• Member Since 29th Apr, 2012
  • offline last seen January 12th

D G D Davidson


D. G. D. is a science fiction writer and archaeologist. He blogs on occasion at www.deusexmagicalgirl.com.

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Jan
11th
2013

Sneak Peek at HiE Project · 3:28am Jan 11th, 2013

Between other projects, I've been working on a novel-length HiE that will be heavy on world-building and speculations about pony culture. I was looking over it today and realized I had a scene loaded with such speculations that I might have to revise: it's about the pony theater experience, and I wrote it before "One Bad Apple" came out and revealed what pony movies are like. I suppose I can potentially still excuse most of its details, since it depicts a fancy theater in Canterlot, whereas the scene in "One Bad Apple" takes place in Ponyville where we could expect theaters to be smaller and less lavish. Still, I might have to alter some of my speculations about pony film technology and the significance they attach to movie-going.

I'm happy with this series of scenes, though, and hope I can figure out an excuse to justify the details:

The next time I saw Lyra, I was in the midst a group of students, walking across campus to our next class. I had a backpack slung over my shoulder, and all of us were laughing and talking loudly; the sun was hot, but a refreshingly cold mountain wind whipped through the city. Lyra stood in the middle of the quad with sunlight reflecting from her glossy coat, and something in her mouth shone like gold.

I waved to her as I walked past. Looking indignant, she spat out whatever she was holding and called, “Jack! Come over here!”

The other students’ laughter grew more raucous. I ignored them and walked to Lyra. “Hey, Lyra, what—?”

“I got tickets,” she said, tapping a hoof at the objects she had just dropped—two small stubs of paper covered in thin gold foil.

“I see that.”

“Two tickets.”

“I see that, too.”

“Two tickets for Friends of Passion, and I don’t have anypony in Canterlot to go with. Are you interested?”

I put my hands in my pockets and rocked back and forth, trying to guess what Friends of Passion was. “Is this a musical concert—?”

She laughed. “No, silly, a film. It’s a talkie, too, and it’s colorized. Everypony wants to see it and it’s sold out, but I put in for a drawing figuring I had no chance, but it couldn’t hurt to try, and guess what? I got tickets. I am so, so excited, but I need somepony to go with me.” She stuck out her lips and pouted.

“Uh—”

“Please? Please, please, please?” She bounced up and down on her hooves.

“Is this an Applewood movie?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, of course! All the good movies come from Applewood.”

Few pony movies had been exported to Earth; Earth movies were among the many items the Equestrian government restricted, so some Earth countries had retaliated with embargoes and red tape. Nonetheless, there was a sizable black market, and Applewood flicks had avid human fans who described them as like Bollywood, except with ponies. I had meant to see some myself before traveling to Equestria, but hadn’t had the time or opportunity.

“I’d love to go,” I said.

She smiled. “Maybe we can get ice cream again afterwards.”

“Fine by me.”

“Or sarsaparilla. Do you drink sarsaparilla?”

“Does root beer count?”

“What’s that?”

I paused and scratched my head. “Good question. It’s imitation sarsaparilla, I think.”

She stuck out her tongue. “Sounds awful. I’ll introduce you to the real thing.” She magicked one of the tickets off the ground and into my hand. “Tonight, then! Come by my place at seven! I live in the Crags at Dales 502. Anypony can tell you where it is.” She snatched up the other ticket, turned, and ran off. “I’m so excited!” she shouted.

“Wait!” I called. “It’s tonight?

I sighed and caught up with the rest of the students. “Great,” I said, “now I got no time to study for Professor Sparkle’s test.”

“Got a date with your girlfriend?” Michael asked. The others laughed.

“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s a pony, you jackass.”


The Crags were a cluster of seedy, low-rent tenements clinging to the cliff face on Canterlot’s north end. Most of the buildings in that district were ramshackle brownstones propped up on stilts, and they looked ready to topple into the gorge at any moment. To reach it, I had to make my way through numerous narrow, winding alleys, several times stopping ponies or donkeys and asking for directions until I finally climbed a creaky wooden staircase below a chipped, weather-beaten sign that read, “The Dales.” I found room 502 and knocked.

