Today’s tale has its roots in an unusual ghost story.
A Requiem For Lost Libraries
[Mystery] • 2,655 words
There is a ghost haunting the corridors of Ponyville’s newest dwelling, the princess’s Castle of Friendship. It is a ghost without voice, or hoof, or spectral limb to cast strange shadows upon crystalline walls.
But it’s not the ghost of a pony. It’s not a person at all.
FROM THE CURATORS: Seven seasons in, it’s a delight to find the fandom still delivering fresh takes on classic ideas — as this story does succinctly and elegantly. “This examines an angle of #SaveTree that I’ve never before seen covered, and does something quietly lovely with it,” Horizon said in his nomination, and that spurred accolades like Present Perfect’s: “This was fantastic. It elevates the #savetree meme — the catch-all for the fandom’s ability to love even the background of this show, justifying that love and nostalgia for a tree whose story we never really knew.”
The unique angle of the core concept was only one element of our appreciation, though — several of us commented on the delicate touch with which the story balanced its ideas with canon. “The big thing right felt like the way that this maintained a horror-like sense of tension while also resolving in a satisfying and entirely non-horrific way that felt squarely show-tone,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect had similar comments: “The larger-than-life ghost story aesthetic of the narrative fits the content and only serves the overall tone. I agree with Horizon, there’s something horrific, Twilight Zone-ish, to the final reveal, but it’s a good kind of horror. It fits the show well, save for covering a topic the show never will. I was duly impressed.” The story’s gentle approach to not only death but the Equestrian approach to it also earned AugieDog’s appreciation: “I quite like how this story makes the pony afterlife an underground thing, too — if I might devolve in punnery — something that isn’t officially acknowledged but not really discouraged.”
We didn’t just appreciate the uniqueness of the story’s ideas, but also its narrative approach. “I like the way that it slowly shifts tone from the abstract into the personal, and the way that the narrator gradually becomes part of the story,” Horizon said. “I love the way that this manages to keep a sense of supernatural wonder and inexplicability, despite being set in a world that takes magic for granted.” And that all added up to a package well worth our attention. “The dreamlike aspect of the ‘ghost’ is both unsettling and fascinating, and I loved the suggestion of a pony afterlife rooted in nostalgia,” Soge said. “This is memorable and very well written.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Mitch H discusses haunting hopes, boxcar loads, and peytral burdens.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a Pennsylvanian, male, in my forties. I work in the precision agriculture/agricultural meteorology industry, mostly doing customer and tech support. I went to PSU, got a rather useless BA in history, and never really left Happy Valley after that. I was active in anime fandom long before I wandered into ponyfiction. I showed up pretty late to pony.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Honestly, it’s just the name I go by — I didn’t expend any special effort on it; back in the days of Usenet I did the whole silly-online-name thing, and people who remember me from those days have been known to make mock. After a while, I got too lazy to pretend to be anything more than what and who I am. Mitch isn’t exactly what it says on my drivers license, but it’s what my mother calls me, so I figure that’s good enough.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I’m tempted to just say Applejack, but it feels kinda plain? But it’s her charm, isn’t it? Plain and simple, intensely hard-working, hard-headed and as stubborn as the hills. I only wish I was as hard-working as Applejack, or as good to my family as she is to hers. There’s something about a character who can plant her hooves as deep as bedrock, look the world in the eye, and dare them to move her from where she’s chosen to stand.
What’s your favorite episode?
As much grief as “Magical Mystery Cure” gets in the fandom, I think it is the most concise and efficient distillation of the show and the series as a whole. Theme, tone, and musicality come together in a tight little package that displays Twilight at her best and worst, and dismantles everything about her friends to show how they work, and how they don’t work, and then reassembles them in a beautiful series of musical vignettes. It really could have been a series conclusion, and I would have been satisfied with it, I think, despite coming to the fandom a number of years after “Magical Mystery Cure” aired.
What do you get from the show?
They’re stories about people — flawed, cantankerous, a little quarrelsome, but still decent at their core. People as we would like to be — more generous, kinder, happier.
Like all good fantasy, the show’s stories at their best use magic and miracle to say something life-affirming about people, just slightly distanced from the real world with all of its rough edges and sharpness.
Also, it’s cute as the dickens.
What do you want from life?
Oh, what a question. I’m still figuring out what life wants from me — it seems presumptuous to want anything back. I’m healthy, employed and safe; anything else that I might lack is my own fault, and none of life’s.
Why do you write?
