The More, The Mare-ier

It’s a question we’ve all heard, when we first admit our love of Pony to those outside our fandom; a question we have likely asked ourselves, time and again. Even those who are unabashedly proud to be brony can have difficulty articulating one simple concept: “Why?” Why do we love “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?” There has to be a reason, yet all too often all we can really say in reply is “because.” The truth is that the reasons are different for each one of us, so the conclusions I come to in this essay are, of necessity, going to be unique to a particular brony named Codex Compendium (that would be me). So, without further ado, I’m going to articulate my answer to the question: “Why do you watch a show for little girls? Why do you love My Little Pony?”

The initial reason is one that seems counterintuitive at first sight; I love “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” precisely because it is not aimed at “little girls.” Ridiculous, right? The show’s creator, Lauren Faust, specifically targeted the demographic at 6-12 year old girls. To which I can only respond that yes, that is exactly true. But as with everything else MLP, what it seems and what it is are not always the same thing. Put another way, the show is intended for young girls, but it is not written down to them.

When we think of children’s shows, what comes to mind immediately are the standards used in typical conversation for belittling and condescension: Care Bears, Teletubbies, Barney the Dinosaur. Those shows are simplistic and dumbed down, their vocabularies limited to the most basic forms of communication. As an extreme example, Barney’s most famous song begins “I love you, you love me, we’re a great big family.” With the exception of the final word, the entire verse consists of single-syllable words. It’s not just simplified, it is almost painfully inane. Sadly, earlier generations of “My Little Pony” fell into this same category, leading to the prejudice “Friendship is Magic” still struggles with.

But “FiM” is not, in any way, shape, or form, those earlier incarnations of MLP. For one thing, the creators realized that the audience would include the parents of those the show was targeting. Rather than force those incidental watchers to suffer through yet another insipid children’s show, the writers elevated the level of the show to be enjoyable, if not outright entertaining. This led to a number of oblique references enbedded in the show which little girls would not get, but would give their parents a bit of a laugh, such as ponies based on The Big Lebowski in a bowling lane and the recurring background pony Time Turner, aka Dr. Hooves.

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Ms. Faust obviously wanted to make plain from the beginning exactly what tone she intended to set for this show. The very first episode opens with the prologue mythos of Nightmare Moon, then transitions directly to our heroine, Twilight Sparkle. Her nature is made blatantly obvious when she passes up a party with other ponies to study. From the reactions of those ponies, this behavior is not just normal for little Twilie, it’s expected. She then goes on to reinforce this image when she dictates a note for Princess Celestia, casually tossing off words like “precipice,” “threshold,” “brink,” “disaster,” “prophecy,” and “imperative.” In my experience, not many 6-year-olds, of either gender, commonly use those words in conversation. I’ve known high-school seniors who would have trouble with some of them! Indeed, poor little Spike can’t even spell these words, forcing Twilight to resort to much simpler synonyms for her missive. This was nothing short of brilliant, for rather than forcing those watching the show to pause and look up these words, or worse, simply gloss over them without learning, Twilight actually defines the words she’s using. It’s guerilla education.

The vocabulary used in the show actually reminds me of another recent “children’s tale” with an adult following: Harry Potter. I was in high school when the series came out, yet even so, I found myself reaching for the dictionary more than once for an unfamiliar word. The author of that series, much like the writers of our ponies, seems to be of the opinion that if one’s audience doesn’t know a word, the solution is not to avoid the word, but to use it and inspire the audience to educate themselves instead. In both cases, Harry Potter and My Little Pony, knowledge is a tangible, demonstrable form of power, so the simple act of learning is an end in its own right; it is no accident that the most learned characters in both shows, Twilight and Hermione, are also some of the most capable. Thus, by learning, the audience becomes more like their heroes.

This higher standard for ponies is evident not just in the show’s lexicon, but in its mythology. Young girls would be expected to know about unicorns, pegasi, and dragons, but the show is not limited to the familiar. The ponies face off against cockatrice and manticores as well, and even the species of the princesses is not a commonly known one: the alicorn. Until the advent of Fawkes, the phoenix is another species I would have placed on the “mostly unknown” list, but alas, the lady Rowling got there first. And while the timber wolves are not a properly classical monstrous species, I do have to mention them simply for the sheer beauty of the pun.

Timberwolves

Beyond both language and bestiary, though, there is something both deeper and more profound about the show which inspires devotion in its adult fans. Going back to the pilot episodes, Nightmare Moon had real, understandable motivations behind her actions. Rather than the standard trope of bad guys doing bad things because they are bad guys, this was a villainess we could sympathize with. Princess Luna, and by extension, Nightmare Moon was lonely, unappreciated, and jealous of her elder sister. It’s only natural that the overshadowed sister, who worked so hard and so diligently to protect her people would want her, if you’ll pardon the expression, moment in the sun. Jealousy and loneliness is a surprisingly adult themes going back to biblical times, and this treatment of serious issues continues throughout the series. We see the ponies confront arrogance (Boast Busters), corporate greed (Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000), personal greed from those we love (Secret of my Excess), and more. It’s not uncommon for bronies to express the sentiment that they have learned a great deal both about friendship and about themselves from watching the show. It’s not an indictment of what we’ve failed to learn from the first go-round, but instead, it’s an exemplar of exactly how incisive the show’s lessons are.

As a corollary to the idea of adult themes in a children’s show, though, is the possibility of multiple levels of meaning as well. A young child who sees “It’s About Time” is going to see a rather simple parable about not worrying over things that may not even happen. It’s a rather simple theme, and one more people could stand to learn. That interpretation holds up just as long as it takes someone to wonder “what if?” “What if” Twilight had successfully delivered her warning? “What if” she had decided not to cast the final spell at all? “What if,” in fact, she had done anything at all different than what had originally happened? Then we get into concepts such as paradox, causality, and all those fun philosophical discussions which have puzzled great minds from H.G. Wells to Doc Emmett Brown. In this case, the instant a child asks that first “what if,” you get an incredible opportunity to introduce someone to the wonders of philosophy, 4th dimensional cause and effect, and the simple benefits of contemplating the possible consequences of a course of action before following through. Too many times, people say “we don’t have time to dawdle!” I like to counter that, in any situation where you have the time to make the wrong decision, you have the time to make the right one as well. An ounce of prevention, after all, is worth a pound of cure.

In any event, I believe the point is well-made; “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” simply cannot be classified as “just a show for little girls.” The themes are deep, rich, and varied enough to support, well, some random internet essayist with too much time (not really) on his hooves and too many ideas (massive understatement) in his head.

Of course, that’s not the only reason I love “My Little Pony.” It would be enough to make any show worth watching, but if I stopped there, I’d still be selling the show short. The other side of the coin is that I love this show is because it’s a cartoon made for little girls. Remember what I said before: “intended for little girls, but not aimed at them.” That’s important.

First off, it’s a cartoon. I can’t speak for earlier generations (of people, not ponies), but I was, and remain, a child of the 80s. I have so many wonderful memories of Disney and non-Disney movies and cartoons including, but not limited to: DuckTales, Gummi Bears, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, all the Grimm’s classics, Looney Tunes, etc. Seeing a new cartoon which harkens back to those roots does awaken a nostalgia for me. And yes, I will admit to thoroughly enjoying the original MLP movie-that-was-really-a-commercial-for-Pegasus-Ponies. Still, you can’t get much more delightfully silly than an enemy named the Schmooze. But I digress.

Part of that nostalgia is not for the times (although the 80s were an absolutely wonderful decade. That’s an essay for someone else, though), but for the simplicity of an earlier time. I have no rose-colored glasses for my younger years, and you absolutely could not pay me enough to relive them; I do understand that the world has never been a simple place to live. In that time, though, we did not understand that. When I was a foal, I thought as a foal, I spake as a foal, but when I became a stallion, I put away foalish things. And I came to understand how complex, and how difficult, life truly is. Parents can’t make everything better, being picked last isn’t the end of the world, and snow days are not the best thing ever. But for 30 minutes, I can put aside the workday, stop worrying about all the complexities of life, and step into a place where you can make everything better by telling the truth and saying you’re sorry, where bad guys can be smacked most royally for doing bad things, and doing the right thing is rewarded, not punished. Or, as the great theologian G’Kar once stated, “we were the good guys; they were the bad guys! And they made a very satisfying THUMP when they hit the ground!”

