In today’s interview, Chopper’s Top Hat discusses authorial flirting, sideways Cardassian, and a classic Trixie tale that’s all about reversing our expectations.
[Sad] [Adventure] • 5,572 words
The magician’s art lies in the act of misdirection. This is true even in a world where magic exists. Trixie has mastered the art, but how much of her act is true magic, and how much is an illusion? And what if that same question applies to her entire life?
Discover the truth about Equestria’s most Great and Powerful showpony, in a story told in a most unconventional manner…
FROM THE CURATORS: Today’s story is a blast from the past in two different ways — not only was it written in the earliest days of the fandom, but it was also one of the first stories that the Royal Canterlot Library ever voted to feature. We shelved it for years due to being unable to locate the author, but having recently stumbled across Chopper’s Top Hat again, we’re pleased to unearth this classic for modern audiences.
Given that history, it’s quite fitting that this story digs into Trixie’s backstory with a unique backwards storytelling style. “I still love this for one simple reason: it takes a narrative device which could easily backfire, and uses it cleverly and effectively,” Chris said. Former curator Benman agreed — “The gimmick works as intended, which is really impressive, and it’s actually necessary to telling this particular story” — and Present Perfect also concurred: “It builds up … and the gimmick works with that; it wouldn’t have the same effect read chronologically.”
One thing we did disagree on — which speaks well for the quality of the story — was which part we enjoyed the most. “The first chunk is really cool. The reverse chronology thing keeps adding new information that illuminates and recontextualizes the previous content,” Benman said, while Horizon took the opposite tack: “It all felt necessary to give the ending its powerful thematic closure.” Chris, meanwhile, appreciated the act of reading it: “Figuring out how the story hangs together is really the fun here.” Overall, it added up to quite a solid package, as Horizon noted: “It has aged really well.”
(Today’s story can be found here, but first, continue below the break for our author interview.)
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a Costa Rican native currently living in the US, and I am unnecessarily fond of cartoons. I also have always loved horses. If only there were some way to appreciate both at once …
I used to write MLP fanfics, and maybe I will again sometime! But I’m trying to focus on original fiction at the moment. That said, I’ll do almost anything if people yell at me enough.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I’m awful at coming up with names for anything, actually. When I was little my parents gave me a cat, and the poor thing had no name for like six weeks until I just named her after the video game I was currently playing. By then she responded more to the generic “Kitty” than to her actual name, Zelda. My penname is kind of like that. Agonize over it for days, then go “Screw it, who’s the best hooved character in cartoons outside of MLP? Tony Tony Chopper, obviously. Sometimes he wears a pink top hat. Done.”
Who’s your favorite pony?
I used to have a different one every single week, but at some point I settled on Rarity. Her episodes tend to be the most rewatchable, her voice actress is an international treasure, but mostly I think her character represents exactly what makes this show special. Because nearly every girls’ cartoon has the “fashionable” character, but they’re usually written as shallow consumers, with their main trait being “OH HI, I LOVE SHOPPING.” More often than not, they’re villains or bullies. And what does it say about most girls’ cartoons (and shows in general, really) when the character with the most traditionally feminine traits is the bad guy? But along comes Rarity and she just stomps all over that. She’s proudly glamorous, feminine and fussy about her appearance, but it comes from a place of creativity: fashion isn’t just something she buys, it’s her art. She’s a successful businesswoman and social climber and she’ll also literally cut off her own tail to make someone else feel better about their looks. She is proudly, unabashedly feminine and never shamed for it, and I think that’s a rare and wonderful thing in popular media.
What’s your favorite episode?
I have a hard time deciding between Magic Duel and Rarity Takes Manehattan. The former just strikes such a perfect balance between adventure and comedy, while the latter is fantastically paced and incredibly quotable. Tabitha St. Germain can make any halfway decent line into a classic.
What do you get from the show?
I just really like good cartoons, and I really like smart, optimistic storytelling. These are both really hard things to pull off, and very rare to find on TV these days. The common wisdom in TV comedy is that the characters aren’t there to be empathized with; all sincere emotion needs to be undercut with snarky humor. MLP is one of a handful of shows that refuses to do this, and just lets emotional moments stand on their own merits. Rebecca Sugar, who created Steven Universe, another show in this mold, once said one of her writing rules is, “It doesn’t have to be cruel to be funny.” And treating the characters with respect makes them grow into characters you want to spend time with. It’s nice to visit a world where that’s the prevailing attitude.
Also, it just makes me happy that there’s a show out there that teaches kids about empathy and community, and that “there’s no wrong way to be a girl.” That’s so important. Everyone can enjoy it, but I think it’s crucial to remember that MLP is first and foremost for the children.
What do you want from life?
Someone asked me the other day what the things I value most in life are, and after some thought I replied: stories, kindness, discovery, and being able to share those things with people I care about. When I said this, he hugged me. I’m pretty sure he was hitting on me, but it was a nice moment. My dream is to be a professional writer, so I can share even more stories with more people. Also, you know, buy food.
Why do you write?
I’ve always had a very active imagination. I was the kid who would make up big epic stories with their action figures or draw stick-figure comics on the back of my worksheets. I’m also pretty good with words, so it was probably inevitable that I ended up combining the two. I’m a firm believer in the value of stories; I think every last one adds something to the world. If I can contribute to that in some small way, that’s something I’m proud to be a part of.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I don’t know that I’m qualified to be advising anyone on anything, so it’s your funeral if you listen to me. That said: I have a habit when writing to hold back on my favorite ideas, thinking I’ll save them for later. And I’ve slowly learned that this is a dumb idea. Don’t hold back. Pull the trigger on your biggest and best ideas. If you’re worried they’re too weird, then do the weird thing. People love the weird things. Don’t worry about saving your ideas for later; when later rolls around, you’ll have new ones, which you might not have had if you hadn’t deployed your favorite when you did.
