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Published science fiction author and fine art photographer. Admin for Songbird Serenade Group.

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Unicorn Magic is Made of Rainbows And Cannot Directly Hurt Someone · 2:18pm Oct 20th, 2015

For starters, and to misquote a favorite perfectly purple pony princess, it's my trope and I intend to use it! In this blog post I want to explain my thinking in a non-story-time context since it has been asked about repeatedly.

I don't claim the trope is exactly canon. In the literary world, and in this case I include serial TV, nothing is canon until it is used in a story. A writer, especially one that writes sequels or in a common universe of stories, will state nothing unless it is important to the story. This leaves maximum flexibility in writing the next story. MLP is no different.

It is never stated explicitly that unicorn magic is made of rainbows. It is however implied sufficiently to make me believe it could be canon.

First of all, look at the logo. Okay, girls were supposed to like rainbows in the 1980s, so it was a design choice. But it goes further. In the first generation stories, in particular Escape from Nightmare Castle, the Rainbow of Light is employed to defeat Lord Tirek, yeah, that Tirek. I think it may have involved a magical locket that distilled unicorn magic, but it was a difficult movie to watch. The rainbow "weapon" is graphically the same rainbow magic used in FiM. And then there was Princess Rarity and her rainbow. You could argue that only friendship magic is rainbows, but I want to think friendship magic is a purer form of unicorn magic.

But there is a second part to my trope: because unicorn magic is made of rainbows it cannot directly hurt someone (I.e., animal and sentient). The key here is "directly", and it is borne out in the series. Sure, you can levitate a boulder and hurt someone with that, but where is any unicorn directly blasting another pony, hurting them? Stunning is okay. King Sombra uses evil magic, and had been transformed to a shadow-being in any case. Fighting Tirek, Twilight and Shining Armor are hampered by their unicorn origin and never actually l land a maiming blow. (I do suspect without the plot manipulation* that put Twilight's friends in Tirek's control, Twilight could eventually have used Alicorn magic lethally because I'm sure Alicorn magic is more than rainbows, but having killed or even maimed Tirek would have damaged her—and that's a different story.) Even Trixie, free of the Alicorn amulet, could do little but tickle with magic. It extends to other spells, too. Unicorn magic in MLPFiM never directly hurts anyone.

I'm convinced that this limitation of magic is intentional. It is Hasbro's attempt to tamp down on violence, which as a glorious side-effect makes solving story conflicts magnitudes harder. The Tirek fight is an aberration, albeit a cool one. Okay, destroy my house, threaten my pet and my town, I'd get mad, too, but I'm not a magical equine. I could say that Hasbro associated rainbows with unicorns, making the show on the whole non-violent, therefore unicorn magic is both made of magic and cannot directly hurt someone.

I could say that.

In any case, rainbow magic is now firmly associated with unicorns. Google for images and you'll see amazing things, including rainbows coming out of unicorns in ways I won't describe.

As I said, it is my trope and I intend to use it. It limits characters immensely, and has a nice visual-metaphorical ring to it. And it's a substance distilled from clouds by pegasi; and though it tastes spicy, it may provide them the magic to fly. Can't beat that.

Expect further rainbows!

*Footnote: So Twilight learns of Discord's betrayal and receives Alicorn magic, but upon return to Ponyville doesn't tell her friends about Discord? Plot advancement by stupidity is a weak plot device. Don't use it.

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Comments ( 13 )

I think your thinking. It's an interesting idea and you've reasoned it well.
Just one question though,
If unicorn magic can't hurt someone directly, what is happening here?

3484089 Good one. Let's call that the "stun" exception. :facehoof:

One of the things with a show based on comedy is that sometimes the writers or story editors will throw in a gag to get a laugh. This could be one of them. Obsessive analysts in the audience just have to lump it. In a sense, it makes it harder to figure out what is canon or not, not that the story editors on the show have that anywhere on this list of things that concern them, though they have been pretty good on continuity. I'm sure if we looked, we could find things put in as a joke that didn't become canon and were later a character limitation. Yeah, it's a children's show and I'm over analyzing.