But not all the bad guys get thumped, which is yet another recurrent theme on the show. Nightmare Moon, the bogeyman for a millenium, was rescued from the nightmare, redeemed, and restored to her sister’s side. Discord is given the opportunity to use his insanity to make things better, rather than inflicting chaos on those around him who cannot live in a world unbound from the normal rules. Even little Babs Seed, the hardened bully from Manehattan comes to realize the error of her ways and founds a splinter branch of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Looking around, it seems too often we write off people as potential friends because they’re too abrasive, too abrupt, or just too stressed to bother with, when in fact, a little effort might yield an abundant harvest. A bad first impression should be just that: an impression, not the deathknell for any future relationship. And it doesn’t have to apply to only Lords of Chaos and the Thing In the Closet, but to simple interactions at work, on the train, or at the gym.

Which leads to another child-centric theme which should appeal to adults as well: inclusion and tolerance. Children are taught to make friends with the people who are around them rather than seeking out like-minded individuals to create their own personal sounding chamber. Good parents strive to raise well-rounded children who ask questions and seek answers, rather than fall back on rote repetition and tradition. The most important word a child can ever learn, in my opinion, is “why?” If you can figure out why a thing is, why it behaves as it does, then that is the basis for true understanding. “Why” is the single concept which underpins practically all of human understanding, from physics, engineering, and higher technology to the most basic of social interactions. “Why” is, in short, the foundation of all knowledge.

By making friends with those dissimilar to themselves, children learn to keep asking questions and striving to understand the world, and the people, around them. Through understanding and tolerance, children gain a much wider worldview and a vastly expanded sense of empathy. Sadly, in the world today, altogether too many people limit their interactions to only those they are comfortable with. People limit themselves to only those who share their profession, their politics, their religion, or some other factor. “My Little Pony” strives to break that cycle, in which an athlete (Rainbow Dash) is close friends with a nerd (Twilight Sparkle) and a prep (Rarity) enjoys spending time with a farmer (Applejack), which is a pair of association you would be hard pressed to find in any given high school.

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And finally, I want to address the appeal of MLP as not just a children’s show, but as very specifically a “little girl’s show.” Gen X and beyond have been raised with the concept of strong female characters, from Cheetara of the Thundercats and Rogue (et al.) of the X-men to Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame. However, in each of those cases, the female characters have been highly, possibly even over-sexualized. Further, cases of strong female leads are almost always paired with a strong male lead. Princess Jasmine, Rapunzel, practically any Disney princess you care to name had to be rescued by a male protagonist. Even the anti-Disney tale of Shrek followed the same trope of a “damsel in distress” being rescued by a “heroic knight.” Even lampooning traditional patriarchal archetypes, Dreamworks fell into the same trap.

But then along comes “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” Stallions are present in the show, but are very rarely placed in any lead roles. The closest to a “lead steed” we see is Shining Armor, who doesn’t even show up until the season 2 finale, or possibly Big Mac, who repeatedly defers to his headstrong sister. In the case of Shining Armor, despite being the ostensible “knight in [his name],” he is never the protagonist, and in fact has to be saved, repeatedly, by his wife and his sister. Chrysalis ensorcelled, weakened, and ensnared him, while Sombra simply infected his horn, rendering him impotent.

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To the contrary, MLP provides a coterie of strong, independent, self-assured females who continuously come out on top, neither because of, nor in spite of their relationships with males. In the vast majority of cases, the stallions are complete non-entities in terms of conflict resolution, and the mares carry the day all by themselves.

At this point, I’m going to go off on a minor sociological tangent. It’s easy to forget in our age of empowerment, but the idea of women being equal to men is an extremely recent development in human history. The 19th amendment establishing women’s suffrage was passed in 1920; there are still women alive today who were born without the guarantee that they would be allowed to take part in government. Women being treated equally in the workforce is even more recent; that particular social shift didn’t even occur until the 1950’s. The point in this bit of history is that those attitudes can still be found in the older generations. It’s a well-known fact that the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are woefully underrepresented by women due to a longstanding belief that “women aren’t any good at them.” This belief persists despite its being disproven time and again by truly exceptional women in all fields of study; exceptional, but by no means an exception.

It is this ossified and outdated concept of a “woman’s place” that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic takes on head-first. Rather than fall into the traditional trap of subverting the patriarchal mode while following it, or even the more recent tendency of directly opposing this thought by pitting mares vs stallions, the ponies sidestep the issue entirely, sidelining stallions to allow the mares not just center-stage, but the entire stage.

I will admit that, as a male, I would like to see more stallions shine in the show, but at the end of the day, I have to admit that My Little Pony is not aimed at me, nor at the brony community. It is, at heart, a “little girl’s show.” All of us love the show not in spite of what it is, but because of it. I still remember that moment when Nightmare Moon lay shattered and scattered on the ground and Princess Luna was awakening from her thousand years of loneliness, when Princess Celestia appeared with the dawn and offered her hope, love, and forgiveness. That moment wasn’t written for me, or for most of you reading this. And we loved it anyway.

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The writers have made it clear, with the continued appearances of a certain crosseyed mailmare, the canonization of certain fan names (Lyra in particular), and the callouts to the community specifically in MLP commercials, that the brony community is a focus of the show, but it is by no means the central focus. Honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Changing the focus of the show, its purpose, would utterly change its fundamental nature. I love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for what it is, not what I believe it should be. The show, and the characters, will continue to grow, change, and evolve, as it must, but those changes should be, must be, organic, natural and unforced. The moment the story adapts to fit some false agenda, it will lose that indescribable spark which drew us all in the first place.

A show written for little girls that aspires to be more. My Little Pony manages to be complex without being complicated, deep without being preachy, and childlike without being childish. The result is a half hour each week of pure, unadulterated joy. That is why I love My Little Pony.

Author’s Note: I started writing this essay thinking it would be a good idea to write up a quick, easy subject to get back to my journal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this turned into one of the more difficult essays I’ve written to date, which is why it took three weeks to write, plus another week to revise and edit.

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Alicorn Apotheosis: Act III-The Dawn of Princess Twilight

All the princesses, Celestia, Cadence, and Luna are present on the dais along with Twilight’s closest friends. Celestia opens the ceremony by praising Twilight’s dedication, faithfulness, and accomplishments since moving to Ponyville, noting especially that Twilight was responsible for reuniting Celestia with Luna. Her first accomplishment in Ponyville was probably not even her greatest feat, considering the foes she has fought since that day, but it’s obvious from the shared look between the Celestial Sisters, it is certainly the one she is most grateful for.

Hush, you in the back. I know she couldn’t have managed it without her friends. This is Twilight’s special day. Don’t ruin it.

She then goes on to state, finally, what Twilight did that was so special: she created “new magic.” Not “a new spell,” but very specifically “new magic,” an entirely new form of magic, and this breakthrough proves that she is ready to take on the responsibilities which comes with being a princess. Twilight enters in a choral procession and is crowned with what appears to be a modified Element of Harmony crown.

At this point I feel it necessary to comment on the Elements of Harmony. Prior to Twilight and her friends finding an restoring them, the Elements had only been wielded by the Princesses Celestia and Luna. Furthermore, the forms of the Elements, necklaces for everyone except Twilight, is striking. From the very beginning, Twilight’s Element has taken the form of a tiara, marking her apart from her friends. Aside from Twilight, the only others we’ve seen wearing such an adornment are Diamond Tiara, who certainly thinks she’s a princess, and the alicorns who are princesses. It’s a subtle cue, a foreshadowing of Twilight’s eventual Destiny, and it has been present since day one of the series.

