Go ahead, take just one little bite of today’s tempting tale …
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 18,225 words
Applejack, while surveying the border between Sweet Apple Acres and the Everfree forest, stumbles across a perfectly ordinary, garden-variety talking snake. In an apple tree. The mane six, of course, decide to be neighborly.
What’s the worst that could happen?
FROM THE CURATORS: While the title is almost identical to last week’s feature, this is a very different take on the concept of deification: “a story with religious themes, funny and thoughtful in equal turns, and without any super-depressing grim-dark or blatant preaching,” in the author’s own words. Our reaction was exemplified by Bradel, who assigned it a top score with a simple “Yup.”
Among the features earning this story its feature — and a rare unanimous vote — was its skillful blending of moods. “This is by turns profound, touching, and hilarious. It packs in a magnificent range of emotions in its 18,000 words, and none of them feel out of place,” horizon said. Chris also cited the exemplary characterization: “The way everypony reacted to the snake’s attempted temptations perfectly highlighted their characters, without falling back on their Elements as stereotypes. Most stories would have just given us ‘Dash is Loyal/Rarity is Generous/etc.,’ but this one is actually about those ponies, not just some convenient archetype.”
But, most of all, it was the deft touch with which it explored a deep (and sometimes touchy) subject both respectfully and authentically. As Present Perfect put it: “This is a bizarre confluence of MLP and the Bible (and other mythologies) in a G1-scented wrapper. If I’m not mistaken, it’s also a deconstruction of the silliness of placing human societal constructs into the world of Equestria. And yet it still explores human religious thought. I just stand in slack-jawed amazement as the ponies refuse to rise to bait that would have ensnared the deepest human intellectual, and it all makes sense … the most amazing thing is Pinkie getting into a theological debate and not even knowing it.”
Read on for our author interview, in which DuncanR discusses unwritten endings, Hitlerjack and Applejesus, and the true north strong and proud.
Give us the standard biography.
Greetings! My name is Duncan W. Rose. I’m a little over thirty, male, and caucasian, with very dark red hair. I grew up in a tiny, isolated village named Inuvik in the Canadian Northwest Territories: the true north strong and proud, back before part of it split off to become Nunavut. The people there own and use dogsleds for completely practical reasons, and high school language classes offered both French and Inuktitut. The winters were freezing cold with mountains of snow, but most people don’t realize that the summers are also swelteringly hot. I sometimes miss the bleak and isolated wilderness, but if I never hear another mosquito again in my life it will be too soon. Seriously… three of them can carry off a grown man.
There wasn’t much to do up there and I was too busy being bullied at school to risk making friends, so I spent most of my time alone with my brother, reading books, or playing around with computers and videogames. My dad worked at the big radio station, and when they closed it down he transferred to a similar station in the maritimes near Sackville, New Brunswick. Talk about culture shock. I was then exposed to three completely alien concepts: heavy rainfall instead of snow, giant trees that aren’t evergreens, and living only half an hour away from several dozen extended family members who were always inviting us over for christmas and thanksgiving. Turns out sackville was my dad’s home when HE was a kid.
I ended up getting a job as a video game programmer that paid way more than I deserved. when the studio shut down, I had trouble finding work because of my unbelievably lazy and shiftless attitude. I was later diagnosed with video game addiction (it sounds ridiculous, but it’s really not), and have been struggling to pull myself back into real life ever since. As it turns out, I don’t actually like making video games… all I really want is to tell stories and craft experiences. At my psychologist’s recommendation, I got much more serious about writing. I am deeply grateful for his advice and I’ve never looked back since. I think my experience with interactive media gives me a unique approach to crafting tales.
I’ve always thought of myself as extremely shy and introverted but people tell me this isn’t the case at all: I like to think I’m coming out of my shell. It took me a long time to open up, and I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if I’d been introduced to MLP:FIM decades ago, instead of in my advancing middle age.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s my real name. For any more than that, you’d have to ask my mother.
I do have a couple of different tags I used to use for chatrooms and gaming and such, but for I decided to use my real name on Fimfiction because it was a writing endeavor, which I believe is already an expression of inner honesty. No point making things up now.
I’d also like to point out that Duncan is usually a last name and Rose is usually a first name. Not sure what that means.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Ehrr… honestly, I don’t think any of the characters are particularly captivating when taken as individuals. The brilliance of the show is that it focuses on relationships instead of individuals.
