Today’s story is a cold fable with a warm heart.
A Tale of a Mountain Clan
[Drama] • 2,472 words
This is a tale passed down for generations, a tale of an age before there was peace between the Griffons and the Equestrians.
FROM THE CURATORS: Our own exposure to this historical fable nearly started with a blast from the past — “[former curator] Chris contacted me wanting to get this one looked at,” Present Perfect said — but Soge beat him to the punch. “This type of mythological story telling is my weakness,” he said in his nomination. “It is a great origin story for Gryphon-Pony relations, featuring a strong allegory, clever writing, and the kind of world building that always makes this type of story special. After all, legends are not only about what is being said, but also about what it means for a culture that a specific story has lasted this long.”
The story quickly picked up broad support. “Right off the bat, the narrative voicing is strong and confident, and that holds for the entire piece,” RBDash47 said. “The setup of this little slice of the ancient world is perfect, no more or less than what the story needed, and we get just enough to tie it into show canon so we know it’s a look at how the windigoes affected other races.” And Present Perfect had similar praise: “The strengths of this story are the way it’s told — it’s quite clearly an ancient fable being relayed to us by a storyteller — and the twist at the end.”
Most of our discussion about it (as well as this week’s interview!) strayed into spoiler territory, but that ending was unanimously appreciated. “The prose felt rough, but the ending 100% redeems this,” Horizon said. “The author’s choice gives this a pony-via-Brothers-Grimm feel, aligning perfectly with its portrayal of both races while still feeling compatible with canon’s far gentler relationship.” Present Perfect said that “staying true to the griffon’s character makes for a far more memorable story than it otherwise could have been,” and RBDash47 agreed: “I was very impressed that the author didn’t try to fast-track the griffon’s character arc.”
And there was much to appreciate along the way. “It helps that the characters really pop, which feels like a breath of fresh air in a story like this,” Soge said, while Horizon added: “I’m definitely a fan of how this works in subtle and effective worldbuilding with small details.” All in all, AugieDog said, the tone and theme carried this far: “The story feels wonderfully ‘griffony’ from the opening paragraph all the way through to the end, and it’s got a definite sense of a story being told aloud in a place where shadows flicker across walls that aren’t quite protecting the listeners from the weather.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Beige Monkfish discusses lightning summoning, campfire gravitas, and classic telephones.
Give us the standard biography.
Hello there! I’m a nerd from the UK, and once upon a midnight dreary I wrote the odd story about ponies! I work as a videographer, and nowadays I make lore videos about games on YT.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
During college, shortly before discovering the show, a particularly spontaneous friend of mine turned to me apropos of nothing and said, “You look like a beige monkfish”. That became my college nickname for about two days, so I thought I’d own it. When I came to make my account on FiMF, I decided to finally drop the really old and bad username I used to have and went with Beige Monkfish. I quite like how bland and disappointing the ‘beige’ part is, like the colour of a 1970s telephone, and how the ‘monkfish’ part seems to have nothing to do with anything, and so that’s the name I go by online!
Who’s your favorite pony?
It would have to be Twilight. She just seems to be the most well-rounded character with the greatest story potential. Most of my favourite fanfics tended to have Twi front and centre.
What’s your favorite episode?
My favourite would probably be “Luna Eclipsed” from S2. The princesses played a crucial role in the fiction of the world, and it was fantastic getting a better picture of Luna and how she had difficulty communicating with the ponies of the present. Of all the episodes I watched, this one always used to stand out to me. Close second are the Canterlot wedding episodes, just for sheer quality.
What do you get from the show?
FiM was earnest and cheerful, with just enough danger and drama to prevent it from getting sickly or insipid, and was of surprisingly high quality for a children’s show. I remember distinctly when I first heard of the show back around when S1 was ending, reading the synopsis and thinking, “well, it’s just a kid’s show … but okay, that’s a neat premise.”
I actually got the wrong end of the stick and thought Rainbow would be the protagonist before I watched it, and that part that got me to watch was the idea of a character that could fly around, manipulate the weather and summon lightning bolts. The thing that got me to stick around was the fantastical world, and in particular the incredible imagination of the fanfiction writers. When you have a world being run by two material, fallible goddesses who control the cycle of the day and night, that’s a world I want to know more about.
What do you want from life?
It’s a cheesy and simple answer, but I just want to be happy, to be able to do the things and make the things that make me happy, and for the people around me to be happy too.
Why do you write?
As I’m sure a lot of other writers can relate to, I have a burning need to just make things. My mind just fixates on things and tries to figure out if I can make something I’ve seen online, but better. Writing is particularly great because you can invent whole worlds and bring them to life with just your imagination, and the only limiting factor is how well you can write.