The door opened and a mixed scent of mint, lavender, and horse met my nose. Lyra stood there with a grin on her face. She looked different somehow, and it took me a minute to realize she was wearing eye shadow and blush, the effects of which, on her equine face, were jarring.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi. Wanna come in a minute?”

I shrugged, ducked under the low doorway, and stepped over the threshold. The floorboards creaked under my shoes.

The apartment was small and plain, though it still had a few of the girlish flourishes typical of Equestria’s popular style, including the ever-present vine-and-heart motif stenciled on the walls. The front hall led directly into a tiny sitting room containing a small cabinet, a chipped and spotted coffee table, and a chaise longue covered in moth-eaten velvet. Over the room’s single window hung faded pink curtains, through which Canterlot’s evening lights flickered.

Lyra stepped through another door into the bedroom. “You’re just a little early,” she said, “and I’m not quite ready. Would you like a drink?”

Unsure about etiquette, I didn’t answer. I gingerly sat down on the chaise longue. It stood only a foot off the ground, so I pulled up my knees and wrapped my arms around them; having been in Equestria for three weeks, I pined for full-sized chairs.

“There’s a decanter of sarsaparilla on the cabinet,” she called. “Help yourself.”

Curious, I arose, went to the cabinet, and pulled the crystal stopper off the decanter. A sweet, spicy smell met my nose. I recognized it: it had been in the punch at the welcoming party.

After pouring myself a small glass, I stepped to the window and looked out. The sun was nearly down and the sky was turning purple. A pegasus in platinum evening barding with a long-handled torch in his mouth flapped slowly up the narrow, cobbled road, lighting streetlamps. A few ponies walked by pulling carts, the clopping of their hooves echoing against the cobbles. Without a motorcar in sight, it was blissfully quiet.

“Canterlot is such a big city,” I said, “but it’s so peaceful.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Lyra asked. I started and nearly slopped my drink; she was standing right behind me.

“Sorry,” she said. “Didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

I turned around. She wore a gauzy blue dress and had golden slippers on her front hooves.

I downed the sarsaparilla in a gulp. It tasted like root beer, except stronger and sweeter, and it was flat. “Do you always dress up for movies?” I asked.

She cocked her head and frowned. “Of course. Are you ready to go?”

I nodded and followed her to the door.


I had to jog to keep up with her as we headed up the street, back into Canterlot’s finer districts. In judging the time it would take to get to the theater, Lyra had forgotten to account for my slow human gait, so we were almost late. We reached the end of the long queue in front of the theater with only three minutes to spare.

The ponies in line for the film were all so elegant that I felt underdressed. Most were unicorns in flowing gowns or tuxedo jackets with evening tails, though a few pegasi and even earth ponies were present, along with the occasional griffin or donkey. A gray-furred unicorn in platinum, apparently a sort of guard-for-hire, held a cordon with a levitation spell and let the ponies inside one-by-one as they showed their tickets.

The theater itself was a grand Art Deco structure, four stories tall, painted pink and sea foam green. The lobby inside had plush carpets and crystal chandeliers, and a grand staircase with a gilded balustrade led to the upper story, but the concession stand sold candy and watery juice drinks like any theater concession stand on Earth.

We bought popcorn, and I insisted on paying. Then we headed upstairs to the nosebleed section.

The auditorium was grand. A heavy, red curtain hung over the screen, and surrounding it was a golden proscenium sculpted with images of frolicking ponies. Topping the arch was a high-relief image of the three princesses, their faces stern and their wings spread, looking as if they could at any moment leap into the audience. Flanking the proscenium on either side were boxes for upper-class ponies who came to the theater to be seen by others rather than to watch the movies. In front of the curtain was a small orchestra pit, which I assumed they used for silent films.

There were low benches separated by thick wooden rails. Not wanting to hunker through the film, I sat on the rail, but somepony behind me hissed, “Down in front!” Dropping to the bench, I discovered that I couldn’t see over the ponies in front of me, so I moved into an uncomfortable half-crouch and hoped the movie would be a short one.