I will stand-by my statement: It's my trope and I intend to use it. :twilightsmile:

Sure, you can levitate a boulder and hurt someone with that, but where is any unicorn directly blasting another pony, hurting them?

Season 1 episode 6 Boast Busters --- Trixie summons a storm cloud and directs a lightning bolt to strike Rainbow Dash, later she uses the this spell again to attack the Ursa Minor.

Season 2 episode 3 Lesson Zero --- Twilight uses the "Want it Need it" spell to mind control a large crowd of ponies, removing their free will.

Season 3 episode 13 Magical Mystery Cure --- After the cutie marks are mixed up Rarity gains the power to control weather; which causes sunburns, frostbite, and deluges of rain, hurting ponies and damaging the environment.

Season 4 episode 2 Princess Twilight Sparkle part 2 --- Twilight uses magic to attack the Plunder Seed plants, blasting and destroying them.

Season 5 episode 13 Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? --- Princess Luna uses her magic to attack the Tantabus with what appears to be lightning, crystals and concussive blasts.

There an example from every season.

There are other examples I could use too such as; Power Ponies, Twilight blasting a changeling (knocking it unconscious), The Fire of Friendship burning Wendigos, Starlight Glimmer's cutie mark removal spell and her just shooting an apparent laser at Double Diamond and the others... and on and on...

Magic has been used maliciously many times in the show.

I had a similar idea. But it wasn't 'you can't hurt people with magic', it was that 'unicorn magic is inherently safe'. You can't hurt people with it accidentally.

Twilight has a spell that turns Apples into Oranges. There's no reason for it *not* to kill any living creature that it touches, but instead it turns them into a living orange?

Teleportation is an inherently perilous idea, but she makes blind teleports without thinking and even when she screws up the spell the result is that her targets are dazed and a little scorched.

Even the mind control spells don't leave their targets traumatized or even all that angry.

3484159 You left out Canterlot Wedding Part 2. Twilight is zapping the hell out of Changelings left and right. It's right up there with AJ and Dash beating the hell out of them.

Edit: Or maybe you mentioned it as an aside.

Whatever, let's talk about the big one. TIREK. KABOOM!

Twi is obviously trying to kill him using nothing but magic :P

Good list; good argument. Thanks for analyzing this with me!

In the spirit of friendly discussion I'll counter. The key in my argument is the word directly.

...because unicorn magic is made of rainbows it cannot directly hurt someone (I.e., animal and sentient)

I acknowledge that I am treading a fine line here and your examples do damage my "Hasbro tamping down violence" argument, however:

(1) Magic created the cloud, thus the lightning strike is indirect;
(2) Want it need it was cast on the doll and the effect on ponies was indirect;
(3) The magic is cast on the weather; the weather, though apparently enhanced, indirectly caused the frostbite, sunburns, etc.;
(4) The plunder seed (Seeds of Discord) are not animals and for cartoon kid-safe purposes can be walloped into juice; and
(5) Luna is a alicorn*, not a unicorn.

Your unelaborated Power Ponies case, however, is a very good example of direct blasting, specifically unicorn Matterhorn Twilight shoots a freeze ray to directly damage someone--though arguably freezing them in the story context might be consider stunning not hurting, and certainly not killing. However, and forgive me for playing a wildcard here, it is cast in a comic book context and is not real-life (in Equestrian terms) so I would posit that it doesn't count.

Double Diamond: maybe. We don't know the effect had she struck him directly (and maybe it is the reason she missed?). Cutie mark removal isn't harm in the context of Starlight Glimmer's special talent, though apparently it hurts; she does indeed feel she is helping, and this is made clear and canon in The Art of Equestria. See my story, Lesson Learned, for my take on this.

As to the shooting the changelings, refer to my comment to Melancholy.

I will argue against myself, however by saying that on further review, I think the Rainbow of Light does vanquish Tirek in Escape from Nightmare Castle, perhaps killing him. I am unclear about this. G1 through G3 MLP strike me as mind-numbing drivel and are hard to watch.

Do provide more examples, please. (And, of course, it's my trope and I intend to use it.)

*Footnote: I'm definitely going to have to write a story about the difference between alicorn and unicorn magic.

