In today’s story, reach back to the fundamental core of My Little Pony: The fertile imagination of horse-loving children.
How Equestria Was Made
[Tragedy] [Sad] [Human] • 14,778 words
The base and the glass are no different from any other snow globe, but it holds an endless void inside it. When two young sisters jokingly request for it to show them its magic, it gives them the power to fill it as they please. Within that dimension, they might as well be goddesses–but to the world at large, they’re still confused, frightened children.
The younger sister, bitter and lonely, thinks it’s a chance to make a better world than our own. The elder sister just feels responsible for protecting the innocent pastel quadrupeds they’ve created. But can two children really be the goddesses the pony race needs? And when monsters begin to threaten the ponies, what must the sisters sacrifice to create the Equestria they dream of?
FROM THE CURATORS: We speak from experience when we say that this story will surprise you. “I’ve just never seen a creation fic done like this before,” Present Perfect said. “I’ve seen humans as princess-goddesses, I’ve seen Celestia and Luna make Equestria, but this is in a league of its own.”
Even though How Equestria Was Made quickly earned comparisons to our previous feature In The Place The Wild Horses Sleep, the surface similarities — children’s imagination letting them construct and enter a magical land of ponies — conceal a wealth of surprising yet smooth worldbuilding. “Far too often, we see ‘six virtues’ crop up in a creation story and know where things are headed, and yet not once did I suspect that was the path the narrative was taking us on,” Present Perfect said, and Horizon agreed: “The story kept surprising me (in positive ways) with its mythological choices. The tale of Brunhild and Hearth Flame by itself makes this worthy of a feature.” Chris cited another of the story’s many novelties: “The entire Nightmare Moon reveal and resolution wasn’t just powerful, it was surprising and original, too.”
But there was more here to like than just clever ideas, such as the authenticity of the children’s portrayal. “The relationship between the two sisters struck me as very real,” AugieDog said. “The way the two of them come together with all their faults and virtues to create, nurture, and interact with Equestria reminded me of a much more serious version of the ‘let’s pretend’ games my siblings and I used to play.” Serious indeed, as Horizon pointed out: “It deals effectively with some very adult questions of responsibility.”
What all that added up to was a small fic successfully executing on big themes. “This is really making me reconsider the relationship between fanfic, reader and author,” Present Perfect said. And while not every scene worked for every curator, “the ending blew any doubts I had right out of the water,” Chris said. “Here’s an author that mined genuine pathos from a couple of girls making ponies with a magic snow-globe. That’s amazing.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Feo Takahari discusses flowing stresses, memory lapses, and everything from Lemony Snicket to lemons.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m young, so I don’t have much to tell. My family’s mixed, one side full of working folks with a tendency towards alcoholism and the other side formerly rich before my grandparents squandered their fortune on psychics and lotteries. I went to a nice high school, took eight AP tests, went to a nice college, got a suitably impressive degree in Business Management Economics, and am now trying desperately to find a job. (Anyone got a position for an office assistant?)
If there’s one thing you need to know about me to understand my stories, it’s that I spent three years as a designated scapegoat at a school full of rich kids. It’s a bit hard to bring the hammer down on a brat when his daddy was on the cover of Time Magazine, so the teachers forged an unspoken understanding that one student in every class would be the target. So long as that student was the only one who was bullied, and so long as the bullies never used physical violence, the bullies would never be punished or made to stop. It looked like a perfect school from the outside, organized to make sure almost all of the students learned and had fun, and that’s why I write so many stories about the worms at the heart of seemingly benevolent systems.
I guess I should also add that I’m genderqueer and I have an immune system that hates me and wants me dead. So if you’re wondering why I write so much stuff about voluntary transformations, with characters changing their bodies to match what they want to be, there’s your answer. A little escapism isn’t too unhealthy, right?
