In Chapter 8 of Flash Fog I made reference to “the opposite of magic” when referring to instances when the Main 6 are acting contrary to their respective Elements of Harmony. You might have thought that this was simply a joke that pointed out how Twilight’s Element is a rather unintuitive choice for a component of harmony. If this is the case, congratulations: that’s exactly what it was intended to be.
However, writing that joke also reminded me of how the way I interpret the show influences the choices I make when developing stories. You see, according to my headcanon,* there is such a thing as “the opposite of magic,” and furthermore, it doesn’t require the massive suspension of disbelief that something like the premise of Petriculture requires.
First, let’s look at the etymology of the word “magic.” It is derived from the word “Magus,” which refers to a sect of Zoroastrian priests who were renowned for their learning, as well as their supposed skills at astrology and manipulating the supernatural. (The wise men mentioned in the New Testament accounts of Christ’s birth belonged to this sect.) Thus, it’s not too much of a stretch to define “magic” as “things that the Magi know.” The second thing to keep in mind is that words have their meanings and connotations change all of the time. “Nice” is a particularly vexing example of this, as it’s had so many meanings in the English language that it’s often difficult to figure out if it’s meant to be a compliment or an insult when it’s used in older works.
Thus, the headcanon: The Elements of Harmony were named when they were first discovered, and those names have not changed, even though the language has. Thus, the Element of Magic doesn’t simply refer to the stuff that lets unicorns create glowy auras, grants pegasus the ability to manipulate the weather, and provides earth ponies with their connection to the soil. It actually refers to something much, much broader than that. To put it simply, the Element of Magic would more accurately be called the Element of Knowledge.
If you are wondering how Knowledge is any more appropriate as a component of harmony than Magic, consider how much disharmony is created by ignorance—and it is “ignorance” which I consider to be the “opposite of magic.” Whenever Twilight Sparkle behaves ignorantly (with that ignorance usually being in the form of unfounded assumptions** about other ponies—particularly Celestia), the results tend to be as problematic as when Applejack is dishonest, etc.
The influence this has on my storytelling is usually rather subtle, but there's at least one instance where it's very easy to spot. In Inscape I said that Luna originally wielded the Element of Magic, which is atypical of fanfiction (at least the ones I've read). Presumably, the reason Celestia usually gets Magic is because she's presumed to be a more powerful magic user. However, if you think of the Element of Magic as the Element of Knowledge, it makes perfect sense why Luna would get it, since I also established that Luna was easily the more intelligent of the two.
Anyway, I hope those of you who have read all the way to the end of this found it interesting enough to be worth your while.
* Even though I think it’s extremely clunky and unwieldy, and even though I tend to roll my eyes in irritation whenever I see it, I’m using the word “headcanon” in this post because I can’t think of a better term for the concept myself.
** e.g., Twilight's assumptions about "Princess Cadance" at the wedding don't count, because in that case, her suspicions were justified.