Today’s story has a richness you won’t want to put down.
The Wealth of the World
[Dark] • 7,849 words
In the 19th century of Princess Celestia’s rule, Equestria experienced an acceleration of its progress and prosperity as the first westward expansion began. Yet there were some ponies who took this call to progress as a warrant for ever more radical reform. In 1858, 148 ponies left Equestria to realize that radical dream. This is their story.
FROM THE CURATORS: “We’re all into style imitations of classic authors, right?” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “This is a Hawthornian piece about ponies setting off to found a new land out from under the confines of Celestia’s supposed tyranny. And when I say ‘tyranny’, I mean things like ‘having money’. They of course end up succumbing to the greatest of evils … the identity of which is really clever, informed as it is by the imitation and turning it on its head.” This quickly sailed to a feature amid compliments like Horizon’s: “I’m awfully impressed. … Every revolution contains the seeds of its own destruction, I’ve heard from somewhere, and this is a tight and compelling example of that.”
While we agreed it was an exemplary story, our most spirited debate was whether this worked equally well as MLP fanfiction. “For all that it’s a wonderful story, the Equestrian setting is an undeniable drag on it,” Chris said, and Soge agreed: “There is a certain homogeneous hierarchy here that isn’t applicable to the show’s universe.” Horizon disagreed: “It feels like commentary on Equestrian society. It lampshades the way that it’s leaving canon Equestria behind, in a way that is both literal and symbolic — by physically sailing away and establishing a society based upon rejecting Equestrian ideals.” He added that the show has explored similar topics — “in many ways this is Our Town from a different angle” — causing Present Perfect to note, “What this story is missing is a tie-in to Starlight’s village.”
But regardless of the merits of its pony approach, its style easily won us over. “The author captures the Dark Romantic style of Nathaniel Hawthorne, while transporting the themes of Earth’s Holocaust into a complete narrative about the roots of fanaticism and moral failure,” Chris said. “That’s wonderful.” Present Perfect echoed him: “The writing is just wonderful, maybe a little heavy on dialogue for journalfic, but very much portraying a pony of letters.” It added up to a story both moving and literary, Soge said: “Despite never having read Hawthorne, or much of the American literary canon for that matter, I really like the style, as well as how the emotions of the protagonist flow from the writing.”
Read on for our author interview, in which very trustworthy rodent discusses downed waterships, fleeing clouds, and monolithic metanarratives.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a small furry prey animal, you know. It’s dangerous for me to give out my personal details!
On a more serious note, the one blog post I’ve made on this website is about the departure of darf, one of FiMFiction’s more talented writers, and how important I consider it to keep online and offline identities mostly separate. I’m afraid I’m not going to cross the streams here!
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I admit that it was not something I put much thought into. I like little fuzzies thanks to a childhood fondness for Watership Down, and the obvious irony of a trustworthy rat was fun enough to run with.
Who’s your favorite pony?
To steal a trick from Nabokov: my ear says Pinkie Pie, my head says Celestia, but my heart says Twilight Sparkle.
What’s your favorite episode?
My default answer to this, as it has been since I started watching MLP in 2012, is ‘Lesson Zero’, but the truth is that my enjoyment of the show has gradually become more generalised as my interest in it has matured and mellowed.
What do you get from the show?
This is a superlatively autistic comparison, but for me, My Little Pony evokes largely the same kind of emotions as slice-of-life anime: consolation and nostalgia. These aren’t very present in contemporary culture for adults, and insensitivity to them used to stunt my appreciation for a lot of great art and writing from periods when they were afforded more respect as literary emotions. Strange to say, I never quite understood even a poem as simple and ubiquitous as Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ until I figured out why I enjoyed watching colourful ponies restore harmony to Equestria. Who’d have thought — daffodils can set a heart at peace, harmony and friendship can overcome chaos, and fun things can be really fun.
On a broader level, I think there’s a deficiency, in Western Europe and America, of art, popular or otherwise, that aims to invest meaning in things and restore a sense of peace and purpose in a chaotic world. My personal view is that the success of MLP among young people isn’t just about millennial childishness but also a desire to see something sweeter and more affirmative in popular culture in between the cynical reality TV, the brooding HBO dramas and the grey-toned Scandinavian police procedurals. It’s funny how as our lives have become more healthy and comfortable, our culture has become more dismal. Perhaps we take our comfort too much for granted, but I think the MLP fandom alone proves there’s demand for something different. Yui Hirasawa deserves more credit for her wisdom.
Beyond that, as with most of us, the prolific fandom was a major attractive element of MLP. It’s more or less the Western Touhou in terms of sheer volume of fan work.
What do you want from life?
You know that feeling of wonder that comes over you when you encounter something or someone of transcendent beauty? It’s that feeling that the mundane oddities of fate and chance have for once evened out into clear patterns, and your dissatisfaction rises and dissipates like clouds fleeing the sky at dawn. That’s the ticket. That’s what makes it worth it. Lately, I’ve found someone who’s shown me that again, for the first time in a long while.
Why do you write?
To tell the truth. Writers who aren’t truthful aren’t convincing.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
For fanfiction? There are usually no real stakes, so get as much practice out of it as you can. Think in terms of improving your writing and stretching yourself. Take it seriously but not too seriously. Personally, I’ve used it to play about with style and explore some themes that interest me. I’ve only written three fics here, but they all contain strong elements of pastiche. On the other hand, there’s nothing necessarily shameful about fanfiction — I’ve read some great stuff here — so set your ambitions as high as you please.