Did that work? Twilight countered Tirek and destroyed the countryside, but never landed a maiming blow.

My take (as I argue in my story, Mark Misconception, Twilight's unicorn heritage is holding her back from going all alicorn on Tirek. Eventually, as I point out in the story, she probably would have succeeded and killed Tirek. Alicorn magic is more than rainbows (my theory, of course.) Killing Tirek, or even drawing blood, would have changed Twilight, possibly irretrievably hurt her psychologically. Turned her evil? Maybe. I look at Celestia and Luna as examples. Though we have precious little in the show to go on, I see them as borderline creatures, not unicorns, that are free to be ruthless at times. This may generate many interesting stories about Twilight as Celestia's troubleshooter coming to grips with no longer being bound by unicorn rules.

3484389 It doesn't matter if Twilight was successful. It matters that she thought she could do it. It was an action that she took assuming that it had the possibility of success.

We also have no canon information that suggests that Alicorns have different magic from Unicorns, other than as a matter of scale.

You can use this headcanon (and really, it isn't more than that) in your stories, they are your creations, after all, but it's nothing you should or can enforce on actual Equestria.
The show proofed numerous times that unicorn magic is as lethal as it can get, xgfhj demonstrated that well (more examples, though: Twilight trying to kill Cadance with combat spells in the mines under Canterlot, Starlight Glimmer trying to kill the Friendtastic Four in her rage, Starlight Glimmer blasting a bridge (if anypony would have been hit by that blast, then it would have been good night for it)), most important example by him how Twilight blasted the facehugger plant in the Everfree Forest, you couldn't counter that because your explanation does already directly contradict anything else seen about unicorn magic. Unicorn magic being able to kill plants, but no other living beings, is just impossible.
Sorry, but your theory does hold no ground in regards to everything we've heard and seen about unicorn magic.
But, as I said, you can use it in your stories (you should mark them as "Alternate Universe" if you do, though, for the reasons named above), but don't expect it to be an actual circumstance in Equestria, cause that's not what it is.
Also, on a sidenote, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is not a children's show, it's a family show per definition and assuming the former one is, for whatever reason, a very persistent (and annoying) misconception in the fandom.
It's a family show made for all ages equally, hence why the creators can get away with all the dark stuff that's shown in it.

And for your stories, you know that I like them, but if you end up using this idea with the unicorn magic being made of rainbows and unable to hurt other ponies, then I can't exactly promise that I will continue to read them.
This is exactly the kind of dumbing things down that the earlier generations of My Little Pony did and what Lauren Faust and the other creators of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic avoided with it right from the start.

Season 2 episode 26 A Royal Canterlot Wedding part 2 --- When Twilight is imprisoned in the crystal mines "Cadance" appears and taunts her, she uses magic to attack with a concussive blast strong enough to destroy stone and crystal, after she destroys one wall she finds the real Princess Cadance and pounces on her, her horn charged and ready to attack, Cadance has to beg for her life. "No, wait! Please don't hurt me!"

It's clear to me that Twilight has a magic (missile) concussive blast spell, that she has had long before she turned into an alicorn, and has used it to directly attack ponies/changelings/walls/Plunder Seed plants/Tirek and possibly others.

Your unelaborated Power Ponies case,

Season 4 episode 6 Power Ponies --- Unicorn magic enchanted a comic book, with no warning in the book that it was actually magically enchanted, this spell trapped multiple ponies, and a dragon, in a fictional un-reality where their lives were directly threatened and forced them to follow a storyline which caused them to attack other ponies.

The victims pulled into the book had no knowledge of what was happening, the spell just pulled in whomever was close enough to the book. They were trapped and had to be willing to attack and hurt others to get out of the spell, with no other way out, and the ponies were being hurt in the book; and while the Power Ponies comic was relatively harmless and lighthearted one can easily see how that could turn really dark really fast...

Also if more ponies had been there and got pulled into the comic at the same time, even just one more, they would have been stuck with a villain's role and would have had to fight against their friends or worse...

I really don't like thinking about this so I'm going to stop.

