Today’s story delves into Secrets Ponies Weren’t Meant To Know.
At the Mountains of Discord
[Adventure] [Crossover] [Dark] • 40,699 words
North of bountiful Equestria and beyond the Crystal Empire lies an icy land of cryptic mystery. Its inner reaches have never been explored, but a Canterlot University expedition is set to change this. The plan is simple: penetrate the unknown depths of the Uncharted North and discover its most hidden secrets.
It’s a noble undertaking, but a dark cloud looms on the horizon. Princess Luna’s dreams have revealed a great but shadowy threat. To minimise the danger, Princess Celestia requests that her most loyal student, Twilight Sparkle, join the expedition and keep everypony safe. With the aid of her number one assistant, Spike, and mailmare Derpy Hooves, Twilight will attempt to do exactly that.
FROM THE CURATORS: “Somehow, Lovecraft crossovers seem to become a small but integral part of every fandom,” Chris said when introducing this story to us. “I never was particularly enamored of Lovecraft’s writing … this, however, is very nice.” It didn’t take long for us to agree. “I was pretty much sold on this one by the end of the first chapter,” Horizon said. “Strong worldbuilding is so crucial to an adventure that shows us the world beyond Equestria, and this has that in spades — not just in translating Lovecraft to Equestria, but in all the original material that reconciles and expands the two.”
That was best exemplified by this story’s attention to detail, Horizon said: “‘The Stormwalds.’ ‘Svalbarding.’ ‘Aeolipyle’ as the airship name — it was the word used to describe the Greek world’s first steam engine, and Aeolus was the god of the wind. Oh, man, so much care has gone into this.” But it wasn’t just the mythology that drew us in. “Even beyond that, it’s the hints of essential Equestrianity,” Chris said, “from big stuff like the use of magic to tiny asides like ‘feathers sounded against coat, that uniquely pegasus sound that spoke to their dual natures’ to everything about Derpy in this story.” And while the Lovecraftian prose was a challenge for some of us, AugieDog thought it fit the story well: “It’s got a great narrative voice, the way it mixes the Twilight we know from the show with those hapless first-person narrators who inhabit most of Lovecraft’s stuff.”
That mixing, in fact, was what we unanimously agreed to be the biggest strength. “This shines when it expands beyond its inspiration, and makes itself its own,” Chris said. “This is no mere ponification, and the way this story uses the Elder Ones, and how it reveals more about them and their creations, is deliciously enticing.” Horizon agreed: “Its commentary on the relationship between ponies and Elder Ones is really remarkable — and it does some fascinating things as a fusion of two messages about the nature of reality that by all rights should be incompatible.” In summary, as AugieDog put it, that fusion was exemplary: “That the author manages to combine Lovecraft and Pony without either completely destroying the other is just this side of sorcery.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Glimmervoid discusses occult computers, Roman sacrifices, and the flowing rivers of fandom.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a Scottish twenty-something, working in IT with a master’s in Computer Science.
I don’t remember exactly how I got into MLP:FiM. I’m a member of a number of internet forums, chiefly Spacebattles.com and thefanfictionforum.net. Both had (and have) threads about MLP. I’d been writing fanfiction for a while at this point, mostly Harry Potter, with a little Naruto and Whateley Academy thrown in.
At first while browsing I’d skip over the MLP threads, because I didn’t really know anything about MLP, but finally I started to look inside. And it looked cool. Lots of fan art, lots of passion.
So I tried the cartoon out on Youtube. The show was fun and colourful. More, it had an exploding fandom, which is always a great thing to see. So I stuck around and read lots of the classics — Fallout: Equestria; It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door; The Immortal Game; The Sweetie Chronicles: Fragments; The Best Night Ever; and more I’m probably forgetting.
My first MLP story is called Hearts of Flesh and Crystal and is a Dungeon Keeper crossover. Frankly it is rather bad. Luckily my second, At the Mountains of Discord, turned out rather better.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Originally I went by the name Elfwood. It is Wood Elf with the words reversed, since I had a Wood Elf Warhammer Fantasy army growing up.
Unfortunately, since there’s a large art site with that same name, Elfwood was a hard name to register in a lot of places. So I started using some other names. Glimmervoid was the one that stuck, taken from the Magic: the Gathering Card of the same name. I think I first used it for my City of Heroes superhero character and from there used it in other places. Since then, it has become my go-to name.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Rarity is best pony. Strangely enough, she doesn’t have much of a role in At the Mountains of Discord, but just being best pony doesn’t mean you’re suited to face cosmic horrors. That is very much Twilight’s bailiwick. Minus the magical princess bit, Twilight makes a rather good Lovecraftian protagonist.
What’s your favorite episode?
Probably a toss-up between “Suited For Success” and “Boast Busters”. The former is a Rarity episode and has what is probably the best song of the show, and the latter has Trixie, who is awesome in her own special ways.
What do you get from the show?
I’m not one of those people who came away with profound lessons and life-changing visions after watching MLP. More power to such people, but that just wasn’t me.
What I really like about MLP:FiM is the characters, the energy, the humour and the fandom. It is a fun show to watch. All the characters are alive and full of vigour. They interact, they grow and they go crazy in interesting ways. I can sit down for 20 minutes come Saturday and just enjoy myself to the colourful adventures of six cartoon ponies. That is great.
What do you want from life?
A machine that will write all the cool stories that bounce around my head that I have neither the discipline nor time to author. :)
Why do you write?