More than that, though, the times when Twilight wore her tiara Element were not times of adulation, but times of strife. When faced with Nightmare Moon, Discord, the various threats to Equestria, she donned her battle-gear and strode forth, friends at her side, to protect the innocent. In those moments, she was not only garbed as a princess, but she was taking on the duties and responsibilities of royalty, placing herself in harm’s way to protect those she would come to rule. While she has never been faced with Celestia’s choice between those she loves and those she is responsible for, it is still a frightful burden which Twilight has proven, over and over again, to be suited for. Thus it is no surprise that Twilight, who has borne the badge of a princess since the beginning, and who has repeatedly fulfilled the duties of a princess would, on this day, become that princess.

Throughout the coronation and following procession, everything about Twilight seems designed to assure us, the viewers, as well as the residents of Equestria that this is still little Twilie, all grown up. During the coronation itself, she wears a simple, understated gown with none of the elaborate finery or jewelry of the other princesses; even her friends’ outfits are more elaborate than Twilight’s. It seems that Princess Twilight has the same fashion sense that Birthday Twilight had in “Sweet and Elite.” When crowned, the very first thing she does, before looking at the assembled courtiers, is look to her friends, perhaps for reassurance, which all five immediately offer in their own way, with smiles, winks, waves, or a simple head-bob. Only then does she turn to the assembled masses, certain that at least one part of her life remains just the same.

When she steps onto the balcony, she is obviously out of her depth, waving weakly with the same nervous grin on her face that we saw back at the end of Act II, and she has to be prompted before she realizes the crowds are expecting a speech. On this, Twilight’s big day, when the assembled masses of Canterlot are hanging on her every word, her first speech as a crowned princess gives all honor, all glory, and all praise to her friends. Without them, she would never have understood friendship, discovered a new form of magic, or proven worthy to become a princess. Without them, she says, she “would not be here today.” And then, in a reverse of the end of Act II, on the day of her coronation, and in front of everyone in Canterlot, Twilight bows to her friends.

After so much interaction with the public, Twilight finally gets a moment alone with her friends and big brother. Well, “alone” is a relative term; there’s still a good number of ponies present. In a nod to traditional Stoic male stereotypes, Shining Armor isn’t crying, per se, it’s just “liquid pride.” He’s not so manly, however, to disdain hugging his sister in public, even if she is Equestria’s newest princess. Her friends follow this display with their own public displays of affection, proving that crowds who might disapprove of such lese majeste are not even a concern to anyone involved, least of all the princess. Group hug!

Everyone loves a parade, so that’s what comes up next. Crowds of adoring subjects waving and shouting, riding in a majestic chariot. it’s the sort of thing that could turn any pony’s head. In ancient Rome, triumphant generals would have a servant in the chariot with them during parades; the sole purpose of this underling would be to remind the commander that glory is fleeting, and he, too is only mortal. Twilight doesn’t seem to need that reminder; she abandons her chariot almost immediately so that she might walk alongside her friends, sharing the adulation with those who mean the most to her.

It would seem this moment was crafted to be the exact opposite of Twilight’s arrival in Ponyville. On the day of her coronation, Twilight was the center of attention, in a parade, riding in a magnificently appointed royal chariot, and she chooses to abandon her transport so that she could walk with her friends. In contrast, her arrival in Ponyville was on an ordinary day, with no celebration going on. She arrived alone and unremarked, but in a similar royal chariot. We know that Ponyville has a train, Twilight has ridden it several times since that day, but on that day, she alone was special and unique, and no one noticed her resplendent arrival. Now, when she is being noticed and lauded, she abandons the chariot she once rode in so conspicuously. Our Twilight has certainly matured a great deal since then.

And in a final, personal message from the writers, actors, and producers, we are told, once more, that “everything is going to be fine” as Twilight reprises her opening song. It’s a neat way to wrap things up the way it began, but it’s something more, here. It’s a belief that, even though everything changes, that doesn’t mean it has to go wrong, or worse, end. It’s a shining hope that the future can always be better than the present. It’s a hope I like to share.

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Alicorn Apotheosis: Act II – By Your Powers Combined

Twilight reappears in a starry void, alone and confused. She does not know where she is, or even what “here” is. Celestia appears from the void and expresses her gratitude to, congratulations to, and pride in Twilight in song. She states that Twilight has done “what has never been done before, not even Starswirl the Bearded,” and that Twilight is ready to “fulfill her destiny.”

She never actually states what either of those are, however. The general belief is that the accomplishment is that she finished the spell, fixed her friends’ fouled fates, and transported herself to this mysterious “other realm,” and that her reward, and her destiny, is to become a princess. The evidence, however, indicates otherwise.

Let’s look at the spells. First up is Starswirl’s original, unfinished masterwork:
“From one to another,
Another to one,
A mark of one’s destiny singled out, alone, fulfilled.”

The unfinished version mixed cutie marks, choices, and destinies. The last line indicates that the purpose of the spell is to elevate a single pony’s destiny above all others. Without an understanding of friendship, Starswirl would have likely believed that destiny, like any other power, is a finite resource. It cannot be created from nothing, so if he wanted to create a greater destiny, a more powerful soul, with the power to fulfill such an incredible fate, that power would have to come from somewhere else. Or, to be more precise, somepony else. Pure speculation, but it seems very likely this spell was intended to create a single, supreme creature able to chain Fate to its will by stealing the fates from several others as a power source.

Since we know Starswirl predates Equestria and the Celestial Sisters, it’s very possible he had intended to create a monarch capable of uniting the warring tribes and bringing peace and unity to all ponykind. Sadly, without friendship, even the completed spell could never have achieved this aim.

The incomplete spell simply swapped destinies, choices, and lives, and then altered memories to fit. Except this doesn’t really explain the effects of the spell; Starswirl’s unfinished masterpiece had a much deeper effect on those caught up in it. LKooking back on Starswirl’s previous spells, it becomes apparent that his unfinished work followed the course of his previous studies. In short, it wasn’t a memory-altering spell, it wasn’t even a Destiny spell; it was a Time-Warp spell. Somehow, it reached back into the moment when the ponies first got their cutie marks and then transposed them into each others’ lives.

I mentioned in my previous essay that the spell obviously didn’t switch memories, as Fluttershy wanted to go “back to Cloudsdale” rather then the rock farm when she failed to live up to Pinkie Pie’s destiny. However, it wasn’t just the swapped ponies which had their memories altered, but every single creature in Ponyville, including Fluttershy’s woodland friends. Even the squirrels were demanding attention from Rainbow Dash. Likewise, not even Applejack’s family questioned her replacement on the farm by Pinkie Pie. Occam’s Razor states that the simplest solution is often the best. When faced with a spell which replaces lives so completely, especially when that spell is created by a sorceror with an established bent for warping time (“It’s About Time”), the simplest solution is that the spell did exactly that; rather than assume he had created a spell which could alter memories so completely and seamlessly for an entire township, it’s more logical to conclude that his earlier, time-travel spell was just a prelude to his ultimate masterwork: a spell capable of altering the past without sending an individual back to effect those changes.

Unfortunately, this change, minor though it might seem, caused deep heartache and pain in not just the afflicted ponies, but everyone in the community. If the completed spell had managed to fulfill its ultimate goal and combine multiple destinies and lives into a single creature, the results could have been even more tragic. The disjointed, conflicting choices and memories arising from such a fusion would have only driven its recipient insane, likely causing them to lash out and cause the same chaos they felt inside. What would such a poor soul look like, a Frankenstein monster of cobbled-together fates?

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Oh, dear.

And so the spell remained, incomplete and unable to be completed. The spell is arcane in nature; even if somepony with an understanding of Friendship Magic appeared, they would also need to be a gifted unicorn spellcaster to be able to even cast the spell in the first place. Which brings us back to Twilight Sparkle and why she was sent to Ponyville in the first place: to make friends. If she could make friends, true friends, and through them learn to wield the Magic of Friendship, then she alone would have the potential to finish the spell, even without knowing what it did.

