Today we bring you a surprisingly dark story from an author better known for his comedies — and a story which shows that “dark” doesn’t have to mean “violent and edgy.”
Home is Where the Harp Is
[Dark] • 6,312 words
Ever since Bon-Bon left for a new life in Manehatten, Lyra’s life has lost its focus. She gets up, she goes to work, she eats, she goes to sleep. One day she knows she’s going build up the courage to tell Bon-Bon how she really feels about her and they can live happily ever after.
That day will never come. Something terrible is happening in Equestria. Something that could be the end of the world. The Smooze has arrived and no-one can stop it, not even Twilight Sparkle. What hope then does Lyra have?
FROM THE CURATORS: There was quite a bit of discussion concerning whether this was the best fanfic of the author’s to showcase; Blueshift has written plenty in other genres, and it’s difficult to compare a goofy, light-hearted parody with a much more serious piece like this.
But in the end, we all felt that Home is Where the Harp Is was an undeniably high-quality piece of writing: “…if anything of Blueshift’s gets put up, it should be “Home is Where the Harp Is,” which is better than nearly every other story in the fandom I’ve ever read,” said Vimbert.
Read on for our surprisingly breezy interview, in which Blueshift talks about the difference between writing drama and comedy, his love of repurposing characters and elements, and his fandom background in another Hasbro franchise.
Give us the standard biography.
My home planet was destroyed, I was sent to Earth as an infant and raised by a pair of kindly farmers from Kansas.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s actually a rather uninteresting story revolving around Transformers. It used to be quite a unique username but thanks to Half Life, it is now quite common. There’s at least two other people in the pony fandom using this as a handle, for example. If I had the chance to start again, I’d go for something really unique. Xxuypiq! or something. Try copying that!
Who’s your favorite pony?
For a long time I would say Twilight, as she was very much the ‘everyman’ character — an affable dork trying to get along in a confusing world and messing up half the time. Now she has got ‘main character syndrome’ and is a princess and an alicorn and can time travel. So the new Twilight is Scootaloo. God bless you little pony, never stop trying!
What’s your favorite episode?
Lesson Zero. It is an episode about Twilight getting wound up about completely inane stuff and going off the deep-end. As someone who suffers from regular anxiety attacks, it spoke to me. “At least you are not this bad,” it said.
What do you get from the show?
It’s refreshing once in a while to watch something that is both very well written and also nice. Everything is character-motivated, there’s funny, interesting plots, and situations aren’t resolved around who is better at shooting with a gun. It’s why the tendency of fandom to not only produce, but also embrace the ‘sex’n’violence’ of other genres and to stamp it only MLP infuriates me. Come on guys, it’s already perfect, don’t ruin it!
What do you want from life?
I genuinely still have no idea whatsoever. I keep hoping it will just click into place but it doesn’t. That’s kinda the point of this story, actually.
Why do you write?
Catharsis, mostly. I think a lot of my best stories are written when I’m feeling rather depressed about things, though of course if I get too down I can’t write. It’s a balance between the two. I like to write to share ideas, to make people happy, and to feel like I’ve gained some sort of achievement by actually finishing a story (this happens far less than you’d actually think, my harddrive is littered with half-finished pieces).
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read widely. If you only read fanfiction, you will never gain the armoury of skills necessary to progress past the same level of quality.
Plan. Before you start writing, you should have all the main beats in your story planned out. It is easy to tell a planned story apart from a meandering, unfocussed one.
What is your story about. Decide what you are writing about and why you are writing it. ‘A then B then C then D’ is not a story, it is just ‘stuff that happens’.
Don’t be terrible. Seriously. Stop writing terrible things. It’s depressing.
You and your stories have developed a reputation, mostly for late-game comedic twists. Where do you feel Home Is Where the Harp Is fits in with your larger body of work?
It’s interesting you say that. Yes, it’s true in that quite a few of my stories rely on rather silly twists, but those are the minority. In a way, that’s good because I enjoy trying to wrong-foot people.