At last, the lights went down, the curtain opened, and the film started. The sound was tinny, and the music and voices of the film had to compete with the clattering of the projector. The picture flickered and occasionally jumped, and the colors were weirdly saturated, indicating that the movie had been filmed in black-and-white and later colored with dye.

It opened with a shot of two mares walking up a grassy hill, wind whipping through their manes. They turned to the camera and struck overly dramatic poses as an enormous title graphic swept across in front of them: “FRIENDS OF PASSION starring Polaroid Icon and Starlet Vanderhooves.” I struggled not to giggle.

By pony standards, this was a big-budget production. The cinematographer was clearly having a torrid love affair with the wide shot, and the picture was packed with beautiful scenes shot in lush landscapes from around Equestria, as well as on lavish soundstage sets, the two of which were easy to distinguish. There were no fewer than seven song-and-dance numbers, each of which featured elaborate choreography and over a hundred ponies dancing in sync. The plot was a convoluted mess with enough subplots and side stories to equal a dozen other movies.

Ponies were not quiet moviegoers: they cheered and stomped for the heroines, booed the villains, laughed uproariously at the jokes, sobbed and sniffled at the tender scenes, and neighed and whinnied at everything else. Lyra was perhaps the loudest of any of them.

The film abounded with cultural references opaque to me, I had trouble seeing over the ponies in the next row, my uncomfortable position produced agonizing cramps in my legs, and I could barely hear the movie over the projector and the ponies in the audience. To my dismay, the movie lasted a good three hours. Unable to crouch for that long, I finally sat on the floor and did my best to watch between the shoulders of the ponies in the next row.

Though I couldn’t grasp every nuance in the story, I got the gist: two best friends, Clutter and Whippoorwill, lived in the small town of Hoofington until Clutter went away to Manehatten to seek her fortune. While she was there, Whippoorwill got married and had foals. Clutter failed to find good work, but instead fell in with some thuggish stallions who were presumably criminals, though the movie never actually depicted them committing crimes. Instead, they said things like, “Friendship is for weaklings,” and, “Everypony is better off alone, standing up for herself,” which demonstrated their wickedness.

The movie even had a human villain in it, a white actor I thought I recognized from some middle-grade Kung fu films. He was obviously pleased with himself for getting a role in an Applewood production, and he chewed scenery with glee as he worked through his evil and overly complicated plan to foalnap a pony for “scientific experimentation.” Naturally, he set his sights on Clutter, whose stallion companions, true to their philosophy, abandoned her in her time of need.

In some manner I couldn’t follow, Whippoorwill found out that her old chum had fallen into the human’s clutches; after a prolonged and tearful goodbye to her family, she headed into danger to make a daring rescue.

Under swelling music, the movie ended with a forced tearjerker: Clutter, though she had learned her lesson, now had a good job prospect in Manehatten, but Whippoorwill had to return to her husband and foals in Hoofington. The two sobbed in each other’s forelimbs and rubbed noses as the camera circled them and the music reached a crescendo. Then the screen went black and the credits rolled while the ponies in the audience shed enough tears to leave puddles on the floor. Beside me, Lyra went through an entire box of tissues, and when the lights came up, she sat down in the middle of her pile of soggy paper and continued sobbing.

I was sorely tempted to laugh, but I managed to keep it in. It wasn’t exactly a bad film, though it definitely wasn’t high art, yet I couldn’t help but see it as a grand joke: the central characters had a platonic friendship with all the melodramatic trappings that movies from Earth usually reserved for romance. By contrast, the only actual romance in the film—Whippoorwill’s courtship and marriage—received cursory treatment. Her husband didn’t even have a name.


It was nearly midnight when I limped out of the theater, Lyra by my side.

She sighed dreamily. “Wasn’t that wonderful? That’s only the second movie I’ve seen.”

I murmured something noncommittal in response. If movie-going was such a rare event, that explained why the ponies dressed up for it and why the theater was so lavish. It also, perhaps, explained why the film had aroused such a strong emotional reaction. On Earth, at least in my country, a man could see several movies a week and forget most of them, but they would no doubt have more impact if they were more occasional.