I’m not really sure, to tell the truth. I suppose to tell the stories that are always jumping around my head (see above, still waiting for that machine).
I like to know people enjoy my work. Feedback is great. And I like creating. There’s probably more to it than that, but I work in IT, not psychology.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Ah, this question …
Well, all the classic answers are truth. Practice, practice, practice. Write, write, write.
One trick I find very useful is to use the text-to-speech feature that comes with most word processor programs these days. Having your text read back to you is an excellent way to find mistakes your eyes skip over and to help gauge flow.
What were the biggest challenges of reconciling such different universes as the Lovecraft canon and My Little Pony?
Not as much as you’d expect. MLP is still a young fandom, and that makes strange ideas easier.
I like to think about fandoms as rivers. When they are young, they spread across the ground, wide and going everywhere. As they age, popular stories dig channels of fanon. Subsequent works follow those channels and the entire fandom becomes more limited. This is why I think so many good works are produced early in a fandom’s life.
Specific to Lovecraft, again, it wasn’t so difficult. In a strange way, they even fit. If you read At the Mountains of Madness, you’ll see one of the key themes in Lovecraft’s writing: The ‘nice’ world is a lie. Hidden behind the kind human-centric wrapping we coddle ourselves in is a world of cosmic horror, where humanity, all we care about and all we are, is nothing but an accidental joke.
That idea can fit with MLP. The lie is brighter, true, but that just makes the truth that much more horrifying by contrast.
Of course, I didn’t go all the way with At The Mountains of Discord. The themes of MLP are a little too positive to be thrown away like that. In At the Mountains of Discord, friendship is still important. There is a horrifying lie in Equestria’s pre-history, but that doesn’t make everything Ponies have achieved worthless. Even as a Lovecraftian protagonist, Twilight would never accept that.
What’s the story behind the pony names of your Lovecraft references (in particular, the Stormwalds and the October Codex)?
The names are something of a mixed bag.
The Stormwalds are just a name I came up with, inspired in name by the Stormhold of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I like it because it sounds cool.
The October Codex I am quite pleased with. It is of course the local version of the Necronomicon, though more modelled on the actual Necronomicon of Lovecraft’s writings than the meme. Reading it doesn’t drive you mad. It is disquieting, certainly, but its true horror lies in realising that the lies it tells of Equestria’s own nature are in fact true.
It is named after Equus October — the Roman festival and sacrifice to Mars which involved killing a horse. I didn’t want to steal the name of the Necronomicon straight out, so I came up with my own twist. Equus October seemed a suitably sinister event to serve as nominative genesis.
Heartmake is my Lovecraft expy. This was a bit of hypocrisy on my part. One of my least favourite tropes in Lovecraft fiction is to have Lovecraft himself as a character — I much prefer the idea that the works are the product of their in-universe authors. For example, I really like the idea that At The Mountains of Madness is the published work of William Dyer, warning people away. Still, I couldn’t resist. And Heartmake is professor of folklore, rather than a writer.
The name is a pretty crude pun. Heart=love, make=craft. Hence Lovecraft becomes Heartmake.
One of my favourite parts of the story is that Twilight has a Doctorate in Friendship. The idea that her friendship letters are part of her dissertation and research really tickles me.
Specifically, in At The Mountains of Discord, Twilight earns a D.Thau — a doctorate in Thaumaturgy. This name I shamelessly stole from Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series.
Which came first: your decision to write pony Lovecraft, or the identity of the Elder Ones?
Well, if you’ve read this story (and spoilers if you haven’t), you’ll know At the Mountains of Discord is in fact set in the future of the Lovecraft Mythos. Much as the (real) Elder Things created life on Earth for their own purposes, a group of humans fleeing a war with the Mi-go created life on Equestria. Ponies are descended from their shaggoth servants, abominable weapons created to fight the Mi-go. In fact, all life on Equestria has the shaggoths’ fearsome genomic potential encoded into their cells.
As to which came first … I think both ideas came around the same time. They just fit together well.
How do you balance canon characters and OCs in a story that prominently uses both?
I think this is one of the weaker aspects of At the Mountains of Discord. Truthfully, I don’t think I did the OCs very well. I suppose I was just a little too reluctant to do horrible things to canon characters.
Were there any implications of Twilight’s discoveries that you wanted to work into the story but couldn’t?
Well, Twilight is hardly the first pony to stumble upon the Mythos. Researchers have picked up bits and pieces before. Much of it also exists in scattered and distorted mythology, the recorded ravings of madponies and the dreams of powerful unicorns.
These stories don’t drive you mad any more than reading a fictional book will drive you mad. What drives you mad is the realisation that they are true, that the lies we tell ourselves are utterly false and the universe is a dark, cold place. That is what Twilight did in finding the Elder Thing city. Of course, in a few hundred years, I expect Twilight’s writings will become just another piece of that mythology to be dismissed.
The main thing I couldn’t explain properly was the nature of the Elder Thing’s secret weapon in the north. It is in fact a closed-time-loop computer, an occult thing of strange matter and warped mathematics that invokes Yog-Sothoth to solve computable problems in zero time. It brute-forces a solution and then sends the answer back in time to just after the question was asked.
Of course you can’t invoke Yog-Sothoth without shining a bright beacon into the night, and that is what brought the Mi-go to Equestria.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
More stories should have Twilight get a Doctorate in Friendship.