The most notable thing about this story is unquestionably its structural gimmick: each paragraph takes place before the one which follows it, with the first paragraph happening “last” chronologically. What made you decide to use that structure?
A couple of things. I had rewatched Boast Busters (which was only about a month old at this time) and thought it would be interesting to explore Trixie’s past, with the story leading up to her arriving in Ponyville. But I couldn’t think of a good way to end it; how do you make the ending climatic when it stops at a point we’ve already seen? That’s kind of the whole trouble with prequels: they’re all leading up to something we already know, so the closer a prequel gets to its ending, the less interesting it is. The really interesting part of a prequel story is further back in time, because that’s the uncharted territory. So, for Trixie’s “prequel” to hold interest, it made sense to just tell the thing backwards. The interesting question isn’t “what’s going to happen?” it’s “how did she get here?”
Which came first when you were conceiving this story, the structure or the plot? How did one influence the other?
Well, I had been looking for some way to challenge myself for a while, writing something with a weird structure; but I didn’t hit on telling a story backwards until I had the basic idea down. That said, I only figured out the very broad strokes before starting; the details only revealed themselves to me as I was writing.
But most importantly, the whole theme of lies and performances came out of the structure. Trixie fakes almost everything about herself throughout the story, so really what we’re seeing is the process of pulling off the masks one by one, until we’re left with the real Trixie, the pony she was before she began telling lies. And I don’t think we really meet her until the very last line. The filly giving that little monologue at the very end, that’s the pony who’s been there all along, behind all the masks.
What did you do to ensure that a story with this kind of convoluted chronology still made sense to the reader as they went along?
I’m just glad it ended up making sense! I wasn’t sure if it would, even after working on it for days. The main thing I tried to do was acclimate the reader to the timeline as quickly as possible, by beginning on a famous scene from a popular episode. So they’re in familiar territory, which I hope makes it easier to quickly figure out that things are moving backwards. By the time we’re out of what happened in Boast Busters, the story is seven paragraphs in, so if I’ve done my job right, the reader should be comfortable enough to follow Trixie backwards into unknown territory.
I had a few rules as I went: The story could never deviate from focusing on Trixie because she’s the tether the reader has to make sense of the timeline. Conversations had to be short and to the point because each paragraph goes backward in time; a long discussion would quickly become an unreadable mess. I normally write some pretty talky stuff so that was a tough rule for me to follow. But I like unconventional stories like this, so I wanted to make sure this didn’t come off as needlessly confusing. If it succeeded for you, I’m happy.
This is a story from the very early days of the fandom — it was written well before Season 1 even finished airing. Beyond obvious things like “it would have to be changed to fit Trixie’s reappearance in season three,” how do you think this story would be different if you wrote it now?
I like the story overall, but I always feel like I was too hard on poor Trixie. I really like the character, and I like the idea of everything about her being artificial, but a lot of this kind of reads like tragedy porn to me now. I think I would have put some sort of bright spot in her world, given her some hope of a better life.
Also, there’s the whole Night Mare thing. This was my take on the “what turned Luna evil?” question. Now that Equestria has way more established villains, she feels kind of out of place. I would have probably replaced her with Sombra or maybe a disguised Chrysalis. It’s strange to think about now, because upon reading the story, her presence feels like it’s there to set up some kind of sequel, but that was never my intent. She’s there to show how desperate Trixie is, both to survive and to make somebody proud of her.
On the other hand, Night Mare is so crazy dark, maybe I should do a sequel where Trixie fights her. And it would be told sideways, with chronologies from five different alternate timelines, and all written in Cardassian.
Trixie in this story comes across as very much a victim … but also as someone who, by the end (or rather, the beginning) is perfectly willing to do horrible things without remorse. How do you want readers to feel about her when they finish the story? How do you feel about her?
In my mind, she’s a tragic figure and a victim of abuse. The toughest part of the story for me to re-read is the part where she tells Night Mare she loves her. It really drives home how broken she is at that point, how desperate she is for a real connection. It’s also one of the few times she does something really genuine: the whole fic is about the falsehoods and stories she hides behind in order to survive. And that’s what makes me sympathize with her: everyone does this sort of thing to some extent. From time to time we all put on performances, tell lies, create masks, in order to get by in the world. She just does it to an extreme degree.
That said, I don’t want readers to feel any particular way about her. I want them to decide for themselves if she deserves forgiveness or not. Some readers are going to have a lot less sympathy for her than I do, and that’s just fine. She’s done some bad things, and she’s well aware of them.
As for canon Trixie? I feel a bit bad for her too. She just seems lonely to me. She’s got no one else traveling with her in that wagon, and Twilight accidentally made her into a laughingstock. Yes, she could stand to be a lot less arrogant, but that would probably be easier if she had a friend or two to travel with.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Shortly after I wrote this story, I wrote a Derpy story called Today, Tomorrow, and Forever which for whatever reason became incredibly popular, at least by the modest standards of mid-Season 1 fandom, anyway. In a week’s time it had dropped off the fandom radar, though. It was very much a flash in the pan, and I doubt many people remember it today, which is fine. I like that story, but The Liar is the one from this period that I’m proudest of, and at the time I wrote it, it barely went noticed by anyone. Yet it’s the one people seem to remember today, and that makes me quite happy. Thanks so much to everyone who read it. I hope you got something out of it.
If you want to read my other stuff, I’ve got a Fimfiction account, and I also have a Tumblr where I mostly post the usual Tumblr nonsense, and also ponies sometimes. Feel free to say hi, or to yell at me for ruining Trixie’s life. I probably deserve it.