Today’s story is a gem worth adding to your collection.
Beneath Your Feet, What Treasures
[Romance] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 1,444 words
Spike has a hoard nopony knows about, something he’s been using to do a dragonish thing in a ponyish way.
But now it’s the other way ’round.
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s always a good sign when the first story an author posts on FIMFiction is a hidden gem — and so much the better if it’s a story about hidden gems, and what they mean to the dragon collecting them. “I was thoroughly impressed that the author found the specific rocks to use in the story,” Present Perfect said. However, while “rocks are awesome” (as Chris said), there’s more here than a geology lesson. “I have a soft spot for fics which center around extended metaphors,” Chris added.
So what is behind the gleaming facets of Treasures? “Everything about this story screams ‘Sparity,’ but thankfully, it isn’t that ship,” Present Perfect said. “It’s a unique look at Spike and his crush on Rarity that doesn’t delve into any of the usual stumbling points.” JohnPerry saw it from a slightly different angle: “I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of a child’s fascination with keeping secrets — and the characterization of Spike is excellent here — but to scratch beneath that surface and find a reflection of an outside event so subtly woven in was an immensely rewarding experience.” Horizon took yet another view: “What distinguishes it here is the twist, and the way that Spike’s ultimate reaction paints him as so alien to the ponies, yet so understandable. He’s trying to reconcile two worlds. That’s pretty deep for a story about rock collecting.”
That we could so easily come up with different interpretations speaks well of Treasure’s depth. “There’s plenty of understated meaning here,” Horizon said. “It’s clearly in the ‘Twilight Sparkle Makes A Cup Of Tea‘ school of indirect storytelling.” And ultimately, that adds up to a fic in which there’s a lot to like — even if it takes some effort to tease all of its facets out. “I confess that I had to reread this one a couple of times to grasp the deeper meaning here, but wow was it worthwhile,” JohnPerry said.
Read on for our author interview, in which TheJediMasterEd discusses Spike vs. Spock, zwilnick hunting, and the give and take of life.
Give us the standard biography.
On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.
What, you want more? Well …
When I was a kid there was no Internet. TV was a big piece of furniture that sat on the living room floor and got maybe five, six channels. Cartoons came on once a week and because only TV studios had VCRs, you were front-and-center Saturday mornings if you wanted to watch cartoons.
And what cartoons! Nobody but Captain Kangaroo had any concept of appropriate children’s programming and other than him nobody cared. So besides nonstop violence our cartoons were full of characters smoking, boozing, making sexual innuendoes and generally acting in ways you’d only see on Adult Swim nowadays.
So from a very early age cartoon characters have been running around in my head. And they’ve always been acting like adults (just like they did on TV). And I’ve always liked them for it, even when I didn’t understand some of the things they said or did.
Then I learned to read and all hell broke loose.
I was a precocious and ferocious early reader: I went from Hop on Pop to Gulliver’s Travels to space opera in two, maybe three years. And somehow — maybe because, you know, they were already acting like adults — those characters I’d learned to love before I could read, broke out of their cartoons and got loose in the new, adult worlds I’d discovered upon first looking into Chapman’s Homer, er, I mean, E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series. Suddenly Bugs Bunny was hunting zwilnicks, tracking the thionite trade to its ultimate source in the foul muck and corrosive clouds of Eddore (the Eich never knew what hit ‘em). And of course I just couldn’t wait to share all these grand adventures with my fourth-grade classmates.
That went about as well as you’d expect.
Fortunately we moved. And I learned to keep my goddamn mouth shut about cartoon characters. They were still in my head, though, until I started college and began a three-decade-long campaign to “put away childish things.” Secretly, relentlessly, I taught myself to loath the things I’d loved. I got so I couldn’t watch as much as a minute of an animated cartoon without feeling a deep disgust that bordered on physical pain (“IT’S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD ALEX!”). Of course it helped that during most of this time — the 70’s and 80’s — cartoons were utter crap.
Almost, almost I’d got shut of ‘em. But in 1991 my girlfriend at the time, she’d had a hard week and she absolutely begged me to take her to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which had just come out. I agreed — not with any good grace — and I remember sitting there in the theatre waiting for the show, arms crossed, legs crossed, teeth and sphincter clenched, wishing for the consolation of a cyanide capsule.
Then the movie started and I was blown away.
It wasn’t just the complete absence of cringeworthy moments — it was that every moment was perfect. Image and sound, story and theme, words and music, all perfectly suited to each other and to the telling of an old and powerful tale. It was a tale simple enough for a child to grasp, yet it held within itself a multitude of grown-up complexities. And it spoke to both child and grown-up in a way that was respectful, engaging and above all, hopeful.