Generally I have two types of story — the short one-shot comedy, and the longer, more considered pieces. The comedy is pretty disposable, to be honest. Lots of people like it, but I prefer to write stories that make people think for a good while after they have finished them, and Home is Where the Harp Is is one of those stories. It’s dark, but it’s not too dark — whenever I write something dark, I try and keep it within the world of the show as much as possible. To me, there’s a disconnect if you try and go too far — the reader realises it isn’t ‘real’ and you lose the suspension of disbelief needed to keep the story going. That’s also why I keep smattering in humour throughout even dark stories — because that’s how the in-character world works (also I literally can’t help myself).
I like to try and juggle genres and invert expectations. To me as a reader I enjoy stories that do that well, as it makes you sit back and re-evaluate your own perceptions and motivations for reading. One of the earliest stories I did (which is not one of my most accomplished works, but still enjoyable, I think) is ‘Twilight’s Best Friend’, where Hasbro repaint Dewdrop Dazzle comes to stay and slowly takes over Twilight’s life. While writing it, I found it interesting how many people in the comments would write things like “I hate Dewdrop Dazzle, I hope she dies,” and so in a rather Machiavellian authorial turn, having manipulated the audience in that way, I did kill her. The exact same people who were calling for her blood suddenly backtracked and started demanding that I find some way to bring her back / that such a thing was going too far!
‘The Star in Yellow’ is set up in a very similar way. It’s influenced by the classic Lovecraftian-esque story ‘The King In Yellow,’ so the audience automatically assumes they know what’s going on more than the characters. The genre tropes are all lined up, and then it turns out it’s not horror at all. Did some readers feel bad about their preconceptions? I hope so. ‘Life Is A Lemon’ is set up as another ‘Pony is X’ story, and I had a few people tell me they were waiting for the ‘hilarious twist’, but when the punch line comes it’s actually revealed to have been a tragedy the whole time. And of course it was. How could it be any other way?
That’s the important thing about twists and genre whiplashes, to me. It’s got to be both surprising and yet entirely logical. When you reach the moment where the entire story twists and turns like a Rubik cube and aligns into a pattern, it can’t come out of nowhere. I like to signal where a story is going from the very first paragraph — if you look back at most of my twisty stories, with the benefit of hindsight it’s as clear as day. Without that, it’s a puzzle. I like to think it gives value that you can read a story twice, gaining new things even though (or because) you know the twist.
How does writing a darker story like Home Is Where the Harp Is differ from writing a comedy?
There’s a very very thin line between comedy and dark stories. I find the line between them very interesting, though it can confuse some people if they’re not used to reading any sort of fiction (this is actually depressingly common). For example, someone getting a fork in the eye is ghastly and horrific. But also, someone getting a fork in the eye is absolutely hilarious. That same thing could happen in both a comedy and a dark story, and be played utterly differently (though I am sure there are some people who watch Looney Tunes and weep with distress every time Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff). Whatever story you’re writing, it’s very important to get the genre and the rules of the world in place firmly before you start, otherwise the reader won’t know if the cliff-hanger, where Fluttershy gets a fork in her eye, is either horrific or just a wacky comeuppance.
I have never written a story where Fluttershy gets a fork in her eye.
To actually answer the question, I think a story needs to have a ‘function.’ The function of a comedy is to be funny. That’s its job. You could write the most clever piece of philosophy in the world, but if the reader is not laughing as they read, it is an abysmal failure as a comedy. What’s the function of a ‘dark’ story? To scare the audience? To make them think? Whatever you choose, the story has to accomplish this, and the skill is in accomplishing this in a classy way — not by just murdering everyone, for example.
In fact, I find comedies a lot harder structurally, because my mental process tends to just chuck out everything I know about story construction and instead tries to push it full of snappy one-liners. With comedy, the pace and rhythm of the piece is a lot trickier to correctly maintain.
Your Smooze is not quite the same as that introduced to us in the original My Little Pony movie. What made you decide to alter how the Smooze works, and why in this particular way?