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It was originally Feodor Takahari, a silly but plausible combination of names inspired by Lemony Snicket. That was long and ungainly, so I shortened it.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Rarity blew me away from the start. The only “feminine” characters I’d ever seen in fiction who weren’t portrayed as evil or obnoxious were all motherly, nurturing types. Rarity’s the fashionable, status-conscious, socially adept sort of feminine, and yet she’s somehow allowed to be a likable character. I also love how the show has three main characters who’re the epitome of their race of pony, two main characters who have strange abilities not normally seen in their race, and a dressmaker with no awesome powers who can still keep up with them and be a vital part of the group.
What’s your favorite episode?
If I may derail a bit, you’ve just pushed me to make an important discovery. I didn’t get into the show by watching it, but by reading Alan Back’s incredibly detailed transcriptions of it. Equestria Daily didn’t post any of them after season 2, so I assumed he’d stopped doing them, and I never made the transition to watching the episodes. But I just did some Googling, and I eventually uncovered transcripts for every season. I’ve got a lot of reading to do!
Anyway, since I’ve been out of the loop since season 2, I can’t give an opinion on a lot of fan-favorite episodes. I do remember really liking “A Dog and Pony Show,” though.
What do you get from the show?
I started reading those scripts at a point when A Song of Ice and Fire was the dominant influence on fantasy fiction. Richard K. Morgan claimed to have invented an entirely new genre of “f*ck fantasy,” The Prince of Nothing was nothing-ing it up, and everything I picked up seemed dark and hopeless. FIM had the guts to present an unabashedly idealistic view, not ignoring problems like greed or bigotry, but allowing for the possibility that they could be overcome.
We’ve seen Dungeons and Dragons become a generic setting that any fantasy author can easily riff on, and to a lesser extent, so has Dragon Quest. I think FIM deserves that status as an inspiration. Even if future writers don’t tell stories of heroic ponies, I hope they adopt the same idealism and the same sense that problems can be solved by means other than violence.
While I’m more of a world fan than a character fan, I should also note that every one of the Mane Six except maybe Rainbow Dash violates her archetype in a positive way. I read a fic once where Twilight hated fiction, and she eventually explained that when a character like her appears in a story, she’s almost always the arrogant rival who turns evil and is defeated by the heroine. (This was written before Equestria Girls, in which Sunset Shimmer matched the description Twilight gave in the fic.) Rarity wouldn’t be allowed to be a heroine in a normal fantasy series, either, and most of the other Mane Six would be one-note secondary characters. In a genre full of boring default protagonists, there’s something really powerful about a show where all sorts of different people could watch it and think “This interesting, multifaceted character is just like me!”
What do you want from life?
A roof over my head, food to eat, and plenty of books to read. I have few ambitions for personal gain, though I suppose I’d be happy if I wrote a book that a lot of other people read and enjoyed.
Why do you write?
Unlike most people who write stories, I don’t really enjoy the act of writing all that much. I tend to write the way I see things, laser-focused and only noticing the most important things in any situation, so it takes a lot of effort to figure out what a scene would actually look like and avoid a Featureless Plain of Disembodied Dialogue. But when someone tells me that they liked my stories, I feel happy to have made their day a little brighter.
Maybe that makes me sound self-centered, but I’m not looking for attention or trying to stroke my ego. I’ve been given a lot of advantages because of my father’s money, and a lot of time and resources have been invested in treating my various illnesses. I just want to feel like I’m giving something back.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
People will give you all sorts of advice about story elements and plot planning, but don’t neglect how it feels to read your story. Do you split paragraphs when you introduce a new idea? Do you vary your sentence lengths so they don’t feel identical? Do you know how to use commas to speed up and slow down the pace? Try to read your sentences like you’ve never seen them before, and if they’re boring or confusing, start tweaking until they feel right.
Also, most writers who get described as “flowing” have a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. The typical approach is da-DAH da-DAH da-DAH, like Shakespeare, but I’ve seen experienced writers come up with others. You don’t have to follow the pattern unswervingly, but if you keep to it most of the time, your sentences will probably feel smooth and even. (Rainbow Bob is a great example of this, though Cleverpun might argue the point.)
