Today’s story doesn’t have long to make its point, but wow, what an impact it’ll leave.
Queen Of Queens
[Dark] [Drama] • 15,000 words
Our kind has it that the life of a queen is the happiest, for they are blessed with the shortest time in this world. A mighty queen will be remembered for eternity, forever residing in the hearts of her people. The greatest tragedy a queen can suffer is to be forgotten — to be stricken from history.
I refuse to bend before oblivion.
FROM THE CURATORS: Given the number of authors that entered Equestria Daily’s recent Outside Insight contest (and the quality of their prose), it’s no surprise that it’s been a rich source of RCL features — but what did surprise us was the breadth of the entries’ quality. Our last two features spotlighted the humorous end of the entries, but Queen of Queens is pure drama, with a tale of struggle and redemption. We unanimously agreed: what a drama it is.
“Now here’s an author who knows what they’re doing. The story of Chrysalis, from birth to death, is an unparalleled feat of worldbuilding,” Present Perfect said, and the first words out of JohnPerry were similar: “Absolutely exquisite worldbuilding.” Chris dug further in: “This is how you do worldbuilding. You make a couple of original assumptions that can still fit within the canon lore, and then you examine them to their fullest conclusions. [Queen of Queens’ changelings] are an amazing example of race-building in fiction — alien, yet recognizable enough to inspire empathy.”
The core concept — that, in contrast to mortal ponykind with its immortal alicorns, the changelings are an immortal race with short-lived leaders — was “an amazing idea, with sterling execution,” as Horizon put it; but this story went well beyond that. “It’s not often I get to see a sympathetic portrayal of Chrysalis that doesn’t make me roll my eyes,” JohnPerry said, but as Chris said, “she’s a compelling, interesting character despite the reserved narrative style. … Her fatal flaw is well-established without being sledgehammer-y, and that makes the ending (which, in lesser hands, would have felt like a copout) seem sincere.”
All of this, plus the engaging prose, added up to a gripping and unique fanfiction experience. “I drank this down in one sitting and never once felt my mind wander,” Chris said. “The entire story feels wonderfully, vibrantly alive.”
Read on for our author interview, in which JawJoe discusses holiday episodes, games of make-believe, and self-imposed existential nightmares.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m probably as stereotypical a “brony” as it gets. Student. Nerd. Stay indoors most of the time; the Sun is my enemy. (In my defence, I don’t own a fedora, neither am I overweight.)
My life has been thoroughly uninteresting. Had a few friends. Tried a bunch of sports. Went to school. I can’t tell you great tales of epic journeys undertaken, star-crossed love found and lost, or great rivalries overcome. Here’s hoping for good stuff ahead.
I’m not big on reading, actually. I keep telling myself I should read more, but you know how it goes. Still, although I don’t often go out of my way to find them, I do love stories.
As far back as kindergarten, I loved making up stories. I remember a game with my friends, where every day I’d come up with a new adventure that they’d have to win through. Essentially, I was the game master. Look, there’s a monster! The bridge is broken, you have to find another way across!
As I grew up and out of playing make believe, this habit died. The stories remained, however, albeit in my head alone. One-off adventures grew into narratives with characters and plot twists and villains who were so much cooler than the ones in those animes I saw on TV. I had fantasy, slice of life, sci-fi, all sorts of things, all with their separate stories and characters. The stories came and went, but something was always there as long as I can remember.
Yet the thought of actually writing anything down never occurred to me. Not until ponies.
It’s kind of pathetic, in a way, that it was My Little Pony of all things that inspired me to do something with the one thing I’ve always liked. Life’s weird like that, I guess.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I stole it.
Well, kind of. For a few years, I played World of Warcraft on an RP server. When creating your character, one of the options for the undead race is missing your lower jaw. One time I was hanging out in some inn, looking at the random RPing going on, and this undead guy without a jaw comes in with the name “Jawlessjoe.” I thought that was funny.
Around the same time, some friends and I used to hold AVP2 lan parties. And as we all know, Aliens are the best, so that’s what I always picked. I could never settle on a nick, so I just kept changing it. One day I decided to use “Jawlessjoe” because it was funny. That eventually morphed into JawJoe because I felt it more fitting for an alien. Because aliens bite, I guess.
Then the name stuck. So if you’re out there, Jawlessjoe, thanks. Cool name. Hope you don’t mind me using it.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Luna is best pony, but Twilight is the cutest, smartest mane 6, and all-around second best pony.