However, making a spell, or even fixing a broken spell, is not something that’s “never been done before.” Unicorns do it all the time, especially when they discover their innate talents. Rarity created a gem-finding spell, which she had obviously never researched before; Twilight had to learn it from Rarity, not a book. Likewise, if Celestia had managed to transport herself to the same starscape as Twilight, then that was nothing unique either. What, then, would make Twilight unique?

Starswirl’s completed spell. I know, I just finished saying that writing a new spell, fixing a broken one, or casting it is no big deal, and it really wasn’t. It wasn’t the fact that she made the spell, but how she made it that matters. When the Mane 6 defeated Nightmare Moon, neither Twilight’s horn nor Rarity’s was glowing. Likewise, they were not casting spells as Discord lay defeated and returning to stone. In both cases, the ponies were wielding the pure power of their friendship, channeled through the Elements of Harmony. This time, however, Twilight’s horn was glowing as she cast the spell, which then caused the power of the Elements to ignite, blasting her into the aether. In that moment, Twilight cast a spell that was both arcane unicorn magic and Friendship magic woven together as a single incantation. And just what was the result of that spell?

“From all of us together,
together we are friends.
with the marks of our destinies made one,
there is magic without end.”

“From all of us” is the key phrase. Friendship is about giving, not taking. All six ponies gave, freely and without reservation, determined to make sure their friends lives, and by extension, their destinies were the best they could possibly be. Among friends, the total is truly greater than the sum of its parts, and this spell harnessed that unity, “together we are friends, with the marks of our destinies made one.” By combining their destinies through friendship, they pour out “magic without end,” generating a greater destiny for everyone involved. Twilight’s spell, rather than stealing or switching destinies, instead fused them, making a single, wonderful future for everyone involved.

A future destiny that involved Twilight being a princess. My initial belief was that it was the spell which transformed her into an alicorn. I still maintain that it is possible, but given what we’ve learned of Cadance’s ascension in “Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell,” it is equally likely that the act of casting a fused Friendship/Arcane spell got the attention of whatever Greater Power in Equestria determines which pony is worth of being an alicorn. However, whether her becoming an alicorn as a direct or indirect result of this spell, the question remains:  why did she not appear in the void as an alicorn? Why the song and dance with Celestia? And why did Celestia cast that spell when she was transforming into an alicorn?

Twilight did not know what the spell was supposed to do. She wrote a spell involving friendship and destiny, wrapping up Starswirl’s original intent into an entirely new package. Awakening in a new, mutated body could have damaged her psyche, especially if she awoke alone, in a strange place, with no idea of how it had even happened. My interpretation is that the starry void is a mindscape, and Celestia appeared to her to ease her transition to her new body and new life. She began with a cryptic message about what Twilight had managed to achieve, recounted all her past adventures which had led her to this moment, and then told her that she had grown up and it was “time to fulfill [her] destiny.” Suitably prepared, mentally, for the change, Twilight gets her wings.

But wait, didn’t Celestia cast that spell to make Twilight an alicorn? No, she didn’t. I’ve made a habit of repeating myself that Celestia cannot use Friendship Magic. This is where that point comes home. Even in the void, when Celestia uses magic to page through Starswirl’s book, her horn glows and the book is surrounded by an aura of the same color as Celestia’s magic: sunlight yellow. At the end of Celestia’s song, though, she’s surrounded by a white starburst and, most importantly, her horn does not glow.

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The blazing aura, while very impressive and dramatic, is not a spell being cast. Beyond that, the spell effect during Twilight’s transformation is also the wrong color. Twilight notices a glow on her chest, just over her heart in fact, which is the same color as every other spell she has cast. This spell, her spell, is the one which envelops her against a backdrop of another dramatic white flare and gives her wings.

It’s a very subtle distinction, but it is also one which could not be expressed in words, not without completely destroying the effect. Twilight made herself an alicorn, and a princess. It was not an edict forced upon her, but a choice she made when she decided to cast Starswirl’s spell and trust in the fellowship of her friends. She may not have understood the full ramifications of that choice, but that’s no different than so many other choices that are made each day. Twilight’s decision to make friends was the only reason she could defeat Nightmare Moon, which is an outcome she did not even see until the moment was upon her. That unforseen consequence changed the fate of not only herself and her friends, but an entire kingdom. A fate that led to this transformation.

In her moment of ascension, Twilight is transported back to Ponyville so she might share her joy with her friends. Their reaction is one you would expect from such a tight herd of friends; they are elated. Twilight has become an alicorn. What’s notable here is what is missing, for her friends are not awed, frightened, or reticent. Rainbow Dash gives her a big hug and cheers over getting a new wingmare, Rarity compliments her beautiful wings, and Pinkie Pie throws a party wearing fake wings and a “horn” party hat. To her friends, Princess Twilight Sparkle is still the same Twilight they know and love.

Then along comes Celestia and ruins the moment. She declares Twilight a princess, says she encompasses all the traits of her friends, and then bows to her, throwing off a line about how everyone is her student now. Since the princess bows to Twilight, everyone else feels compelled to as well, utterly destroying the camaraderie Twilight has with her friends. It’s preposterous to think a group of friends would bow to one of their own, or that the ruler of a nation would give precedence to a young, newly-minted princess with no rulership of her own, right?

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Oh, wait.
Celestia was not making an offhand statement when she said that Twilight was a teacher now; Twilight was the sole heir to not one, but two forms of magic, mixed and blended such that the two together were far more either one alone. She has gained a power not even Celestia herself can equal, though she live a thousand years more, and she has done more than create a spell or elevate herself to royalty; Twilight Sparkle has done the impossible. That is why they bow to her, not to Princess Twilight Sparkle, but to their friend, Twilight Sparkle, who has walked into the fire without flinching, given everything for the sake of her friends, and who has triumphed over impossible odds.

Honoring her, though, neither lessens themselves nor elevates Twilight; it simply acknowledges her accomplishments. Likewise, gaining the defining traits of her friends does not make them superfluous to her life, any more than Rainbow Dash showing compassion to the other competitors in “Wonderbolts Academy” makes her qualified to take over Fluttershy’s task of caring for the animals. That point was made painfully clear already.

Almost immediately, we get reassurance that our Twilight hasn’t changed a bit. She’s obviously acutely uncomfortable with all the adulation, based on the nervous smile she puts on, and in typical Twilight fashion, she seeks to get a handle on things the only way she knows how: from a book. Celestia assures her she has time to learn and grow into her role. Reassured but still uncertain, everyone heads to Canterlot for…

The grand finale! Tune in next time…

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Alicorn Apotheosis: Act I – Occupation Dislocation

For those of you who have been following my rather haphazard update schedule, now I present to you the endgame of this essay series. All my previous compositions have been laying the groundwork for a full analysis of “Magical Mystery Cure,” separated into three parts. If you have not already, I advise beginning with those four essays, as this one and its compatriots build upon those precepts.

Alicorn Apotheosis: Oh, What A Cutie-ful Morning!

Alicorn Apotheosis: A Short History Of (Pony) Time

Alicorn Apotheosis: Princess of the Sun-Tzu

Alicorn Apotheosis: Horning In On The Action

And now, on with the show!

As we open the show, Twilight is singing about how wonderful everything is going. The sun is shining, people are going about their business, and “everything is certainly fine!” Poor Twilight. After all her reading, and after all her adventures, she should know better than to give Fate a straight line like that. Rainbow Dash dumps a raincloud on her head just as she’s reaching the big finish.

Except it’s not Rainbow Dash. It’s Rarity, doing her very best at doing Rainbow Dash’s job and failing miserably. Not only does she have Rainbow Dash’s job, but her cutie mark as well. Twilight then runs to each of her friends in turn to confirm the horrible truth: they have all switched lives and destinies. Furthermore, Rarity’s offhand comment that she’s “doing what she’s done since it (her cutie mark) appeared” is telling; not only have they switched marks, jobs, lives, and destinies, but even their memories have been modified. Not switched, mind; Fluttershy later says she’s going “back to Cloudsdale,” and not the rock farm. She still remembers being Fluttershy, but being Fluttershy with Pinkie Pie’s choices. Clearly, whatever switched her friends is highly sophisticated and very subtle in application.

