They say blood is thicker than water, but today’s story is a novel look at a unicorn whose head is thicker still.
A Tale Told
[Slice of Life] • 1,305 words
Sometimes, reality is best understood through fiction.
Other times, the two are harder to distinguish between.
Family is often such a complicated matter.
FROM THE CURATORS: In computing, the term “quine” means a program that will output its own code when you run it. This intriguing little tale might be the literary equivalent: A story that tells itself. “There’s really something unique to the layers here,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect agreed: “The literary technique is one we’ve seen before, yet the way it’s used is wholly novel, as far as I can tell. It just adds so much to the story.”
The meat of that story is the emotional fallout from a moment of casual racism among the unicorn nobility — and we all found great finesse in Foehn’s handling of the topic. “The story tells us a lot about our assumptions, both through the narrator and the father,” Chris said. “I like how it doesn’t resort to overdramatics: in real life, such turning points are often defined by offhand comments rather than grand gestures.” That subtlety didn’t mean it was lacking in impact, however. “The exchange about the birds was quite strong, especially in a story this short,” Horizon said.
Ultimately, A Tale Told is not only a uniquely structured story, but also a unique look at one of the show’s more easily misunderstood villains. “The ‘Blueblood as snob’ story is an easy one to screw up,” JohnPerry said. “Here, Blueblood is very deliberately underplayed … rather than getting caught up in trying to justify his actions in the show, it focuses more on the reality of living a life in that role. It’s not so much a Prince Blueblood story, but rather a Prince Blueblood story.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Foehn discusses implied deserts, homeland accusations, and perfect girls.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a mechanical engineering/finance undergraduate with too many hobbies and too little time. So I thought to myself, why not add writing to the list?
I’ve been accused of being Swedish by a Norwegian, Scottish by an Englishman and American by an Australian. I live in the hope that one of these days somebody, somewhere, will actually get it right.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
This one’s a little convoluted.
At the time this account was created, I was part way through a novel by the name of Implied Spaces, which is a fancy term for the bits of reality that arise as unintended consequences. I was rather short of ideas at the time, so my handle’s derived from an example of such an ‘implied space’.
Let’s say you’ve got yourself a large island continent, and you want to put mountains along one coastline, because you’re really into mountains.
…except I bet that you didn’t consider the consequences of that, did you?
Because what’s going to happen now is that your warm, moist ocean air is going to come in from the coast and hit your mountain range where before it would have just kept going. The air’s going to rise to try and get over the mountain, it’s going to condense, and you’re going to get rain on the coastal side of the mountain.
Still not seeing the problem?
You’ve just gone and taken all the moisture out of the air, so that when it finally gets over your mountain it has no more water to give. Nine times out of ten you’re going to end up with a desert on the leeward side of the mountain range, which is probably not what you had in mind.
That desert is your ‘implied space’, and that warm, dry wind sweeping across your desert landscape, your ‘implied wind’ is known as – you guessed it – a foehn wind.
I told you it was convoluted.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I find her disturbingly relatable at times.
What’s your favorite episode?
A Canterlot Wedding came out just as I joined the fandom, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart. Nostalgia’s a wonderful thing.
What do you get from the show?
I get a piece of television that’s refreshingly optimistic without being naive, with relatable characters, and a world that’s oh so much fun to play with.
I get a fandom that produces artistic work of such volume and calibre that I still don’t quite understand how all these people manage it.
And I get a community where I can write a piece inspired by an obscure 20-year-old short story, and reach people able to identify the author and the story that inspired the work.
Seriously though, you’re all crazy.
What do you want from life?
Life’s strange. You don’t get to pick where you start, where you finish, or even a lot of what goes on in between.
If I can get to the end of it all and say to myself “You know what? That didn’t go too badly,” I’ll be content.
Why do you write?
Because there were things I want to read that nobody else seems to have written, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave it up to them.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Check out the other interviews by the Royal Canterlot Library, and read what the writers there have to say. There’s a reason their works were featured – they write well. If they’re giving out advice for free, why not take it? Anything I say here would probably just be repeating what they’ve already told you.
What was the inspiration for A Tale Told?
As a couple of readers noticed, A Tale Told draws a large amount of its inspiration from Haruki Murakami’s short story “On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”. I’d highly recommend reading it, or any of his other works for that matter. “The 100% Perfect Girl” only clocks in at around 3000 words, so I won’t spoil it here, but suffice to say that the nested narrative of A Tale Told initialised by “Once upon a time” and concluding with “A sad story, don’t you think?” is fairly bluntly appropriated from it.
