You always go back to the classics — and with today’s story, you can return to a pony take on one of the great classics of English literature.
Arthurian—The Black King
[Dark] [Romance] [Tragedy] • 30,305 words
“Those of us who have a general overview and knowledge of King Sombra regard him to be a despotic autocrat, a power-hungry potentate and a vicious oppressor. And, even if this condemnation is justified, we may perhaps not have the right reason for this attribution. This is due to the fact that before King Sombra turned to the tyrant we all know him to be, he was the greatest knight of the Crystal Empire.”
—Sir Sombra de Onyx, Foreword to the Third Edition
FROM THE CURATORS: “This is a very ambitious piece,” Present Perfect said — as its roots show. “The author lists Le Morte D’Arthur and Ivanhoe as the primary inspirations,” Chris said, “and Wellspring does a commendable job capturing both the literary style and the feeling of history-by-way-of-myth which permeates Le Morte D’Arthur. A capital-r Romance in the truest sense, this is a story about character archetypes presented in a tell-heavy style.” It is also, in Horizon’s words, “metal as heck. From Sombra’s world-serpent origin to the way the sphinx is killed, this continuously finds new ways to crank up the level of epic.”
And while The Black King can be an easy story to bounce off of — “I can appreciate what the author’s doing here, but I can’t read it,” AugieDog said — it richly rewards readers willing to engage with it. “The style is obtuse, and all the grammatical errors don’t help the story at all,” Soge said, “but this story sold me on its metafiction aspects levels so hard that by the end I went from ‘Wellspring needs a editor’ to ‘Boy, Equestrian grammar sure has changed’. The afterwords are tone perfect, the historical and plot inaccuracies feel legitimate, and the footnotes complement the text beautifully.” Present Perfect had similar praise for those margin elements: “There’s so much unexpected humor with the historical inaccuracies in the footnotes. And there’s historical poems in them! They do quite a lot more work than one expects footnotes to. … I’ve also never praised an afterword before, which should say enough by itself.”
What locked in The Black King’s feature, though, was that its unusual style was wrapped around solid storytelling. “Sombra’s backstory is really powerful,” Present Perfect said, while Soge praised its worldbuilding more broadly: “The story carries some fascinating ideas about Sombra, the Crystal Kingdom, and historical Equestria as a whole. I love how Sombra’s tragic flaws are mostly positive attributes, which makes the inevitable conclusion all the stronger.” It all added up to a package worth the time spent in adjusting to its presentation. “The more I think about it, the more impressive I find this story to be,” Chris said. “The Black King captured my imagination in a way few fanfics do, and I feel like that’s the definition of something worth spotlighting.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Wellspring discusses showy footnotes, writing archetypically, and the evil of Cervantes.