When I first started watching, back in season 1, Twilight was the absolute winner. Loved her snarky attitude and antisocial strain. Then season 2 rolled around, and we got a surprise visit from Princess Luna. Well, it was a surprise for me. Didn’t keep up with spoilers and fandom stuff back then.
I immediately identified with Luna trying to fit in and failing on every count. I’ve always been that kid, see. I also liked Luna Eclipsed’s “it’s okay to be different” message. So Luna became best pony. Later Luna episodes (what few we’ve had) further reinforced her best pony status by showing her to be at once distant yet deeply caring for others.
Man, I need a hug.
What’s your favorite episode?
The first two seasons. Love those, through and through. Yes, I cheated.
I never got over the whole Twilicorn thing. Yep, I’m still complaining about that. Come on — bad ideas don’t get better with age. And there’s a castle in Ponyville now. Sorry, that’s not Ponyville, that’s Twilight’s Kingdom. Ugh. Seriously though, the status quo changed too much, and the change was handled badly. It feels like a different show altogether — not the one I fell in love with way back when.
If I had to narrow my favourites down, I’d say the holiday-themed episodes of season 2. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, I just love all those episodes. Worldbuilding, fanfic fuel, and just sheer fun.
Narrowing it further, I’d change things up and go for “The Return of Harmony.” There’s nothing I don’t love about that one. Discord is best villain. Cotton candy apocalypse is best apocalypse. Maze is best plot device. Letters are best callback. But even that one’s a two-parter, so it’s kind of cheating, isn’t it?
Possibly my favourite stand-alone episodes are “It’s About Time” and “Sleepless in Ponyville.” They feel like episodes I could show to anyone — “brony” or not — and they’d probably enjoy it. Time is just flat out fun (Tara absolutely KILLS it in the past-future Twilight meeting scene), while Sleepless is such a heart-warming episode.
If I go the “purist” route and constrain myself to season 1, I’d pick “Swarm of the Century.” It doesn’t seem to be a well-liked episode, but I don’t care. Seeing Twilight’s first great mental breakdown is just too much fun. The parasprites feel like an excellent antagonist that fits snugly into the half-silly half-serious all-rainbows FiM world. Sure, the episode has some problems, but I feel it just works, and it works great.
“Swarm of the Century.” That’s my final pick.
What do you get from the show?
Less, now, than I used to. Thanks, M.A. Larson! But in all seriousness, the show made me smile when I needed it.
This whole “brony” phenomenon was blowing up right around a time I was going through a period of… let’s not call it “depression,” since it wasn’t a clinical case, but it was a period of general feelings of uncertainty, isolation, loneliness, hopelessness. Some of that came down to the raging hormones in a youth’s body. Some of that was because of family troubles. It probably wasn’t as bad as I experienced it.
Spending way too much time on the internet, like I usually do, I started seeing ponies everywhere. Ponified memes, image macros, people “brohoofing” each other, and spawning flame wars left and right. I shrugged it off for the most part. It was, I think, seeing one of the developers* of League of Legends post a pony thread on their own forum (“Mods are awake, post ponies!”) that finally ticked me off and made me look it up.
At first I thought people were making fun of the cartoon for being garbage. I mean, how could it not be garbage? It’s My Little Pony. But then I read up on it and found out that this was something that people genuinely enjoyed.
On one fateful Sunday night, I really didn’t feel like going to sleep and letting Monday start. So I figured, what the hell, let’s see what this pony thing is about. The rest is history.
Over the next few days I marathoned all the episodes** there were at the time. My enjoyment for the show was two-fold. First, I did genuinely like it. It was a good show. Second, the fact that I was watching My Little Pony helped me laugh. I laughed at myself, at all the prejudices I had, at what people might think if they found out — it was just too much to contain. I had to laugh.
The show got me through some of my worst days. That’s what it gave me.
Today, I seem to enjoy new episodes less and less. It might be just that I no longer “need” it. But the show will forever remain a good memory. Not a moment spent watching was wasted.
*It could’ve been just a forum mod or something, I can’t remember. I recall a Riot Red, though.
**I can’t be the only one nostalgic about MenloMarseilles’ YouTube channel.
What do you want from life?
A well-paying job. A pretty wife. Loving kids. A lifetime supply of Nutella. Maybe publish a book or two on the side. You know, the usual. My life’s been pretty simple up until this point, and I feel content keeping it that way.