There are things I have in my head, that I’d like to read? To be honest, I didn’t set out to be a writer, but I’ve read so much over the years that some of it had to start spilling out after a while. I certainly didn’t set up an account on Fimfiction with the intent to write stories. I was just reading totallynotabrony’s We Rent The Night, and having read this one particular set-piece in that story, said to myself, “That’s totally something that Glen Cook’s Black Company would have done. I wonder if someone’s done a crossover of that with pony?” And when I found that nobody had, I just … felt like I wanted to read that story. So I started writing it. And it just kept going. For way, way too many chapters. After I eventually wrapped up In The Company Of Night, I kept writing stories, because it gave me an outlet, and I still had things to say.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read. Read by the boxcar load. The best writers — and I certainly don’t count myself as anything other than a rank beginner, to be sure — read extensively, catholically, omnivorously. Some rare individuals have a genius, an originality which has no influences, but those are rarer than hen’s teeth — or, since we’re talking in the context of Equestria and its sharp-toothed cockatrices, perhaps I should say, more rare than an honest snake-oil salesman? For the rest of us, we learn in ‘the school of mankind’, by example.
Then write. Write a lot. You won’t be good right out of the gate. I spent the better part of a decade writing a daily blog, poetry, and assorted argumentation, and before that, I spent another decade doing tech writing for fan conventions and so forth. The more you write, and the more you care about the writing as you write, the better you will get. Take advice, pay attention to how others phrase things, how they structure their stories, how they write dialog, how they write exposition, action, scene-setting, description …
Not everyone comes out of the gate a well-rounded writer. I’m still kind of shaky on dialog and characterization, and it’s no piece of cheap irony that you folk chose “A Requiem For Lost Libraries”, a story without any dialog whatsoever, and hardly any characters to speak of, to feature.
But I’m working on the ‘character’ and ‘dialog’ thing, I promise. ^_^
What inspired “A Requiem for Lost Libraries”?
During a conversation on FimFiction’s discord server in the writing-help channel, they were tossing around writing prompts, and someone going by ‘Broken Rose’ said that they’d read a story ‘which had literally nobody as a character’. I tried to make that happen, but in the end, ponyfiction is about ponies, and ponies, as I said, are people, people with a bit of a fantasy-magic overlay. And hauntings mean nothing without people to experience them.
Why bring the narrator in as a character at the end?
Without the narrator as a person, the story was just a thing, just a bit of fannish headcanon. A conceit. A lost place haunting its successor, filling an empty vessel with memories. The process by which a domicile becomes a home, by which we make our living-spaces living space. And that was fine, but …
There’s another side to hauntings, which is that they are expressions of our mortality. To make a place live, we must also give it an end to living. Hauntings encode within them things which are lost. They are by their very nature the remembrance of lives which have come to a conclusion.
I’m at an age where those in later generations are starting to pass, and some of them are going easier than others. The light conceit of a library haunting a palace caught up the anxiety and worry that I carry for some of my elders, and grew heavy. That drew out this conclusion — this sense that hauntings are our hopes, fears and wishes made palpable. That they are our hopes for something after life, and our fears that it may not be as well as we would wish — but in the end, they are that wish for a promise that all will be well, that ‘there is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole’.
How do you imagine the princesses respond to the phenomenon described in the story?
Deeply unsettled, I think. My sense of the princesses is that they are all at the same time miracles of power, paragons of virtue, and deeply tied to the things of this world, or at least, that world. They’re everything our most primitive selves want to worship — authority, heroism, status, purity, position — and everything we should never, ever give that worship. They are, like their little ponies, people, and rulers in their own right.
Worship is poison to rulers, and my sense is that the princesses, being good rulers, loathe being made objects of veneration. This is why I showed Twilight, in the last third of the story in her future-persona as the Dusk Princess, keeping the pilgrims who pass through her palace at forelegs-length. She neither aids, nor bars, these ponies from passing through her domain. She also exerts no authority over that back-door to her castle through which no-pony ever returns. It must be exceedingly uncomfortable for poor Twilight Sparkle, but thus are the burdens of the peytral.
Why give the story a “Mystery” tag?
I did not want to leave the impression that this was Horror, anything horrible, or a Thriller, because there was nothing of the jump-scare or the rush in what I had written. And so, I filed it under Mystery, because death is a mystery to all but the dead.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for reading, and thank you for tolerating my indifferent and erratic prose. And, to mis-quote Lois McMaster Bujold, ‘write when you find good works’.