It’s not artistic theft, its appropriation. I’m told there’s a difference.
The second (and slightly more obvious) inspiration for A Tale Told was the events of Hearth’s Warming Eve. Whilst the episode itself neatly resolves the conflict between the three races, one has to reflect that real life’s never that simple. People don’t get always get along, ponies don’t always get along, and human beings have a very bad habit of falling back on past attitudes to pass judgement.
And we’ve seen how judgemental the Canterlot nobility can be, so it’s not too much of a stretch to wonder how just how much of that attitude ever really went away.
A Tale Told was the happy result of the interactions of a sleep deprived brain, an early morning shower, and two ideas that had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Prince Blueblood is tagged in this story, but nowhere in the story itself is it made evident that any of the characters are him specifically. What was the reasoning behind this?
Fanfiction as a whole is often used as a template for the projection of ideas, be they sourced from the show itself or taken from other places. Blueblood’s a blank slate in that regard; he’s a character nearly everybody knows of, but who has received so little attention in the show that writers have a fair degree of leeway in how they portray him.
The story went through a scarily high number of revisions for such a small piece. At the height of it I finally nailed down what I wanted the persona’s internal conflict to be. That brought into question who exactly the persona was, and of all canon characters, Blueblood was the most suited. Halfway through writing, it occurred to me that he was also an equally valid candidate for the persona’s father.
But A Tale Told is not a story about Blueblood as a character insofar as it’s a story about the persona’s struggle with self-identity. It doesn’t matter who that persona is. It doesn’t even really matter which character Blueblood is. Is he the persona, or the persona’s father? Is he the narrator, or a listener? I think you’d get a different answer depending on how the person you ask views Blueblood.
Could I have replaced Blueblood with an unnamed unicorn noble without losing any of the story’s meaning?
The title and the chapter name (“A Tale Told … Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”) are a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. What’s the connection you see there, between that quote and your story?
For those who’ve never had the pleasure of watching Macbeth (it, like most Shakespeare plays, does not read nearly as well as it plays), the line’s spoken by the eponymous Macbeth in the final act as he discovers that his wife has committed suicide, an army is marching upon his castle, and his world is falling to pieces around him. He has no possible way of reconciling this conflict, and is promptly killed in the following scene.
The full quotation “A tale/told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/signifying nothing” is Macbeth’s summation of life in response to this realisation.
On one level, there’s the literal meaning of the quote applied to the tale the persona tells. As he stands there, contemplating on what it would take to reconcile his familial identity with his sense of self, he comes to the realisation in doing so that there he has no path forward. His sense of self has been torn in two, and he has no hope of repairing it other than to pick a piece and work with it. In the light of this, his tale — this life that he’s recalled in an attempt to provide some resolution — is devoid of meaning.
Then there’s the slightly meta-application; the story itself is also phrased as a tale being told, beginning with “Once upon a time” and concluding with “A sad story, don’t you think?” The quote is equally applicable here; what purpose does the story as a whole serve, being a realisation of a persona’s inability to resolve conflict? In spite of its cathartic endpoint, it is ultimately unable to resolve itself beyond its identity as a ‘sad story’. It, too, signifies nothing.
In the author’s note, you say that this story didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Was there something else you had originally envisioned?
At the climax of the story, Blueblood (or whoever he is) realises that he’s unable to reconcile the differences between the attitudes of his family and the way he currently lives his life, and that he’s going to have to choose between them.
The original draft had Blueblood realising that he was incapable of changing; that the attitudes and aspersions cast upon others by his family were too ingrained in his sense of self, and that the romance he’d been chasing would ultimately fail because of it.
With the benefit of hindsight, the former idea worked much better than the latter ever would have. The former also manages to stand apart from its source material far better than the latter ever attempted to.
Not that it seemed that way at the time, of course. It took about two months of editing and rewrites for me to realise it, and boy was that a learning experience I never want to have to repeat.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you very much for considering me for the Royal Canterlot Library. This came as both a great surprise and a great honour, and one I was happy to accept.
If you’ve read this piece, or my other one, then thank you. I’m still not sure what exactly I’m doing right but if you thought it worth the read, then that doesn’t matter. Having others enjoy one’s work makes it all worthwhile.