If I had to pick I think I’d say Rarity, even though a lot of her potential was wasted. She’s a true creative artist, but she wants to be a celebrity: a stereotypically shallow career. She’s vain and selfish, but still generous and considerate to her friends. If the only episode I ever watched was “Suited for Success,” she’d be my favorite without question. She’s a hard-working entrepreneur, a creative genius, and very strong-willed despite her elegance and daintiness. She has my favorite single moment in the entire series (Secret of My Excess, when she interrupts Spike). She has the best singing voice by far, and Art of the Dress is my second favorite song. In fact, just her one line near the end of “At the Gala” blew everyone else completely out of the water: “Find my prince!”
And I like that she’s the prettiest not because she was born that way, but because she works her ass off every single day. She earned it.
What’s your favorite episode?
I’m going to go with my first gut instinct and say “Luna Eclipsed.” It’s a good example of bringing back a character effectively, and I like the message: “It’s okay to be different.” This sort of thing has been pretty hit-or-miss with me: the return of Trixie and Daring Do were both big disappointments for me, while I thought Discord and the Flim Flam brothers were done quite well.
It’s all subjective of course… my brother and I often disagree very strongly on which episodes were good or bad. Some of my favorites are his least favorites, and vice versa. I figure as long as somebody out there liked it, it’s a good episode.
What do you get from the show?
I actually don’t watch it much lately: I feel like each season got a little worse than the previous, starting when Lauren Faust left the show. I was especially apprehensive when I heard that Twilight became a princess (My brother described that episode as “a really bad fanfic”, and I still can’t top that) and kind of lost interest after that. But then again, I absolutely loved Maude Pie’s episode, so I’m glad I haven’t given up.
I started watching the show right when it came out, long before it became a Big Thing, and the main draw for me was watching these characters interact with each other. We see them grow and change, and we learn more about them. But there’s only so far you can go with that concept before you have to retread old ground or resort to gimmickry. I’d like to see a whole spinoff show following the CMC’s all grown up, or maybe the Mane Six grow up and get married, and then have a show about their kids. Who knows?
What do you want from life?
Why do you write?
Ok, seriously now. I write because I love crafting experiences and exploring characters. Every once in awhile, I’ll get an idea for a story that just won’t leave me alone. There’s only one way to get rid of it, and that’s to put it on paper. I’ve been blessed with the natural ability to express myself well, but I’ve also worked hard to improve that raw talent. I still have a lot of work ahead of me and I love it when people point out my mistakes and shortcomings. As Rarity might say, even the biggest, most spectacular diamond in the world requires great skill and dedication to cut and polish.
As I’ve said before, writing isn’t something I do. It’s something I am. Maybe that’s why I’ve been pretty depressed lately… my job is pretty harsh, and I’ve had little or no time for friends, family or writing. I dream of being able to support myself with my writing, but I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish that.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I’ve mentioned this in one of my blog posts, but it needs to be said again and again: IDEAS ARE CHEAP. What matters the most is how you execute that idea, and that’s a skill that needs to be trained and developed like any other. That’s why publishers can judge an entire novel by reading only the very first paragraph. A bad idea can be made into an awesome story, but the greatest idea in the world cannot save a badly written story.
Cherish all comments, good and bad. Develop and refine your distinct author’s voice. Learn the rules before you break them. And most of all, keep writing. The only way to get better is to put your butt in a chair and put your hands on the keyboard.
When ponies encounter the garden, they have a momentary vision of something greater — something mythological, and unique to each pony. What were you trying to accomplish by showing the reader these visions?
Partially, this was an attempt to incorporate as many world religions as possible, suggesting that there is a common seed of truth to all of them. Because there is. Anyone who’s read the Torah, the Bible and the Quran with an open and rational mind can tell you they carry almost the same essential messages. Jesus didn’t even write one word of the bible himself: he went around talking to people in person. The bible was compiled by the apostles almost forty years after Jesus’ death, and no two sects of Christianity can agree on which portions are canonical. The Quran, likewise, was originally written on whatever happened to be handy: palm leaves, tree bark, sheep’s bones… who knows how often it’s been translated.
Primarily, though, I wanted to emphasize that all things have an outward meaning as well as a more subtle hidden meaning. The vision each of them sees is a brief flash of the essential nature of the tree, which normally isn’t perceptible: We perceive things based on their properties, while their fundamental essence can only be theorized about. The actual, ultimate truth is finally revealed — of course — to Applejack, the Element of Honesty.
Despite its comic wrapper, “Appletheosis” confronts each of the Mane Six with a deep philosophical dilemma — sort of. Which of those encounters was your favorite to write?
Definitely the conversation between Twilight and Zaraturvara. We humans live in a world where science and religion are extremely touchy subjects, and constantly perceived as being totally incompatible. But when Zaraturvara tries to bait them into a heated argument, it just doesn’t take. They honestly don’t see what the big deal is. It just highlights how different and alien the ponies are from real-world humans.
