rarity’s “wallowing” scene, the old movie references and her performance sold me forever on the show and on Rarity as a character.
What do you get from the show?
At first, I got a big community of folks who all came together to squeal over the show, which was a tremendously fun and welcoming environment. Now that the fandom is a few years old and has mostly splintered into a bunch of groups with disparate interests and focuses, that early sense of community is gone. These days, I get creative impetus, some from the show, but mostly from being part of the writing section of the fandom. Ponies is inspiring to a degree that is all out of proportion to what it is, and I’m just one of the uncountable thousands of people who want to make stuff because of it and the fandom which surrounds it.
What do you want from life?
I want to write things that make publishing companies want to pay me. I’m using ponyfic as a way to bootstrap myself up to a publishable level of skill, because I have few other marketable skills and I’d like to be able to pay for the roof over my own head someday.
Why do you write?
To get good enough to make money at it. But I guess a bigger-picture answer would be because I love the written word. I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. There’s a numinous quality to the ability to string together words in a way that lets you transport strangers into the lives of people who only exist in your head. I fell in love with that ability as the transportee, and it wasn’t long before I got the itch to be the magician who gave other people that feeling. Fast-forward past a lot of years of existing in a gray fog of depression, and ponies came into my life and rekindled that spark. I write because I can, and because my life is worse without writing, and because storytelling is a wonderful magic that only works when it’s shared.
What do you feel is the place of stories like this, that put little focus on ponies in favor of other races, in the greater body of fanfiction?
To explore the world. The show focuses on events in the lives of a small cast of characters—as it should, because it’s tuned for young minds. But the creators sprinkle the show with tidbits for older viewers: references to mythology, culture, history, etc. And as much as they intentionally put in, there is always more that can be inferred. The world the show is set in is much bigger than Ponyville, and much more interesting than the show can include. And to me, that’s fascinating. I want to know about dragon culture, especially given that dragons are so long-lived. I want to know what other peoples exist in Zecora’s homeland, and what the politics of Saddle Arabia are like. I find those questions more interesting than questions about the cast we know well, and fanfiction is the only place they can be answered.
(Incidentally, I wanna plug the main-line MLP comics here, because there’s a lovely amount of worldbuilding and question-answering in those books. I’ve been extremely pleased with every issue. If you’re reading this and you’re not reading the comics, you should see about changing that.)
What advice would you give to authors looking to expand on the Equestria presented in the show?
Ask questions and do research. Asking yourself things like “why is X the way it is in the show?” and “if X is that way, then does that mean that Y is also true?” can lead to interesting lines of speculation that could be the genesis of a story. By way of example, when Cerberus made its brief appearance in the show in It’s About Time, I was delighted by the ramifications, because that meant that Greek mythology has a presence in the world of MLP—specifically, it meant that Hades exists, and so by implication, any other parts of Greek myth exist too. I’ve always been fond of Greek myth, so I did research on Hades, both the god and the place, and when I learned that Hades was the son of Titans, it made me wonder if perhaps all immortals are the offspring of Titans, including Celestia and Luna. My musings on that topic never crystallized into a story nub, so nothing came of it, but those ideas live in my head now, and they might come in handy in some future story.
Research is incredibly useful, in my opinion. The stories and myths of human cultures are varied and fascinating, and they can add interesting new angles to a story idea or plot. And more than that, even when we’re writing about Technicolor ponies, or aliens, or snails who sing and dance, we’re always really writing about people. Research can illuminate things about culture or the human condition that add the stamp of verisimilitude to a story.
Or it can just teach you about a cool thing that would be cool in a story. Not everything needs to be cosmically important. It’s OK for a story just to be fun, or cool, or both. It’s all parts of the same storytelling magic.
What influences, if any, did you draw on for the People, their society and beliefs?
The reason I chose deer instead of any other kind of creature was as an homage to Jetfire’s “It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door,” which is one of my two all-time favorite stories in the fandom and one of the stories which directly inspired me to begin writing again after almost two decades without. When I began thinking about the story, I was thinking of writing my deer as Tolkien-flavored elves, as Jetfire did. But I quickly discarded that, because Tolkien’s elves aren’t particularly interesting to me in and of themselves. Their essential fatalism makes them poor main characters, as well.
Instead, I decided to base them on Elfquest’s elves, who are a dramatically different take on elves: a warrior culture, vital, passionate, lusty and lustful. And, importantly to my story, Elfquest’s Wolfriders are a people at war, fighting to hold their home against the spread of the fast-breeding humans. Elfquest also had a powerful influence on me early in my teens, so it was a way to pay homage to another one of the building blocks of my creative aesthetic.
As the pieces of the story nub came together in my mind over a week or so, I realized that the animistic aspect to the People’s world, and their relationship to their gods, hewed closer to some Native American beliefs than to the Wolfriders of Elfquest, and so I folded that influence into their portrayal. The shaman’s tale which opens the story was consciously written in a style patterned after the style of translated Native American creation myths, for example.
The day-to-day mechanics of the People’s way of life was my own creation. Or, to put it more accurately, I don’t know what the influences were for those aspects of the story. Some low fantasy settings, some Jean Auel… the usual sort of creative pastiche.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My favorite quote about writing and creativity in general:
“You have to get back on the horse. Somehow, and I don’t know how this kind of thing starts, we have started to lionize horseback-not-getting-on: these casual, a priori assertions of inevitable failure, which is nothing more than a gauze draped over your own pulsing terror. Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is. What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.” —Jerry Holkins
You have stories that only you can tell, and there are strangers out there who don’t know that they’re waiting to read them. Don’t give up. Add your magic to the world, because the world is always, always in need of more magic.
You can read The War And What Came After at FIMFiction.net.