“What did you think?” she asked.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I said truthfully.

Lyra sighed again, and then she shivered. “I think the ice cream shop is closed, and it’s gotten cold, but I know another good place.”

I thought about the test I had tomorrow and considered calling it a night, but instead I said, “Lead the way.”

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Comments ( 10 )

Congratulations, I am hyped. There's clearly a lot of thought put into this, mainly around both the physical and emotional differences between Humans and Ponies (as in... levels of emotional maturity, I guess). That, and you're handling first person perfectly.

Release this soon, please.

Hmm, this HiE story feels very familiar... but I can't quite put my finger on why...

699307

It needs a lot of work before that will happen, but it's got a lot of scenes like this, trying to build the culture. Also, I think first-person is actually easier for me.

699312

You've read most of it, haven't you? Did the copy I sent you include this or not? I can't remember.

Comment posted by D G D Davidson deleted Jan 11th, 2013

699316

I do seem to remember a theater scene . I might even have made some mention later on about the motion picture in One Bad Apple possibly necessitating some revisions, especially to the ponies being unfamiliar with color films.

Now, just imagine what would happen if the internet spilled over into Equestria and ponies had to deal with Facebook, YouTube and some of the seedier stuff.

699349

It's still possible their color is Technicolor, though, which is what I've depicted here. More likely to need excising is the idea that talkies are still enough of a novelty to deserve being remarked upon.

699307

And on an added note, I'd say, at least in my opinion, that it's not so much a difference in emotional maturity as it is a different value they place on certain emotional reactions, and a different weight of importance that they give to different types of relationships. In the pony view, romance is inferior to friendship, and I daresay that's in keeping with the show, and that a lot of fan fic writers fail to "get" it, gosh durn it. Jack the narrator fails to fully appreciate all this because it is alien to him.

There have been on Earth, and may still be for all I know, cultures where it was considered manly to wail and gnash the teeth and sob at certain things. The scene is based partly on a real movie-going experience of mine in India. The audience was very rowdy, almost like at a sporting event, though I was told that wasn't typical.

Where's the like and fav buttons? :rainbowhuh: Anyway, I really really like it, and I can't wait for it to be released as a full story!
One thing I'm wondering though, Most HiE stories seem to revolve around one human who got there by a freak accident. These most often have very little background building. In other stories however, there is some type of portal, or "tunnel" that ponies and humans can travel back and forth at will. Stories like this I have read rarely have enough background building. So I'm wondering where you'll go with it in this aspect. One thing I've thought of that would negate a lot of questions would be to just have the story take place in the mid 1900s, (Earth time) but present day Equestria. That way we don't have to deal with internet, advanced technology, and * cough cough* bronies.

The sleepy mid-day matinee look of that scene in "One Bad Apple" does seem to suggest that going to the flicks isn't such a big production. Maybe this could be a premiere to justify the attendees dressing up and the difficulty of getting tickets?

...that will be heavy on world-building and speculations about pony culture.

AWW YEAH BABY.

Worldbuilding is my favourite.

699532

The story is set in the present day, but there is no My Little Pony franchise, and there are no bronies. There is a portal between Earth and Faerie, which is the means by which humans and ponies have been interacting since G1, and I see no reason to change it for this tale. Interaction between Earth and Faerie is presented as a problem: Equestria has closed its currency system, banned all Earth-made electronics, and severely curtailed access to Earth's political and religious literature, but there is of course a black market. Both Equestria and various Earth nations are in danger of major upheavals from being flooded with each others' goods, and when the story takes place, some third-world countries and the global diamond trade have already collapsed due to Equestria's abundance of gems, and the price of gold has also plummeted even though the trade in precious metals through the portal is restricted.

What I'm really aiming to do is avoid what I see as the biggest pitfall of not only HiE stories but of MLP fan fiction in general, which is the tendency to make the ponies Fabian socialists who act like American or British college students--that is, the tendency to make the ponies exactly like their fan fic authors. I want to present a pony mindset that's subtly but significantly different from that of the average post-modern Westerner. Some of the differences are played out in this movie experience, so the Western narrator walks out of the theater flummoxed and a little put off.

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