Today’s story will serve up a tragedy worth remembering.
[Sad] • 3,355 words
In the midst of Equestria’s most recent age of peace, just after Princess Celestia puts the finishing touches on her latest gift to her subjects, Twilight Sparkle appears with a strange question about an obscure beast. It’s obvious that something else is bothering Celestia’s most faithful student, but what?
FROM THE CURATORS: “I’m not sure what to say about this without spoiling it,” Chris said as he nominated this story — and indeed it’s best approached before reading any spoilers, since it takes some powerful twists from its starting premise. “There’s some nice misdirection in the early going,” Chris said. “A bit more than halfway through, I discovered I was on completely the wrong track. What the story’s really about is heartwrenching.” Present Perfect was equally impressed: “I figured it out about halfway through, and then just had to watch in horror as the heartbreak grew and grew.”
That emotional impact was augmented by the story’s presentation. “This is a real masterpiece of tiny details,” Present Perfect said. “That Celestia has to piece things together along with the reader helps make everything feel realer than it is.” Horizon agreed — “this tells a remarkably large story from its single tiny stage” — while Chris offered an example: “I love the fact that things like the condition of the guards’ armor can let us infer so much about the world outside, while the story itself never leaves Celestia’s workroom.”
We broadly agreed that the characters were as compelling as the world around them. “This is exactly how I imagine Twilight — and Celestia — dealing with a situation like the one they find themselves in, and Celestia’s bit about responsibility near the end tied everything together,” Chris said. The moment he discussed was one we all found central to the story. “The bit about responsibility gives this piece nobility, a purpose beyond just tugging at heart strings,” Present Perfect said, while AugieDog found drew a deeper lesson: “The talk of duty at the end is so very, very Celestia. It shows that she will always have more lessons to teach Twilight. Always.”
Read on for our author interview, in which TinCan discusses bilingual wordplay, Canterlot messes, and the halls of Elsinore.
Give us the standard biography.
Let me begin by saying I think readers will have the best experience if they read Souvenir before reading this interview.
I won’t bore you with a biography, so here’s something a bit briefer: I was the kid who was always reading genre fiction during class and at lunch and on the bus, and also the kid that no one actively disliked, but only because none of my peers really thought about me at all. Those two traits are probably related, but not in a chicken-or-egg way; they just grew up feeding off each other.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I just have a liking for choosing pseudonyms that are mundane inanimate objects. Kind of a ‘stand out by being unassuming’ sort of thing.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Couldn’t say. I think the show and other material does a good job of making each member of the cast likable and interesting characters.
That’s a disappointing answer, isn’t it? How about this then: if I could tweak the question to “if you knew people in real life who had the personalities of these characters, which would you like the most?” then it would definitely be the one who was like Applejack. Straightforwardness, shouldering responsibility and a strong work ethic are things I find very admirable.
What’s your favorite episode?
Favorite single episode is still ‘The Best Night Ever,’ and ‘A Canterlot Wedding’ is my favorite two-parter. ‘Sweet and Elite’ is good too. Come to think of it, I could watch an entire show that’s just the cast bouncing around Canterlot making a mess of the social calendar.
What do you get from the show?
Most of the time I get a goofy grin, several chuckles, and maybe an ‘aww’.
What do you want from life?
To know that I made things better and not to disappoint the people who depend on me.
Why do you write?
Lots of reasons. The first MLP fan fiction I attempted was written out of the desire to address what I thought was an oversight in the show that clashed with the theme. The second was meant to be practice to see if I could write a compelling story in first-person. The third was done as part of a prompt to try and get my writing mojo back after it’d been declining for months. With Souvenir, though, I don’t even remember what brought it on.
As the length of my hiatus shows, I haven’t been able to find a new answer to this question yet.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The writer ought to like the characters. The reader won’t like the characters if the writer doesn’t, and that can lead to the reader not caring about them. Find something admirable about each of them. Even if they’re despicable, irredeemable villains, or exist only to be the butt of a one-off gag, or are just deeply flawed characters, you still have to make them the ‘love to hate’ kind of black-hat, the charming buffoon, and the sort of person the reader feels invested in.
Also don’t be afraid to take ideas you find evocative in other stories and put your own spin on them, especially if there’s an aspect that the first author didn’t explore. Souvenir, for instance, owes some of its ‘story DNA’ to Gene Wolfe’s The Packerhaus Method and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince.
Many stories try to surprise the reader with their reveal, but this one makes it clear what is amiss (more or less) well before Celestia’s revelation. What made you chose the latter over the former when designing this story? And on the same note: when you put this story together, when did you “want” the reader to guess what was really happening?
You’re being far too kind in assuming I designed this story. Souvenir was written in a fit one afternoon, during which I managed to even choke myself up a little bit. I left it alone for a couple weeks, then gave it a quick polish and shoved out the door. I’m amazed by the reception it got, and I’m at a loss as to what I did to make it work. Maybe muses are real.
The latest I expected readers to figure out the gist of what was happening was when Celestia described the purpose of the gem. I wasn’t too worried about exactly when they’d put the pieces together because I thought the impact of the story wasn’t in the reveal, but in the manifestation of the gem’s flaw at the end, after everything’s been explained.
There was some discussion over whether the fact that this is the 32nd time, and how that knowledge meshes with Twilight’s reactions. Do you think Twilight will ever become numb from the repetition? How many repetitions do you think it would take for that to happen?
32 times is a later edit. Those comments were based on the original version that had it at over 200, which I agree in retrospect is far too many.
I don’t think I could say how Twilight would become numb without writing that story myself. It’d be a moot point, though. One way or another, these interviews won’t go on for much longer with the state Equestria is in. Either things get better and the gem is forgotten, or things get worse and there’s no one left who can use the key. Twilight’s promise about the party, and Celestia accepting this odd statement without question was meant to show that Twilight expects to meet her own demise soon.
In the story, Celestia says, “My beloved student, a princess does not fill a quota of helping her subjects and then say ‘no more, I am done,’ no matter how painful the task.” Do you see this as a statement about governance, or about Celestia? (Or both? Or something else, as well?)
Yes to both. “Princesshood” seems to be more personal than political in MLP, an ideal of behavior meant to be applicable to the show’s primary demographic. I would say that it’s generally good and honorable to sacrifice for others, particularly those over whom you have authority or who can claim the right to your protection and governance. That said, this is a rather extreme example, somewhat akin to the plight of the child in Le Guin’s Omelas.
I think that if the roles were somehow reversed, and Twilight felt the same way about her own predicament as she did about Celestia’s in Souvenir, Celestia would not tell her that it was her duty to tough it out.
I was interested by your decision to tag this [sad], rather than [tragedy]—it seems to fit the traditional definition of a tragedy, allowing for the difference between a greek play and a modern short story. How would you categorize this story, and why?
You’re right, it fits, but I definitely wasn’t thinking about anagnorisis when I tagged the story. I see Souvenir more as the aftermath of a Shakespearean tragedy, like Horatio and Fortinbras left behind in the halls of Elsinore after the curtain falls. The tragic events happened before the story and brought the world to this state. In Souvenir, we only witness the characters dealing with their new circumstances as best they can.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Did anyone notice the bilingual wordplay in the title? I was inordinately proud of that at the time.