This motif of subtlety will be repeated throughout the episode. A great deal is happening in this 22 minutes, and the writers used a lot of literary devices to cram as much information in as possible. The very next device shows this as well; the use of In Medias Res.

In Medias Res literally translates to “in the middle of things.” In stories, it’s a way to drop the audience into the most action-packed part of the story to hook them immediately. The main reasons to use this idiom are either to engender a sense of confusion in the audience that is shared by the protagonist (ie: Twilight Sparkle) so the viewer can feel a greater sense of empathy with the character, or else because the writer has a LOT of information to fill in and wants to grab the audience’s attention quickly before switching to C-SPAN mode. If the story opens with a lot of dry, boring backstory, the audience is likely to switch the channel, close the book, and pick up something else more immediately gripping.

However, there’s a third reason to choose to begin In Medias Res. A great deal of literature has used the convention, from Beowulf to the Hobbit. The Hobbit, of course, begins with Bilbo beginning on an epic adventure, but the story truly begins decades before, with Smaug dropping in on the Lonely Mountain for a bit of apartment shopping. We don’t get that backstory before the dwarves start singing, however, which isn’t until after dinner. Also, it’s a stylistic choice which crosses genres; it can reach everything from Record of Lodoss War to practically any James Bond film you care to name.

In this case, I believe the choice was made deliberately for all three reasons. Twilight Sparkle is clearly out of her depth when confronted with what happened to Rarity, so much so that she immediately runs all over Ponyville just to confirm that it has affected all her friends. You would think she’d know after three or so. Second, it drops us right into the main action, rather than getting to see Twilight open some mail and cast a spell that doesn’t work. Boring. And finally, it ties into all that older, more established literature to let us, the audience, know that Big Things Are Happening.

After establishing the What Happened, we get to see Why It Happened: Twilight gets her assignment from the princess in the mail. Heedless of the risks, she casts a spell that even Celestia doesn’t know the results of, just to find out. An unfinished spell, so it wouldn’t have even had the effect intended by its maker. This is, unfortunately, a basic trait of Twilight. She so desires knowledge that she will take any risk to get it. This time, though, that risk didn’t hurt her; it hurt her friends. That knowledge is a devastating blow; risking her own hide is one thing, but this affected those she loved, without their knowledge or consent. Seeing her own selfishness in this way was a powerful moment, culminating in one of the most powerful songs of the season, if not the entire show, “I Have To Find a Way.” It’s less than a minute, but shows an incredible development of maturity for our Twilie. It’s an acceptance of the blame for what went wrong, an understanding of the consequences, and an assumption of the responsibility to fix her terrible mistake.

This scene also shows a maturation of the show. Until now, continuity has been barely touched on, if not avoided entirely. Episodes have been created as standalones with only the barest linking threads. The CMC had to be formed before they could begin crusading, of course, just as Twilight had to come to Ponyville before adventuring with her friends, but the majority of the episodes could be shuffled at will not just within a season, but between seasons with no real confusion being caused. In this moment, Spike references both the season 2 opener, with the spell she used to restore her friends’ memories after being scrambled by Discord, as well as the season 2 episode “The Cutie Pox” when he references Zecora’s cure for the same.

Unfortunately, neither of those solutions will work. Her friends haven’t forgotten their friendships, they’ve just been mixed around. Likewise, they don’t have false cutie marks; the marks are real, just on the wrong ponies. What is needed is a way to reset the ponies’ destinies the way they should be. And musing on this truth, Twilight comes to a brilliant solution. Magic has caused this problem, but it cannot solve this problem. This is a watershed moment for both Twilight Sparkle and the show. Until now, Twilight has solved her problems in one of two ways: either she has used her magic, or she has solved problems with her friends, without magic. Until now, though, she hasn’t solved problems using the Magic of Friendship. Prior to this, the “magic of friendship” was an idea, a belief, an ephemeral thing which gave her and her friends the strength and conviction to follow through, but it was not a force by itself unless channeled through the Elements of Harmony. When Twilight has been challenged by magical problems, though, she responds with magic, because it’s what she knows. When dueling with Trixie, or faced with an Ursa Minor, that’s her first recourse. Even with Trixie, when she fell back to relying on her friends, it was her friends she relied on, not the inherent magic behind their friendship.

This time, though, she does not. She realizes that her unicorn magic, arcane magic, was not the solution. Twilight has always known how to use magic, but faced with the devastating consequences of using it recklessly and without thought for who else it may effect has taught her something Celestia had never managed: when not to use it.

In this moment, Twilight glows with a brilliant aura as she learns the true nature of Friendship Magic. This is a power distinct from her own inherent Unicorn Magic, as shown by the fact that her horn does not glow. In unicorns, the horn is the focal point of their magic; when they cast a spell, it glows with an arcane light of a color defined by the pony herself, and the power of that light is directly proportional to the strength of the spell involved. When using basic telekinesis, Twilight’s horn glows faintly; when she uses multiple spells simultaneously to subdue the Ursa Minor, it glows brilliantly, even blindingly. But in this moment, recognizing the importance of her friends, she glows with an aura so bright that Spike cannot look at her, but her horn remains completely inert.

She then harnesses this new power to help her friends, and along the way, helps them to find this power within themselves. She convinces her friends each in turn to help one another, then steps back and does one of the hardet things she likely has ever done. She does nothing. In helping each other, each of her friends end up helping themselves as well, rediscovering a joy and purpose  in life they thought lost forever. By helping friends do the tasks they thought they were supposed to do, but couldn’t alone, they each found their own true heart’s desire. Which brings us to the nature of cutie marks.

“Magical Mystery Cure” has caused a great deal of discussion on the nature of cutie marks, destiny, and choice in Equestria. At first blush, it seems that cutie marks absolutely dominate a pony’s destiny, whether they choose it or not. The shuffling of cutie marks and destinies seems to reinforce that belief. I have a contrary theory; choice, free will, is the determining factor in both a pony’s destiny and their cutie marks. I have elaborated on this point in my earlier essay “Oh What a Cutieful Morning,” but the beginning of “Magical Mystery Cure” would seem to contradict my conclusions.

It seems like a premise that’s ridiculous on its face. The swapped ponies are obviously not enjoying their lives or their occupations; why would they choose to do something they are pre-eminently unsuited for? The most likely answer is that they either do not realize they have that choice, or else feel they made it long ago. If you look around your own life, you’ll likely see many people who have ended up with the lives they have not because of the choices they made, but because of the choices they feel they never had. Such mismatched lives are fodder for so many stories we love to tell; the football captain who loved the ballet, the hockey player who was actually a pro-class golfer, the team of also-ran poor kids who just needed a coach who cared and decent equipment to reach the top. All that’s required is belief in yourself, a crystallizing moment of choice, and the support of your friends. That’s what happened when each pony helped their friends with a task they could not handle, despite a cutie mark and a lifetime of memories telling them they should do this one thing. When faced with what they were as opposed to what they wanted to be, they chose. With the power of friendship, that choice stuck, and the imprint on their flank changed to what it was meant to be.

And so, having wielded the full power of Friendship Magic to right what she messed up so badly with arcane magic, Twilight Sparkle brings her friends to the library so they can help her finish the task set before her: to finish the masterwork spell which eluded the greatest unicorn mage of all time and stymied even Princess Celestia herself. Twilight realizes the fundamental flaw in the spell, that it is designed to be fed from a single spellcaster’s own reserves and with no assistance from anyone else. She rewrites the spell, and confident in her ability and with the full consent and assistance of her friends, casts it. Even though she’s not sure exactly what it is supposed to do, she follows through, confident that anything based on the love of her friends could never do her harm. A blinding flash of light appears and we go straight to…

My next essay. To be continued…

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Alicorn Apotheosis: Horning In On The Action

One thing I noticed, even before the announcement of Princess Twilight, was the confluence of royalty and being an Alicorn. When it was just the Celestial Sisters, Luna and Celestia, it was made perfect sense; both ruled, merely splitting the timing of their rulerships. It was a brilliant solution, ensuring that the inhabitants of Equestria would always have a guardian watching over them. Being alicorns simply set the rulers of Equestria apart from the more “normal” ponies under their protection, a sort of genetic “crown” which cued them as something special in the eyes of other ponies. Princesses being Alicorns didn’t evoke the question of causation; you didn’t really need to ask “where did alicorns come from?” It was just a given. Pegasi controlled the weather, Unicorns did magic, Alicorns were royalty.