For writing in general? Find a vision and write because you need to fulfil it. Read a lot. Really good writing is timeless, so don’t model your work off contemporaries unless you’re just a careerist. Books that have survived and remained relevant will always feel fresher than most contemporary fiction, so read old books. Read nonfiction and poetry as well as prose fiction. Read books that break the rules most beloved by contemporary creative writing teachers. A major reason for my Hawthorne fixation in 2015 was that his florid style and focus on interior and essential human nature was the complete opposite of the literature prefered by figures of authority in my life: either paranoid, playful postmodern writing or laconic ‘muscular’ prose (chose Hemingway or Carver as your baseline depending on whether you prefer hot blood or broken families). When you find writers who burn those vanities, you enter a new world. I never had a sense of vision in my work until I started writing outside the margins. Always follow your intuition and be intellectually and aesthetically promiscuous.
You entered “The Wealth of the World” in the contest at writeoff.me four months after “The Cutie Map” episodes first aired. Did the depiction of Starlight Glimmer’s “utopia gone wrong” influence your story at all?
Probably, though I can’t recall its direct influence. It raised the question of utopia, which was already the object of some fan discussion. Is Equestria itself a utopia already? The answer is dependent on what you consider a utopia. Some utopias are lands of plenty and equality; others are well-ordered hierarchies where everybody has their proper place. Personally, I think there is an Edenic quality to the moral order of Equestria, which is much tidier than our own. Almost every moral decision in the show cleaves the same way, and harmony and friendship are always the answers. Everypony has a special talent that lets them fulfil a role in their community, from the farmers and shopkeepers up to the Princesses. Celestia is never really in the moral wrong. DuncanR’s ‘Appletheosis’ explores this idea directly by reimagining the encounter with the serpent in the Garden of Eden as it might take place in Equestria: ultimately, the ponies eat the fruit, know of good and evil, and the world becomes ‘fallen’, as it were.
Anyway, utopia or not, ‘The Cutie Map’ shows us contrasting versions of Equestria, and ultimately prefers the Equestria with which we began, where everypony has a different kind and level of ability but is nonetheless satisfied with the talent and position they’re allotted. ‘The Wealth of the World’ is actually very similar in this regard, depicting its radical reformers as myopic and self-destructive — and Equestria under Celestia as the best of all possible Equestrias.
What made you think Nathaniel Hawthorne and My Little Pony would make a good mix?
This is related to the last question; the short answer is that the clear moral order of Equestria made it fun to play with abstract and symbolic characters and explore questions of moral nature, which is Hawthorne territory. The story on which ‘The Wealth of the World’ is based, ‘Earth’s Holocaust’, is quintessentially Hawthorne: an admitted ‘parable of [his] own brain’ shot through with a sturdy, dour Puritanism and written like prophecy. It assumes a certain natural order to the world and a perduring human nature that will continue to sin and suffer with or without our ‘trumpery’ and accoutrements. The connection to My Little Pony is that ‘The Wealth of the World’ takes the continued affirmation of Celestia’s law and harmony as an implicit assumption of natural order. In both cases, the reformist characters are unable to change human/pony nature to achieve their vision. ‘Earth’s Holocaust’’ might be difficult to write today because the moral assumptions of Christianity are no longer so universal, but in Equestria, there’s very much a sense of a monolithic cultural metanarrative.
My story ‘The Patriot’ is similar in this regard — although perhaps more abstract — but takes a more cynical view by exploring the potentially fascistic elements of a social order in which everypony has their destiny assigned to them at adolescence, ruled over by immortal goddesses. How does it justify itself when the order is threatened? And what could actually replace it? For obvious reasons, neither of these stories are very ‘pony’, at least not in the sense of the show; they pick up on elements of the setting to explore something outside of it.
Talk a little about the challenges of using an unreliable narrator.
This story was written for a write-off, and quite honestly, it really just rolled out of me fully formed once I had the concept. I don’t recall enough about the actual process of developing the Scarlet Letter character to talk in specifics, except to say that the challenge, as always with unreliable narrators, was the balance of irony. It’s about trying to clue the reader into his somewhat capricious and self-interested motivations masked by reformist idealism, his assumptions of class according to tribe masked with a sentimental egalitarianism. All unreliable narrators rely on irony for their effect, which may be tragic, comic, or something entirely different, and I feel that it’s fairly heavy-handed with this one — but then so is Hawthorne. Still, subtler ironies are always worthwhile; I would hope to reward a second reading.
What’s the one thing you’d like readers to take away with them after reading the story?
It depends what they’re looking for. The story, like its inspiration, is pretty straightforward and insistent about its meaning, and Hawthorne’s moral challenge is probably worth basic consideration. But ‘The Wealth of the World’ is first and foremost a pastiche, so I suppose my primary hope is actually that it makes the reader more curious about fusty old books that are much better than my meagre imitation.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve described myself as a perennial lurker, which isn’t far from the truth. I almost never post but I come back here fairly regularly and have two WiP fics that I would like to complete. Unfortunately, this state of affairs will probably continue for the foreseeable future, for various personal reasons. I will probably be on stabler ground by next year and then, with some luck, I may return to my neglected horsewords.