What guided the creation and inclusion of original myths, like that of Brunhild and Hearth Flame, alongside the more familiar, canonical Equestrian figures?
It’s funny that you ask about Brunhild and Hearth Flame, because that’s the one myth where I have no memory of how I wrote it. I wanted to have Hearths’ Warming and Discord because those were major events, and I wanted to have one minor myth each that demonstrated what kind of goddesses Annie and Polly were, plus a myth that showed them failing at something. To take the bat pony myth as an example, I went -> Annie is kind of goth -> bat ponies were her idea -> Annie likes heroes and fighting -> bat ponies were meant to protect other ponies -> and so on and so forth, thinking it out logically until I had a shell for the myth. But I have no idea how I got from “Polly is a goddess of hearth and home” to “this is how griffons and ponies interbred.” Maybe I read too many beast-and-beauty stories.
What do you think should guide the use of power by those who have it?
The easiest way to doom yourself is to see it as power over others instead of power for others’ sake. Act among them as a friend, not above them as a god, helping them as you’d want them to help you. Listen to what they ask for, and have some faith in their ability to make their own decisions. And above all, don’t assume they’re wrong or stupid just because they have different desires and values from you.
When I’m reading MLP fics at random, my #1 reason for staring at the screen in horror is authors trying to legitimize and excuse abuse of power*. I’ve seen it as power of gods over mortals, power of rulers over subjects, power of “superior” races over “inferior” races, power of males over females, and even power of soldiers over noncombatants. However you frame it, it’s ugly, and it makes this fandom worse.
*My #2 reason is complete disrespect for the concept of bodily integrity, but that’s a different rant.
What inspired the urban legends in the later part of the story?
I didn’t want the snow globe to exist in a vacuum. I wanted a reason for its existence and a history of past use, even if Polly and Annie didn’t necessarily know all of it. I had ideas for multiple previous users and the worlds they made, but I decided the sisters only needed to discuss one in detail to understand the situation.
In some ways, the sisters are one of the better possibilities for who might find the snow globe, so by way of contrast, I tried to think of the absolute worst person who could discover it. A typical protagonist from a bad erotic fantasy story on Literotica.com seemed to fit the bill. (I used to write for the fantasy section of the site, so I’ve read a lot of godawful erotic fantasies. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, they’re not all that different from bad HiEs.) Anyway, I worked out what sorts of things he might do, drawing parallels with a particularly despicable character in Mass Effect 2 who also tried to live out a fantasy of submissive harem women, and I figured out how it could backfire in horrifying fashion. Then I glossed over most of it to try to keep my story from going completely grimdark.
You mentioned you were planning a sequel. What can we look forward to?
From the ending of the first story, it’s clear that one of the canon characters has much more power than she thinks she does, and potentially much more power than she can safely control. Add in the destabilizing influence of the Tree of Harmony, and she’ll need guidance and training to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself or others. Who better than the Princess of the Night to keep a good pony with dangerous magic from going down a dark path? But that magic is more subtle than either of them realize …
Expect accidents, whimsy, angst, cake, gay pony smooches, and maybe an explanation of what the hay the snow globe was supposed to do in the first place. But don’t hold your breath for it — I don’t intend to start on it until I’ve finished up my other obligations.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m working on an article about the real-life experiences that inspired How Equestria Was Made. I’m hoping to publish it with Cracked.com. I’ll blog about it once I’ve got it up somewhere.
Also, my publisher would be displeased with me if I didn’t promote my book. It’s got a superhero with plenty of heart but no powers to speak of, a hyperactive magical girl who watches way too much anime, a social Darwinist werewolf who isn’t nearly as wise as he thinks he is, and a Lovecraftian horror that’s stalking them all. I’ve got the beginning up for free if you want to check it out.