And — just when I thought I was out, they PULL me back in! — it all came flooding back. From that moment I was no longer estranged from the companions of my childhood. I appreciated them differently now, being an adult, and of course I knew it was best not to talk about them to anyone who didn’t share my enthusiasms (then again that’s a good rule for any hobby, be it model trains or tentacle porn). But I saw that, properly handled, cartoon characters need not be childish things.
(Yes, I made sure to thank my girlfriend and tell her how she’d changed my mind.)
Fast-forward and here I am: a successful professional with a secret, and that’s okay. If you know me from work you’ll never know about the fandom, and if you know me from the fandom you’ll never know where I work. The two worlds will never reconcile, but I am reconciled unto myself and that’s what matters
This has nothing to do with where I grew up or what I studied in college. But it is the story of where I started and how I got to where we are, here. That’s biography.
Yeah, I know: catch you asking me another question …
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
… well, that was quick.
It was at ConFederation, the 44th WorldCon in Atlanta (musta been, oh, ’86 — yes, yes, ‘86 it was, by crackey!). I was at a filksing one night and suddenly some guy piped up with:
The Force is the Force, of course, of course
And no one can horse with the Force, of course
That is, of course, unless the horse
Is the Jedi Master Ed!
Go right to the source to learn the Force
And who is the Master that I endorse?
You’ve no recourse except the horse —
The Jedi Master Ed!
He’ll make you study and do the chores
He’ll give you tests that have pass/fail scores
He’s a palomino and pal o’ yours
The Jedi Master Ed!
(Spoken): “Stay away from the Dark Side, Wiiiiilllbuuuurrrr!”
Of course I immediately asked him to write down the lyrics. Next evening I had them by heart and I’ve never lost them.
Then MLPFiM came along and I said, “Hay …”
Who’s your favorite pony?
My girlfriend coined the phrase “Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown.” So Rarity is my waifu.
I enjoy writing Rarity because she’s a natural for the ironic voice, which comes easily and pleasantly to me. That’s probably because I’m a bit like Rares myself: a high-strung perfectionist, rather vain, quick-tempered and sharp-tongued (a combination I’ve often had cause to regret) with a habitual and fulsome generosity that one would think is compensation for my temper but which may just as easily be seen (I hope) when no cause for compensation exists.
At the opposite end of the spectrum (hah!) there’s Rainbow Dash. It’s not that I dislike her, it’s just that I have absolutely no feel for her voice or character. That sort of easy, confident athleticism is like the Andromeda Galaxy to me: I can see it, I know it exists but I’ll never go there in a million years.
Next to Rarity, Applejack and the whole Apple family are my favorites in large part for how they recovered from tragedy, not only materially but emotionally as well. But Applejack doesn’t get much love from the fans because she has a Southern accent and the media have spent the past forty years telling us that anyone with a Southern accent is stupid or evil and in either case racist (then Baltimore goes up in flames and we wonder “How did that happen? It’s not like they drawl!”).
What’s your favorite episode?
I haven’t seen anywhere near all of them, but of the episodes I’ve seen the ones with the Cutie Mark Crusaders seem to have the best writing. Of those my two favorites would have to be “One Bad Apple,” just for overall quality, and “Sleepless in Ponyville” for the way Rainbow Dash handles Scootaloo.
I’ve said that Dash’s character is one I just don’t get: the jock is not a type I sympathize with or even particularly like,. So it was a revelation and, well, a joy to see a character with so much strength, and so much obvious pride in it, behave exactly as we’d want the proud and strong to behave towards the vulnerable and frightened: protectively, warmly, encouragingly — quite literally chivalrously, characteristic of the behavior we attribute to those whose stature comes from horses. It was a completely new side of her character that was presented so deftly, it seemed to have been there all along.
What do you get from the show?
Well, it’s one of the few nowadays that doesn’t either insult my intelligence or require me to root for bastards.
But mainly it’s that good old narrative I’ve loved since I was young: a band of stout friends adventuring across exotic worlds, defeating evil, upholding the good, and sharing a few laughs along the way. It’s a narrative that comforts and inspires, that gives you happy respite from the world’s strife but can also lend a tinge of joy to the struggle when you go back out into it.
I’m afraid such things are not listed in the catalog of good literary values. But my grandfather grew up on a farm and he told me what old catalogs are good for.
What do you want from life?
That’s a young man’s question. I’m at that age where life has begun to take more than it gives. Eventually it takes everything.
I want it to wait until I’ve written something that can bring comfort and joy to those who need it. And inspiration and hope, if I can manage that as well.
Why do you write?
Because Bugs still needs to catch those damned zwilnicks.
All these characters in my head — Spike, Rarity, Big Mac and the rest — have destinies to meet and adventures to be told. And I am resolved to tell them to this big fourth-grade playground called FiMFiction despite the risk of being given a swirlie by the fifth-graders.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
My mom is 80 years old and a retired nurse. On her refrigerator she has a magnet that says : WALK DELIBERATELY.