Besides, I’ve never been one to plan far ahead. I can’t see the future. I don’t know what might happen, what I might decide to do later. I’ll just have to see what comes, and take opportunities as they present themselves. What else is there to do?
Why do you write?
Because I started writing one day and haven’t stopped. Because there are stories I want to tell. Because it breaks up the monotony of day-to-day life. Probably because of a lot of things I’m not even consciously aware of. I might stop writing tomorrow. Or never at all. I don’t know.
Recognition is probably a part of it. Fimfiction makes it easy to put your (nick)name out there. The moment you publish something, it’s going to be seen by hundreds, if not thousands of people. I’ve been lucky to garner an audience with my work here. The instant feedback helps keep me going. There are people listening to me here, so of course I’m going to talk. Or write, as it were.
I’m meaning to move towards getting actual, “original” novels published — but until I have the courage and ability to do that, fimfiction is an excellent training ground.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read a lot. In light of what I’ve said about me never reading anything, yes, that likely makes me a hypocrite. So here’s another piece of advice: learn from the mistakes of others. Learn from mine. I might not read books, but you should. The reason should be obvious.
Whenever you come across a story — be it a book, a film, a video game, whatever — try to look at it from a creator’s perspective. Why are these characters in the story? What purpose do they serve to the writer, and what purpose do they serve to the reader?
Pick stories apart, always. Examine every plot point. Why did the writer include this? How else could this have gone? Why do I like this story, but not that one?
Remember that episode of Breaking Bad where Saul explained to Jesse how money laundering works? That wasn’t just advancing the plot. The show’s creators deliberately included that scene to ensure that the audience is up to speed before they make money laundering a plot point.
The most important thing, I think, is the idea. Flesh out your idea, have a solid foundation for the story you want to tell. Everything else can come later. In other words, your goal isn’t to write something, it’s to tell a story. What makes for the best story? There are many kinds of stories, written for as many reasons and in as many ways. Why are you writing this story? What is it about this story that makes you want to tell it? What way should you write it for the greatest effect?
Romeo and Juliet worked just as well in Shakespeare’s theatre as it did with anthropomorphic big cats in Lion King 2. What’s at the heart of your story?
But then, my complete body of work so far consists of My Little Pony fanfiction on the internet. What do I know about writing? Go read a real book from a real author, or something.
This piece flips the standard immortality narrative on its head, making the leaders mortal and the lead immortal. What inspired this inversion?
A combination of things. In no particular order:
I wanted to break common changeling tropes. What better way to invert the usual “changelings are mindless bugs with no individual value [save for that one who breaks from the hive and learns to love]” trope than by making them all immortal and special? Their names also serve to reinforce this: every changeling is unique and has something to give to the world.
The fic was written for a contest. Specifically, the prompt was to write about ponies from a non-pony’s perspective. Changeling society is a direct inversion of pony society. I thought it was clever at the time.
The fic was cobbled together from a number of disjointed ideas I’ve had over the past year or so. Chrysalis facing death and having to reconcile her actions with her conscience was one of them. I had a fic planned with the title “SPOILER: Chrysalis Dies” which was was based on this premise. A bit like that show “My Name is Earl,” where Chrysalis goes around saying sorry for doing evil things just before she dies. I needed to kill Chrysalis somehow. Figured it might as well be old age.
By making Chrysalis live only 20 years, I could make her at once childish and wise. She’s supposed to live out everything humans (ponies?) do in a fraction of the time — things ought to get jumbled up. Playing with her fluctuating emotions and juxtaposing her inherited wisdom with her childish ignorance and arrogance was rather fun.
Figuring out why a race of immortal beings would crown a mortal as their queen was a fun challenge in and of itself.
Tell us about some of the long, descriptive names the characters have. How do they get them? Do they ever change?
I loved coming up with the names. With Queen of Queens, I really tried to cram as much story into as few words as possible. The way I saw it, every name told a story in and of itself. Not just the names of changelings, but even the names of places.
Anyone who’s read my other fics knows that I easily grow self-indulgent in description. I often go on for multiple paragraphs just explaining what this and that place look like. I did my best to avoid all that in Queen. I never explain what the “Plaza of Waterfalls” or the “Heatsink Plateau” look like — I trust the reader will come up with something fittingly grandiose in their heads.
As for the changelings themselves, in my original plan for the story, the only two to be named were the Queen and her consort. I knew from the start I wanted to do these crazy long, descriptive names — except originally they were going to be in Esperanto. The point was to show the sort of artificial beauty that defines changeling culture. Form over function.