Princess Cadance, however, threw a bit of a wrench in the works. Now we have a princess who is only that: a princess. When we first see her in A Canterlot Wedding, she has no rulership, no apparent responsibilities, and no real talents of special note. In fact, all we know of her history is that she was Twilight Sparkle’s foalsitter. That struck me as something odd. Out of all the courtiers, guards, servants, and other ponies under Celestia’s command, she chose a princess to watch over a foal. A foal who had a highly protective big brother already. The inescapable conclusion is that this princess had no more pressing job. Without any information on her parentage, we have to assume that simply having wings and a horn made her a princess by default, even with no subjects or responsibilities to take on. Actually, now that we know she was an orphan of unknown origin, it reinforces this point: Cadance’s only claim to royalty was her species.

At this point, I will address a tangent issue: immortality. A widely held belief is that being an alicorn automatically grants an exceedingly long life. I don’t hold to this view for one main reason: Cadance. When she took on the job of caring for Twilight, she was obviously still young enough to relate to the young filly on her level. Beyond her mental and emotional connection to a filly, she was also drawn much more like a younger pony. The difference is subtle, and primarily in the manestyle, but foalsitter Princess Cadance looks more like a teenager, while Crystal Princess Cadance is a young adult. She may be immortal, but all the indications are that she is not. And since the timeframe of the show is obviously going to be far less than the lifespan of the characters, I doubt we’ll ever find out either way.

Back to the foalsitting princess concept. I will not say that looking after Twilight was an unimportant job; far from it. Twilight was a truly exceptional foal, as evidenced by her inherent talent, her obvious latent power (transforming two living ponies, levitating four others, and not just hatching, but maturing a dragon to several tons instantly both by accident and at the same time), and her voracious desire for knowledge, but my point remains: this was not a job that needed a princess to do it. Cue cries of “Trollestia!” However, there’s another reason. Possibly, just possibly, Cadance was given the job not just for Twilight’s benefit, but her own. Celestia would know, better than most, how incredibly lonely it can be as a princess. As an immortal, she would have long outlived any contemporaries she grew up with, and a princess, a ruler, really doesn’t have anyone she can make friends with. She has a sister that she was forced to lock away, a student, another princess who is far more likely to be treated as a daughter or student herself, and subjects. As the show opens, Celestia has no one with whom she can relate as an equal. As caring as she is, Celestia would never, ever wish that fate on another living soul.

Despite the age difference, Twilight was the closest to a friend Cadance would ever have. Being the student of (effectively) the Queen of Equestria, who happened to be the most powerful sorceress in the land as well, might jade little Twilight into being unimpressed with a princess who has little more to do than braid her mane, push her on a swing, and play pat-a-hoof with her.

At this point you may note that Twilight couldn’t have been Celestia’s student while Cadance was watching over her; the flashback showed Twilight without her cutie mark. I did notice that Twilight was lacking her cutie mark, but in every instance where we’ve seen filly Twilight, she always lacks her cutie mark. In “Cutie Mark Chronicles,” obviously, all the flashbacks were set prior to her gaining her cutie mark, but it was also missing in “BBBFF.” It is possible that all those reminisces were set prior to her fateful test, and it would certainly explain why she lost contact with her brother for so long, since she was away at school. But as you mentioned, a princess caring for a random foal of no notable (as far as we know, anyway) parentage would be odd, to say the least.

I can only come up with three explanations.

The least likely, to my mind, is that Celestia was watching Twilight even before her entrance exam. Unlikely, as Celestia has shown no particular gift for prescience or even a particular attention to detail (the aforementioned inability to recognize the change in Cadance prior to her wedding) that would be necessary for her to recognize Twilight’s unique destiny. Celestia just isn’t Machiavellian enough to pull off a Xanatos Gambit.

The next most likely is that Celestia set Cadance to watching a great many foals, setting up a form of Royal Daycare. While this is more likely than Celestia showing some previously unknown gift for prophecy, it is still, on its face, somewhat ridiculous. First, you have a princess with, presumably, -some- duties she has to perform doing a basic task that anypony in the city could cover. Second, Twilight miraculously manages to join this (likely) small, (presumably) elite group on the basis of her absolute lack of outstanding qualities. Yes, I know, we know how special she was, but that is with the benefit of hindsight. From what we’ve seen in flashbacks, Filly Twilight had trouble with telekinesis, which is one of the most basic forms of unicorn magic. Unless her parents have some special status which has remained unmentioned so far in the show (not impossible, we went two full seasons without hearing about Twilight’s Very Special Big Brother), there would be no reason whatsoever for Twilight to merit a Princess’s attention. And third, Twilight and Cadance obviously had a very special connection. Again, it’s not impossible for a caregiver to bond with one charge especially, but there has to be at least the appearance of impartiality. “Sunshine, Sunshine” would make that impossible. It’s far more likely that this kind of friendship would develop from one-on-one foalsitting rather than group daycare.

The most likely explanation, then, is artistic license. Or, more bluntly, a mistake. The writers and animators don’t appear to have made an extensive timeline for the events in the show, and in fact, one of the selling points of the show to Hasbro is that season 1 was almost completely independent of any form of continuity. Further, the only real difference between filly Twilight and adult Twilight is size; she kept the same hairstyle. In this case, it seems that the artists decided that filly Twi would be shown sans cutie regardless of where the flashback happens to fall in the timeline of the show, just to make sure the difference in age was apparent.

I don’t like making that assumption, but it is the only way I can reconcile Twilight’s and Cadance’s relationship. Cadance was a princess, so any demand on her time has to be important. Cadance was a foalsitter, so the only way that makes any sense is for the foal she is caring for has to be somepony very special indeed. Twilight the not-particularly-magical filly makes much less sense than Twilight Sparkle, Celestia’s Most Faithful Student.

Ok, random tangent followed; now back to the previous train of thought. Friends are, by definition, peers. Equals. People who can love you for who you are, not what you are. Most importantly, they’re fundamentally unconcerned with what they can get from you. Celestia must have been overjoyed when her plan succeeded beyond her wildest expectations, netting little Cadance two friends at once. The key to a successful marriage is, first and foremost, friendship. Shining Armor loved his little sister more than anything, so it would be only natural that he would become friends with the other pony in the world who cared as much for her as he did. Over time, that friendship would blossom into even more, creating a love that would bear her up under the direst of circumstances.

Supporting the idea that Cadance had limited opportunities for friendship is her wedding. Chrysalis did a fundamentally poor job of disguising herself. She did not have Cadance’s personality, bearing, or compassion. Even Celestia herself was fooled, meaning their relationship would not have been terribly close. There was just enough distance that Celestia could write off the change to “wedding jitters.” Shining Armor was ensorcelled, so good luck there. Out of everyone else, only Twilight saw something was wrong, terribly wrong. So much so she was willing to make a scene in front of her friends and mentor.

Not even the bridesmares were especially close to Cadance. When thinking about who to include in the most important day of her young life, Cadance would naturally want those she loved most with her. When confronted with the ensorcelled bridesmares in the cavern below, Cadance’s reaction speaks volumes; she did not pity them, or fear for them, or try to break through the enchantment. She was outright afraid of them. When Twilight tricked them into jumping over a cliff, her first and only response was relief. Not concern for their well-being, or whether they were hurt, or if they’d be alright when or if the enchantress was defeated. She smiled in relief with Twilight and ran.