Unfortunately, although I can imagine these worlds, it turns out I’m not that great at writing them down. There’s something in my brain that makes it extremely difficult for me to hammer words together into sentences, and to keep those sentences in my memory long enough to get them written down. I struggled with this all through school and college, through my time as a fanfiction writer, and even today in the things I do now. I had pages and pages worth of ideas for stories, and “A Tale of a Mountain Clan” was pretty much the only one I was able to get done.
Fun fact, the first half was started around December 2014, and the second half was written after a sudden burst of unexpected inspiration in January 2018 — a full three years since the last edit, and after I had last even thought of it! I really wanted to continue writing, but unfortunately my mind doesn’t seem to be wired the right way for it, so I had to pack it in. “Tale” was pretty much my farewell to the fanfic community.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I fear I may be preaching to the choir, but: don’t let the idea-making part of your mind get the better of you. Focus on the best ideas, and take those one at a time. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to, but not everything, and just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you will.
It’s important to know which ideas to spend your valuable time on, and which ideas are neat but which you’ll have to shelve. I was coming up with ideas faster than I could make them, and as a result of darting from one project to the next, nothing got done. You are more than capable of making anything you want to make, but a focus of priority is key.
What inspired “A Tale of a Mountain Clan”?
One of the most interesting parts of the FiM universe is that it is made of multiple sapient species. Much of human society stems from our nature as tribal omnivores, so it always intrigued me to think how a sapient species of herbivores would develop a society. Now add in how sapient carnivores and sapient herbivores would react to one another, and we have a story. Historically griffons would have preyed on ponies, but give both parties sapience, language, culture and empathy, and now you have a dilemma. By the time the show takes place, griffons and ponies live mostly happily side-by-side, but there must surely have been a point in history when this wasn’t so?
Why make it an “oral tradition” folk tale instead of a more conventional sort of written story?
The thought was that this was a story passed down the generations by the griffons around campfires. I was thinking at the time that this was where storytelling originated, told in person, and this was the tone of voice I heard in my head as I was running it through. Presenting it as a legend seemed to give it a bit of gravitas, with the possibility that the actual events may have played out differently to the way that they were remembered.
This story is the griffon folktale of how the two species started to put their differences aside and come to understand each other as thinking beings. Modern griffons may remember the griffon and the pony in the story, but it’s specifically a griffon tale, told by griffons to griffons, when a young griffon asks about carnivores and herbivores. It’s not a pony folktale. This is why (unless I missed something!) the pony remained nameless and genderless; the griffons remember nothing about who it was because the pony wasn’t important at the time.
I thought how it could play out for a modern griffon to tell this tale which all griffon cubs hear when they’re young, to a pony who has never heard of it before. Even though I wouldn’t be able to explore that particular strand, it was thoughts like that that made it seem like a campfire style could work in the story’s favour. The story is made less solid and more open to interpretation. Did it really happen? What happened next?
Do griffons and ponies mean the same thing when they use the word “kinship”?
More or less, though they wouldn’t know it. Although both had developed language and rudimentary society, life was still tough as neither had yet fully separated themselves from the natural way of life, and as such empathy was reserved for their own groups. A griffon would share a kill with the clan so they could all eat, and here was this pony going out of their way to help a distant village. Now, griffons had territory disputes and ponies did not, so their concepts don’t match up exactly, but the overall idea of empathy and selflessness is the main drive behind the word.
Why choose to end the characters’ meeting the way you did?
The griffons and ponies began to understand one another following this tale, but it definitely wouldn’t have happened immediately. The griffon was still hungry, and his clan would not understand what he had experienced. “You talked to it? Why? And where’s dinner?” At this point in time, all he knew was the status quo, and while he had been given a lot to think about, it would take far more than one night for him to move to any conclusions. The best he thought he was able to do at the time was to give the pony a better death. He still had to eat in the morning, and so did the clan, but I doubt the griffon enjoyed it, and the thought of eating a sapient creature must have rankled with him from that day on. Change is slow; this was just the event that set in motion the change to how the griffons viewed the ponies.
I also love dramatic whiplash moments like this, and the dry, matter-of-fact recounting that a folktale style allows made for a pretty satisfying sudden change of tone.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only a sincere thank you to the readers and writers of fanfiction! Though I may no longer be a part of it, the level of creativity, talent and imagination I have seen in this community is utterly staggering. I have never seen anything of the like before or since!
I would also like to thank you for reading this old short story of mine. It was a lot of fun going back over this tale I dreamed up so long ago.
Take care everyone, and cheers!