Which means that if you’re going to stay strong and capable you have to work at it purposefully, at every opportunity. But it also means you don’t always have to be pumping iron or running marathons: the normal activity of everyday life helps a lot, too. Walking from the parking lot, walking around the grocery store, even walking from one end of the house to the other — it all counts.
So I say to writers: WRITE DELIBERATELY. Which means that if you’re going to be a strong and capable writer you have to work at your craft at every opportunity. Not just in writing fics but in writing blog posts, e-mails, reports at school or work — all are opportunities to exercise and improve your skill. Are your spelling and punctuation, are your grammar and syntax correct? Are you expressing your ideas clearly and concisely? Are you managing your narrative so it neither bores nor confuses your audience? Do you know your audience? Ask these questions of everything you write and you will improve as a writer even as you advance academically and professionally. Everything you write — everything — is grist for the mill.
What inspired the idea of Spike’s hoard?
Memory is a tricky thing. I know the first MLP fic I genuinely enjoyed was Determamfidd’s It Take A Village, in which the concept of Spike regarding the ponies as his “hoard” is put to admirable use. But I seem to recall feeling elated, as I read the story, that someone else had got the same I idea I’d gotten, and had worked it out so well. So did the story give me the idea, or did I have the idea before I read the story? I don’t know.
“What Treasures” takes it a little further, though, in positing that it’s not just a matter of one behavior (hoarding) which Spike has to manage, but of Spike having a dual nature, both pony and dragon. Not a dual nature as in a mental disorder, just “two separate sides of his head.”
The genesis of that was this exchange in The Writer’s Group on Spike Appreciation Day. Basically it was concluded that Spike is BOTH a selfish dunce AND a reasonable, helpful and witty little guy, because Spike is a typical kid brother and that duality is characteristic of the type.
That got me to thinking of how well-written characters are composed of such contradictions, because real people are, too.
Then a few days later Leonard Nimoy died. You know he played Spock on Classic Trek, and most folks will say Spock was a Vulcan. But that’s not true: he was only half-Vulcan. His mother was human. So he had a dual nature — human and nonhuman. The show’s writers made bank off that more than once.
Spock deals with his dual nature by simply not expressing his human emotions and usually he succeeds. But he can’t keep from feeling them and they show up in other ways, mainly in his friendship with Kirk and his constant ribbing of McCoy. He’s (almost) always the cool and logical Vulcan, though, even when he’s risking his life to save Jim or telling Bones “I believe the human term for what you are attempting is ‘raising my blood pressure.’” Because his Vulcan side is part of him too
And I think it’s the same way with Spike. One side of him is somepony’s kid brother, a typical colt on the goodish side of normal (most days). But heaven help the creature that threatens any of his ponies — that’s when the dragon side comes out. He’s killed a timberwolf without compunction, and I expect in similar circumstances he’d do the like again. In “What Treasures” I’m positing that he can also express his dragon side in gentler ways if he’s not, y’know, defending a friend against an imminent threat of death.
The symbolism of Spike making ponies “his” is a little odd. Do you think this behavior is good for him?
Grown men playing with childrens’ toys is a little odd. Do you think this behavior is good for them?
It’s a fair question and an open one. I didn’t see the analogy until after I’d finished the story but it’s there and deserves to be considered. In my story, yes, this behavior is good for Spike. The evidence I present for this, is how it helps him resolve a painful internal conflict through spiritual growth.
In real life I don’t know whether my own little secret hoard (as it were) of ponies will ultimately do me good or ill. Spike is trying to conceal dragonish feelings in a ponyish world. That’s far less risky than trying to conceal ponyish feelings in a dragonish world.
All I know is that I have to do this. It seems it’s in my nature and it’ll come out somehow. Better this way than any other I can think of.
And I suppose that’s how Spike feels too.
Did you run into any difficulties in writing this story?
Not really, because it was so short and the inspiration so very immediate. For purposes of visual symbolism I had to posit a ship that I was told might bias readers against the story, but it seems that didn’t happen.
I did encounter some resistance from people who thought it was a Sparity story. It is, but not that kind of Sparity story. I mean that’d be like Brian and Lois in Family Guy (“…but what if you were, y’know, really really drunk?” “Well, I guess OH FOR GOD’S SAKE YOU’RE A DOG!”)
Headcanon: Spike will always love Rarity, but platonically, not least because his kind doesn’t reach puberty until midway through their second century. And Rarity will have several occasions to be glad of Spike’s love, and even to return it, again platonically, when she gets into her sunset years and realizes he’s still there for her and always has been.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
So take comfort —
Even if you only grow onions,
Breed rabbits or put ships in bottles,
If that grips you, you are one of the saved
The light shines on you …
That is to say, you’ve lived.
— Gwyn Thomas, “You’ve Lived”