But then I realised I don’t speak Esperanto, and couldn’t find anyone that does. Once I decided to just have the names in English, there was nothing stopping me from doing lots and lots of names. It allowed me to delve deeper into changeling culture, I think.
From a writer’s perspective, the long names are there to surprise and intrigue the reader. I didn’t think anyone would expect these kinds of names. Plus, again, I wanted to break common tropes. If I see one more changeling named after a bug or bug part, I’m going to defenestrate my monitor.
I wanted the readers to see the names and take a moment to imagine why they have it. Why did The One Who Ran A Thousand Days do all that running? Your guess is as good as mine, but it must have been something. Are you supposed to take Whose Words Made Statues Cry literally? Maybe. Maybe even the rest of the changelings don’t know, and maybe he likes it that way. Juxtaposing the grandness of the world and the tiny fraction of it one gets to see is at the heart of this fic.
In-story, changeling choose their names based on what they want to be remembered for. They are immortal beings, after all, each seeking to either do something that’s never been done before, or to do something better than it’s ever been done. Their names are their points of pride. When someone introduces themselves as He Who Tames Dragons, you’re not going to mess with them, are you?
As changelings are immortal, there could potentially be an infinite number of them. Traditional names kind of lose their meaning at that point. They all crave recognition amidst an endless sea of other changelings, so they put their greatest achievements forward as quickly as possible. As they age and do more and more things, they cycle through a vast number of names until they finally settle on the one they want to be remembered for until the rest of eternity.
After that point, whenever they can, they simple keep adding to their names; see The Greatest Consort To Our Beloved Queen And Her Teacher Mentor Friend Servant And He Who Will Carry Her Ashes And The Ashes Of Her Daughters. Being the consort to the Queens, he is of course held in high regard, and the length of his name reflects that: he has much to be proud of. “Friend” was added during the course of the story, reflecting that he’s still eager to expand his impressive list of titles.
At one point during writing, He Who Tames Dragons took on a brand new name. Something like “The First Instructor To Our Kind’s Great Army” or similar. That never made it into the fic. But, in my head, it’s not unheard of that a changeling chooses a completely new name (or is given one by a Queen) even after they’ve “settled.” For the changelings, change never ends, after all.
The Queens are different: they don’t choose their names, but their mothers pick instead. The Queens are generally far too proud to change anything about themselves, be it their name, their form, or their way of thinking. Childish stubbornness mixed with the wisdom of millennia.
They also tend to, perhaps subconsciously, look for connection to the Queens who came before; they’re the only changelings who deliberately choose names that once belonged to other changelings. Our Beloved Queen Who Brings Joy And Hope To Our Kind Under The Treacherous Sky the Third was, as the name suggests, the third to have that same name.
It also suggests an inner conflict, I think: each Queen wants to give a beautiful and meaningful name to her daughter, but often finds herself unable to come up with one. By picking a name that’s been picked before, they are at once admitting defeat and showing respect to those who came before.
The name “Chrysalis” picks for her daughter also ties in to her inherent selfishness and arrogance. When she named her, she was still thinking about herself, and not in fact about her daughter. Good intentions, failed execution. It’s totally deep. Again, at the time, I thought it was clever.
How can mortal beings like us best make use of our limited lives?
Yeah, let me tell you about the meaning of life. I’ll throw in the date of the Second Coming while at it, and as a bonus, a course in reversing entropy. Jeez.
If Queen of Queens has a message, it’s that time goes on. People make choices. Some regret them, and some don’t. Some get lucky and have a wonderful life. Others have their homes invaded by changelings and get their life force sucked out of them. I’m sure there’s a metaphor hidden in there somewhere if you squint hard enough.
Shit happens, and the only one who can choose how to deal with it is you. I’m not going to be the one to tell you how to live your life, at any rate. It’s probably for the best to have goals and aspirations, but plans don’t usually work.
You might become a serial murderer rapist. Or you might end world hunger and make dolphins speak. You probably don’t know which one it’s going to be. You don’t want to look back on your life and regret you’ve ever existed, but who knows?
So you have two choices: sit down and wait for death in a self-imposed existential nightmare, or keep your chin up and march onward into uncertainty. Cross your fingers and hope you make the right call.
Remember: if you know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going. It’s true!
But again, what do I know? I just write pony fanfiction.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t take ponies seriously. Don’t take anyone who reads pony fanfiction seriously. Most importantly, do not, under any circumstances, take anyone who writes pony fanfiction seriously.