Pinkie Pie’s was a close second, though. I like the idea that she could literally charm the devil himself out of his tree. She embodies the element of laughter, and “The devil is of such high pride that he cannot abide to be mocked.” Poor ol’ Scratch just doesn’t know what he’s up against, does he?
Applejack’s encounters — she’s the first and the last to visit the garden — weren’t the most fun to write but they were the most fun to plan out, especially since they had the greatest impact on the plot. The original seed for this story can be summed up very briefly: I remember hearing about an unfinished story that got featured on Equestria Daily. Later on, the author started adding chapters that had Applejack rounding up critters in concentration camps.The story was promptly removed, and later referred to colloquially as “The Hitlerjack story.” So I thought to myself “What’s the opposite of that…?” Why, Applejesus of course! She has long blonde hair, she grew up in the country, she’s a handy carpenter, and she is the physical manifestation of ultimate cosmic truth.
Rather than being a catalyzing force, in this story Zaraturvara is an interesting and conflicted character. How did you approach the problem of breathing life into him?
It actually wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, I was able to slam this story out extraordinarily quickly — two days, I think — for a writing contest. That’s why the majority of it is dialogue: I chose to play to my strengths for the competition. All my life I’ve had ideas bouncing around in my head regarding the conflict between science and religion, and the dangers of interpreting metaphors too literally. In a way, Zaraturvara personifies that conflict: discussion is good. Questions are good. Challenging your own assumptions is good. His job is to goad people into thinking.
On the surface, his character was based on one idea: The serpent of eden thinks he’s the devil, but he’s not sure. The uncertainty drives him so crazy that he questions absolutely everything he sees. When he encounters people who never question anything, he helps them the only way he knows: he annoys the hell out of them.
Turning him into a regular dude with a tedious, thankless day job was just the icing on the cake. Asking him to guard the tree of life is like asking an open-source Linux fanatic to build a secure database for the CIA. Maybe you WANT a whistle blower on the inside, just in case.
How do you think Celestia and Luna would react to Zaraturvara? To Applejack’s choice at the end of the story?
I was originally going to write an epilogue about this. I debated whether or not to leave it ambiguous… and then I ran out of time for the contest, so that was one less decision to worry about. Ambiguity is almost always preferable. But since you asked so nicely…
In the epilogue, I was going to have Princess Celestia read a letter from Applejack. In it, she says she scolded Fluttershy for killing a mosquito, and then went on a long, passionate rant asking “Is it ever acceptable to kill a living thing?” (which is Zaraturvara’s question to Fluttershy). She says Fluttershy ran off crying from the accusation, and now an emotionally conflicted Applejack is asking Celestia what the answer is. Celestia shows the letter to Luna, and they both say “They’re ready. It’s finally happening.” It turns out that Celestia and Luna have been using their goddess-like powers to uplift the ponies from ordinary animals into sapient, civilized beings. The appearance of the garden of Eden is a sign that they are ready for enlightenment and no longer need the Princesses to guide them.
Fortunately, I ran out of time. I prefer the current ending, since an epilogue would have detracted from Applejack’s sudden insight. My favorite line in the story is “I wanna go back. Back to the way things were.” It might even be my favorite line out of any of my stories. If anypony is strong enough to carry the truth of the world, it’s Applejack.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I often wonder why Lauren Faust left the show. I feel that she was the heart and soul behind its success — the small but vital keystone that gave it a universally appealing foundation — and I secretly worry that the quality of the storytelling has steadily declined since her departure. The shows are objectively good: they had an ephemeral virtue that elevated it head and shoulders above all the other half-hour commercials for kid’s toys. But I shake it off and tell myself it’s not a big deal. It’s just a cartoon.
Then a minute passes. I remember one of my other favorite cartoons, Young Justice, featuring DC superhero sidekicks forming their own group. That show was cancelled because the executives decided “too many girls are watching it, and girls don’t buy our action figures.” That’s a real thing. Somebody actually said that. My favorite part of the show was the “girly” stuff. Characters had relationships. They had powerful emotions. They had substance.
I think about MLP:FIM. I think of all the bronies who were drawn to it. I think of rich, old, white men sitting around an executive table at the top of a commercial skyscraper in Rhode Island, listening to a presentation about demographics and toy sales. They all share a look amongst themselves.
I know I said that Rarity has the best singing voice, but my personal favorite song is Pinkie’s “Smile”. I cry like a girl every time I hear it. Am I allowed to say “cried like a girl” like it’s a good thing? Like I’m proud of it?
Who decides what boys and girls are allowed to like?