But wait, if friendship is so important, and Cadance had nothing better to do anyway, why not wait to elevate her to a Princess until after she made friends? I can only come to one logical conclusion: Celestia had no hoof in Cadance being an alicorn. She was (cue Lady Gaga) Born That Way. And since Celestia can’t have elevated herself (obviously), both Celestial Sisters were likely born as they were as well; not just alicorns, but a species even further removed: Immortal Alicorns.

Well, obviously, this conclusion was reached before someone went and wrote a book that shattered my beautifully well-constructed argument to splinters. Cadance was born a pegasus, not an alicorn, and she earned her royal title, just like Twilight. However, the scene as written in “Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell” is very telling. Celestia did not bring Cadance to the void; she discovered her there. Since she did not transport the young princess there, then my previous conclusion still stands: Celestia didn’t make Cadance an alicorn. Instead, there is some outside force which grants wings and horns to anypony who proves herself worthy of the title.

Also of note is that Cadance did have friends from when she was a filly; she mentions several of them by name. Yet it seems apparent what we’ve seen of her time in Canterlot (note the bridesmares above) as well as her time in the Crystal Empire that something came between them in the interim. Most likely, Cadance’s elevation to princess and being relocated to Canterlot as Celestia’s protege added too much distance, figuratively and literally, to maintain her relationships.

Lauren Faust stated in one of her Q&As that she had intended Celestia and Luna to be born as alicorns, although we don’t know if that made it into canon or is only in the mind of the creator. Aside from the Celestial Sisters, though, it has been confirmed that Alicorn Princesses are not born; they are made, and whoever or whatever is responsible for that transformation, it is, apparently, not Celestia.

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Alicorn Apotheosis: Princess of the Sun-Tzu

I do love the song “Lullaby for a Princess;” it is a heartbreakingly beautiful song. It is even sadder once I realized this fundamental truth: Celestia could not have had any friends. Celestia has only one equal: her sister, Luna. Celestia had no choice but to imprison her insane sister, and it was only via the Elements of Harmony that she managed that much. I say “she had no choice,” although she did, actually, have a choice. Her other option was to be defeated, thrown down, and watch her people suffer under the iron hoof of an insane, jealous, and, deep down, terribly, terribly lonely mare. She could never defeat, truly overpower, her sister and break through the hatred that made her Nightmare Moon. With great power comes great responsibility; forced to choose between her love for her sister and the responsibility to guard her people, Celestia had to choose the latter.

Being a princess sucks.

Aside from Luna, Celestia has a student, a protege princess, and subjects. While the first two could become close to her, as daughters, perhaps, they would never be able to overcome the difference in age, power, wisdom, experience, and authority to truly relate to her on her own level. Without that fundamental connection, she could not have any friends, and thus, could not learn, personally, the power of friendship. In this case, the magic of friendship is not something that can be learned via theory; it must be experienced. As Applejack learned in “Apple Family Reunion,” family is the first set of friends you ever meet, but the fact remains that there is a certain amount of baggage that comes with being family and it is not, quite, the same as making friends from strangers.

Along comes little Twilight. She adores Celestia, she craves knowledge about magic more than food or drink, and, heartbreakingly, she has little desire for friendship. She’s too young, too naive to realize what a precious gift she’s throwing away, and being made Celestia’s personal student would have only compounded her isolation. Even in a land build on friendship, harmony, and love, there’s social climbers who would see a young, innocent filly as just another steppingstone on their way up. A young, innocent filly with a personal relationship to the most powerful pony in the entire nation, socially, magically, and politically? A goldmine.

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At this point, I should say that assigning Princess Cadence as Twilight’s foalsitter was likely intended to protect her from more than the normal dangers faced by young fillies. Cadence is already a princess, and already under Celestia’s personal aegis (presumably). With no personal interest in social climbing, Cadence would be uniquely situated to protect little Twilie from those unscrupulous souls.

Unfortunately, Cadence wasn’t enough by herself. She was closER in age and temperament to Twilight, but that’s not to say she was truly her peer. Obviously, manipulation of circumstances wasn’t going to overcome Twilight’s natural aloofness, so Celestia resorted to her only other option: authority. She all but ordered Twilight to make friends, and to reinforce that edict, she sent her to Ponyville. Not Manehattan, not Fillydelphia, but the most rural, bass-ackward, unsophisticated burg she could find. A place noticably lacking in social climbers, manipulators, and powermongers. Celestia was held in awe, as she was everywhere, but a student is, well, just a student. Let’s be nice and call her an arcane researcher. A historian. Or, as Rainbow Dash so affectionately refers, an “egghead.” Yes, that was an inspired, and likely very well planned decision. A place where Twilight could become her own mare, have her own household, and make friends so comfortable with her that they are willing to kid around with her, unconcerned about offending her.

Of course, saving Twilight from a lifetime of lonesome spinsterhood was likely not the only reason Celestia was interested in her making friends. After a thousand years, Celestia had to have known the power of friendship, even if she could not experience it herself. She must have witnessed countless acts of selfless sacrifice, heroism, bravery, generosity, joy (ok, ok, I’m about to start recounting the traits of the Mane 6, and we don’t want to go there) all for the sake of a loved one. To have used the Elements of Harmony, without assistance, means she had to have a fairly thorough understanding of how they worked. Whether she knew or merely suspected that the Elements were capable of redeeming her sister is an unanswerable question, but the coincidence of Twilight being sent to a place where she could make friends, being ordered to do so, near where the Elements of Harmony were waiting, on the precipice of Nightmare Moon’s return strain credibility. “Once is happenstance, twice is circumstance, three times in enemy (or friendly, in this case) action” is the saying that comes to mind. Celestia was strong enough, with the aid of the Elements, to overcome and imprison her sister. She knew that, she’d done it a millenium ago. Why not repeat it?

Well, Word Of Faust puts it quite bluntly: she couldn’t. Using the Elements of Harmony against her own beloved sister broke them, leaving them unusable until Twilight Sparkle and friends re-ignited them. However, even without the Elements of Harmony, Celestia is the single most powerful, not to mention most experienced, wielder of magic in all of Equestria. If she had chosen to go a full three rounds with her sister, no one would have been asking “where’s Celestia” when she failed to show up at the Solstice Celebration; they would have been asking “Where’s Canterlot, and why is that big crater there?” So the question now is, if Celestia is so dedicated to her people that she would imprison her own flesh and blood, her beloved sister, and the only friend she could rely on for an entire millennium, why would she not fight just as fiercely to protect the kingdom she had tirelessly defended through her sister’s absence?

Celestia was lonely. So very lonely. Despite being immortal, supreme ruler, and ultimate sorceress, she was still a pony. She’d been bearing the burden of two ponies, ruling day and night, for a thousand years. She didn’t just want her sister back; she needed her, desperately. She arranged events to play out just as she hoped, and then was sent into exile. By this point, wracked with guilt, loneliness, and desperation, she likely went willingly, even gladly, as a chance to rest and perhaps even atone for her failure. Failure to love her sister enough to prevent Luna’s corruption, and then failure to redeem her. It might not have even been possible in the first place, but to someone as dedicated to her responsibility as Celestia, it would certainly have felt like a failure.

In doing this, Celestia took a hideous risk. Twilight could have failed. Her sister might have grown even more powerful in exile. Any number of things could have gone wrong. But they did not, and, more importantly, it opened Twilight up to new possibilities. Once she realized that friendship had a magic all its own, she would have to pursue that knowledge with all her heart. If Celestia had taken on Nightmare Moon and triumphed, Twilight never would have found out this magic, made friends, or harnessed the Elements of Harmony. That would have been a tragic waste, because Twilight Sparkle, whose gift is magic, whose drive for learning is unmatched, and who is, at heart, just a normal unicorn, is the only one who can learn this magic. Celestia would like to, but, as I said, has no friends and no peers with whom to make friends. Other ponies have friends, but don’t understand magic the way Celestia or Twilight do. Most likely never even realize that it is magic. An opportunity to learn about and harness this new power might never show up again.