I enjoy resurrecting old or obscure concepts (and boy was it hilarious all the people declaring my story to be a ‘Friendship is Witchcraft’ spinoff because it included the Smooze). The Smooze was a villain from the 1980s My Little Pony movie, and was this weird singing purple ooze that flowed over everything and threatened to cover the world. It apparently turned you evil too if it touched you, but that wasn’t shown very well (I remember watching it, thinking ‘if I was making this, I would have the Smooze turn you evil if it touched you’ and then realising to my horror that that is exactly what they were trying — and failing — to get across. That’s real terror, my friends!). Eventually the ponies call upon the new toys, the Flutterponies, who go and murder the Smooze.
Poor guy. I mean, in the film the chief villains are these witches, who make the Smooze and set it free to roam. It’s just doing what it does, and singing a happy song while it does so. It’s obviously sentient, as it can sing and talk. Did the ponies try and reason with it before the cruel Flutterponies destroyed it? Did they say “Hi Smooze, look, we live here, but there’s a lovely empty valley over there you can live in?” You bet they didn’t! I think it’s very sad that on their first (and so far only) big-screen adventure, the ponies so readily turned to violence to solve their problem.
Is such moral angsting really justified over an old cartoon? Well, no. And yes. Because these old cartoons were the moral compasses for a generation. We cared about the lessons He-Man gave us at the end of each episode. We set our cartoon heroes up as exemplars whose actions our little minds should strive towards emulating. Yes, sitting down and calmly resolving a situation doesn’t make for a particularly exciting finale, but then again does that also mean that using violence to solve the problem is not just more exciting, but the desired outcome? Are the Michael Bay Transformer films actually the most morally corrupt films ever made? (This is the sort of metatextual angsting that I get into a lot in ‘The Star in Yellow’ too.)
So yes, it’s a reaction to the original 80s movie, but in such a way it literally doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of it.
Originally the story was loosely based off a prompt by Argembarger. I say loosely as I don’t tend to play well with prompts if I feel like I’m being railroaded. The original prompt was this:
“Pony scientists develop a chemical that makes everypony’s house go away in a way that even magic can’t undo. Now that everypony is homeless, Twilight Sparkle must develop her own chemical to bring their houses back before her friends do the unforgivable: comfort each other in their loss and develop romantic relationships with each other. How horrifying! [sad][random]”
Obviously he was angling for some sort of shipping fic. Thus, that is exactly not what he gets. Or indeed, much else of what the prompt had, save the spirit of it. Or not even that. Okay, I’m awful at prompts.
Why the Smooze? Why not the Smooze. The Smooze is the apocalypse. It is unstoppable, uncaring, implacable. The world ends in one terrifying day and there’s literally nothing you can do until you are surrounded by a purple lake that burbles and sings. Why did I change how it acts? I’m not sure, to be honest. I think it was one part wanting to mix it up a bit to be more interesting and really nail home the idea that once this thing starts, like a chain reaction it is impossible to contain (and ‘realistically’ cover the world in a day), and also to add something new. After all, we already have a story with the Smooze in it. It’s called “My Little Pony: The Movie”.
For those who have been paying attention to my other stories, yes, it was the same Smooze mentioned in the flashback in Star in Yellow. That’s why the last scrap of it was found in an old book. Wheels within wheels, people.
Someone once asked me if I was deliberately homaging Instrumentality from Evangelion. To which the answer is “y-yes, of course, I remember that, of course…”
Lyra’s character feels very familiar. Who do you think would benefit most from reading this story? (Alternately: What sort of person do you most want to read this story?)
I used Lyra, not because of the ‘lol humans/hands’ thing which seems to have permeated fandom to a horribly unfunny degree, but because to me at least, she symbolises us, the fandom. Home Is Where The Harp Is is not a story about the apocalypse, it is about missed chances and social isolation and waking up to discover that you have no idea where the last few months of your life have vanished to, because you’ve just spent it existing rather than living. The main thrust is the story is that one day the apocalypse happens, and for Lyra, life doesn’t change much at all.
I don’t want to say that this story posits any solution to the great question of the ennui of life. God knows I’ve not found it yet. But it asks a question which might not even occur to a lot of people. I know personally that sometimes I’ll wake up and realise I have no idea what I’ve actually achieved over the past weeks/months/years. To me, that’s more scary than any number of monsters.
You can read Home is Where the Harp Is at FIMFiction.net.