3484357 It's clear in the episodes on the Crystal Empire, that alicorn magic is not necessarily substantively different from unicorn magic. Rather, alicorns eventually must learn dark magic in order to understand and protect against it -- or wield it if circumstances truly necessitate. So unicorns are otherwise exclusively taught light magic, which can have "dark" uses but isn't based on destructive energies. Twilight, being inexperienced in dark magics but endowed with enormous raw power, wouldn't be able to use dark magic very well and might not risk it even when enhanced because of how dangerous it obviously is to the user as well as its subjects (note the encrustations on her brother's horn as a result of even touching the stuff; and the outcomes of all who have wielded dark magic thus far, except Celestia, who can apparently handle it with sufficient discipline to avoid self-destruction).

But boy howdy, can she smash all the things when she's riled up!


And for your stories, you know that I like them, but if you end up using this idea with the unicorn magic being made of rainbows and unable to hurt other ponies, then I can't exactly promise that I will continue to read them.

That would make me sad.

So I don't want to belabor the point, In Mark Misconception it was a McGuffin in the story and as such, stating it was inescapable. I've used the trope before and may use it again, but I will keep in mind that Wizard of Oz does not let you see behind the curtain. Don't worry, I doubt you'll notice it again.

That aside, your Canterlot example made me remember the one incident I cannot refute! Twilight magically strips the changelings of their illusion with willful intent during the Canterlot street battle, and it certainly looks like it hurts. Alas, my theory fails now because even if I cite the other incidents as (1) a joke, (2) in a comic book, or (3) the blows did not land, the changeling incident is a data point that cannot be discarded from the set. Never means never, so my theory fails.

I still like it as a principal. :twilightsheepish: (And magic may still be made of rainbows.)

family show

You're right that was Lauren Faust's intent. However, just because any show is for a family audience doesn't mean that it has to have been as well written as MLP is. Whilst I cannot say I'm an expert in current cartoons of this class, those shows televised when I grew up inevitably treated the mentality of children as infantile, G1 MLP being an example. When I say I have to remind myself that MLP is a children's show, I am stating my surprise and giving the show my highest praise. I am a professional science fiction and fantasy writer. Most MLP stories are as solid any good young adult fantasy fiction in the genre; some episodes are as well plotted and characterized as adult fiction. To me, that is surprising, and why as a writer I am drawn to the show.


Don't worry, I doubt you'll notice it again.

I actually haven't even read it yet. I was busy with drawing a fanart for my fillies and their great achievement and I invested a lot of time into it to make it grand. :applecry: :scootangel: :unsuresweetie:
I haven't read most fics about them and their cutie marks yet, except for "Trinity" by MythrilMoth and "The Counselor" by SpookyMinion and I start to make my way through the rest of them just now at the moment of writing this.
I was simply answering to what you said here about unicorn magic, not on how you used it in the fic, as I could already see where your thoughts were going while reading your blog entry.

That aside, your Canterlot example made me remember the one incident I cannot refute!

There, there, let's not go overboard with that. You already couldn't refute the example with the facehugger plant either, honey. :raritywink: Twilight was clearly killing a living creature there. :raritywink:
But it's good that you realize it when a theory of your's fails. Most bronies are incapable of that and defend their stuff no matter how much the show disproves them.

(And magic may still be made of rainbows.)

More like mental energy. But they're your fics. As long as they kick flanks with their rainbows I won't mind. :rainbowdetermined2:

When I say I have to remind myself that MLP is a children's show, I am stating my surprise and giving the show my highest praise.

I don't doubt that you say it with the best intent possible, however, per definition the term is still not right and using it could be dangerous if people should see it who don't know the show, as they might get turned away from it without even giving it a tiny look when they hear the dreaded "kids show".

However, just because any show is for a family audience doesn't mean that it has to have been as well written as MLP is.

Even family shows can certainly be full of plotholes and character inconsistencies, something that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on the contrary doesn't have, but nonetheless, family shows always have a certain high maturity attached to them that you don't find in kids shows. This is why family shows are the best form of entertainment, they bring all the audiences together and neither look down on children nor bore the heck out of adults with cringy and embarrassing children stuff.

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