An old teacher used to say to me “Speculation, not Revelation” when he had an interpretation that wasn’t explicitly stated in the text, but could be implied. Here is my speculation. In “My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic,” the phrase “a thousand years ago” is thrown around quite a bit. “A thousand years ago,” Celestia banished Nightmare Moon, Discord was imprisoned and King Sombra was overthrown by both Celestial Sisters. Taken literally, it doesn’t make much sense; Nightmare Moon broke free before Discord and Sombra, but Luna assisted in the previous defeats of both the latter villains. The only thing one can conclude is that “a thousand years” is an inexact term, not a precise measurement of time.

However, Twilight Sparkle knew that Nightmare Moon would be returning on a precise date because the spell which imprisoned her for a millennium was cast “a thousand years ago.” Either the phrase was used as a precise measure once, and an inexact “really long time ago” every other time, or something else was at play. It is possible that Celestia’s spell banished Nightmare Moon for an indeterminate time, and Celestia was simply waiting for the right circumstances to redeem her sister. If that is the case, then Nightmare Moon did not break free, but was in fact released by Celestia herself explicitly for the purpose of redeeming Luna.

If that is the case, then the entire chain of events leading up to the battle at the ancient castle was orchestrated by Celestia from the day she took Twilight Sparkle on as a student. Lauren Faust has confirmed that she was grooming Twilight to become a princess, but this level of planning would indicate something far more in-depth, almost Machiavellian. Despite the danger represented by failure, the potential benefits make the gamble worth it. The threats represented by Sombra, Chrysalis, and even Discord prove that the risk was a necessary one, as without the strength of the Mane 6, Equestria would have been lost several times so far. Celestia thinks like a princess, a ruler. It also indicates that the princess, and by extension, the writers, think highly enough of us to slip this into the show without feeling they have to beat us over the head with it. Or maybe I’m just overthinking things.

Wild speculation time: is it possible that Celestia knew that this power would be needed, and soon? It certainly seems convenient that Twilight was tasked with finding and understanding a new form of magic just in time for several Epic Bad Guys to show up which Celestia was ill-equipped to deal with. The redemption of Nightmare Moon, the defeat, then release and rehabilitation of Discord, the rise of the Changelings and Queen Chrysalis, and the return of the Crystal Empire and King Sombra in an incredibly short timeframe is indicative of a very rough time for Equestria in the near future. Especially given that Celestia thought it was a good (or perhaps, necessary) idea to risk literally everything over the redemption of two such powerful, potentially destructive enemies. Enemies which had proven they were capable of out-muscling, out-magicking, or, in Discord’s case, out-thinking the Sun Princess. But that’s another essay.

Addendum to wild speculation: the Mane 6, not just Twilight Sparkle, are the Death Star. They are an ultimate weapon. Maybe not the correct terminology for a show about friendship and happiness, but there it is. Nightmare Moon made Celestia disappear without anyone noticing. Discord outsmarted her. Chrysalis went head-to-head with her and trounced her handily. Sombra popped up in the far north where Celestia was too busy or, possibly, physically unable to go. She sends in the Mane 6 and they triumph. Every. Single. Time. Luna and Discord redeemed when Celestia only managed to imprison, Chrysalis at full power and with her entire army at hand get banished, Sombra reincarnated gets shattered, his remnant power exiled. Conclusion: Twilight Sparkle and her friends are not just the equal of Celestia in power; when united, they are actually stronger..

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Alicorn Apotheosis: A Short History Of (Pony) Time

This essay should be relatively short, as we have relatively little to go on. I guess I should say I have relatively little to go on, as I haven’t read any expanded universe history, canon or fanon. I’m not sure I could discern the difference, so I’ll just stick with what I know: the show.

“Hearth’s Warming Eve” is the only pre-Equestria history shown on the show, and it’s a stylized play, so I can’t be sure entirely how factual it is. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that we know Equestria has existed for over a thousand years (the duration of Luna’s imprisonment), meaning it’s probably about as accurate as your average Christmas pageant is at depicting life in the outer provinces of the Roman Empire. Much of my analyses can be considered inference based on implication; any interpretive history of pre-Equestria can only be considered inference based on implication based on supposition.

There’s not a whole lot to draw from the play, but two things did jump out at me. Firstly, Celestia and Luna do not pre-date Equestria, nor does the alicorn rulership. Secondly, Starswirl the Bearded does predate Equestria.

The first can be noted by its absence. Not only are Celestia and Luna completely absent, but there are no mentions of alicorns at all, and the primary task of the Celestial Sisters, raising the sun and moon, is instead handled by the unicorns. Moreover, the ability of the alicorns to lead is, presumably, based on their ability to relate to all three forms of pony. Alicorns fly like pegasi, use magic like unicorns, and walk like earth ponies. I’ll note that, yes, unicorns and pegasi both have legs and can walk, so earth ponies seem more to be defined by what they lack than any special gift. I can’t really address the unicorn one, but I will note this; how often do you see a pegasus walk? It’s actually surprisingly uncommon. Rainbow Dash, even Fluttershy, the pegasus with acrophobia, tend to hover even at rest. Celestia doesn’t.

Also, it has been noted in several places that earth ponies tend to be more robust than the other variations of equine; they tend to be larger, stronger, and more resilient. We don’t get to see much of these in Luna, as we rarely get to see Luna, but Celestia is the largest pony without exception, and Cadence had the stamina to shield the entire Crystal Empire from King Sombra for an extended period of time. It can be argued that this shows her magical strength, not her physical, but I would disagree. Twilight has demonstrated that casting magic takes a physical toll and causes exhaustion fairly quickly for the most powerful spells. On top of that, Cadence was maintaining her shield for days (weeks?) without rest, showing a constitution far beyond what we’ve seen from any other unicorn or pegasus to date.

However, we have seen an earth pony display the ability to continue functioning without sufficient rest: Applejack in “Applebuck Season.” She might not have been fully functional, but she was still standing when any other pony would have been comatose.
But I digress. My point is that Equestria was founded before Celestia became princess, possibly even before she was born. It doesn’t seem to be important to the understanding of how Princess Twilight came about (the ostensible point of this essay series), but I assure you, I’ll come back to that.

My point, however, is that if the alicorns had existed in the timeframe shown in the play, then they likely would have been shown doing their traditional duty: raising the sun and moon.

Pure speculation: if the Celestial Sisters, or alicorns in general, had existed in pre-Equestria, then Hearth’s Warming Eve likely would never have occurred at all. As aspects of all three pony varieties, they either would have managed to unify the ponies, preventing the assault of the wendigo in the first place, or they would have been outcasts from the other species and suffered the unified rejection of hte other three races before those races turned on each other. Either way, the existence of the alicorns would have been significant enough to merit inclusion in a play stressing the necessity of harmony.

The other point is that Starswirl the Bearded did, in fact, exist prior to the founding of Equestria, as he taught Clover the Clever, advisor to Princess Platinum the unicorn. It’s very possible that Starswirl did not even live to see the founding of Equestria, but we don’t address the concept of death in a children’s show, so we’ll just conveniently ignore that fact. If he did survive, it would likely be as a result of a spell he cast which might have transformed him into an immortal trickster spirit dedicated to sowing chaos and havoc. I speak, of course, of the theory that Starswirl and Discord are one and the same. Ok, I lied, I have read some fan theories.

I know some bronies argue that Starswirl was likely Celestia’s first attempt to produce a successor alicorn, but her inability to get him to understand the centrality of friendship was the reason she failed. Further, that failure would have bolstered her determination to “get it right” with Twilight. While I can find nothing wrong with this theory, I just can’t find any evidence to support it, either. Headcanons are all well and good, and might even be incorporated into the show at a later date, but I’ll leave that to the other bronies; my intention is to deal strictly with those analyses and theories I can find some support for, however thin. And while the historical evidence is exceedingly thin in this case, it unfortunately is nonexistent for the idea of Starswirl the Star Student.

The only conclusion I can draw is that either Celestia never met Starswirl the Bearded, or if she had, it was not until well after he had descended into madness and chaos. If so, then any meeting she would have had with him would be less likely to involve discussing magical theory over tea and crumpets and more likely to involve magical death-blasts, chocolate rain, and the inevitable petrification of the loser.

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