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Random thoughts about canon #6: Discord’s Rule · 10:57am Mar 6th, 2016

Discord’s alleged rule of Equestria has been an oft-repeated notion in horse writing, and there is much praise to be said for some of the depictions, just as there are those of them which didn’t turn out so well. However, the subject of today’s musing is…

…When did it happen? What was it like? And, did it even really happen?

As usual, a question more complicated than it appears.

For starters, let me summarize all the canonical statements pertaining to Discord’s history and past that I have been able to identify, and try to pick them apart, in no particular order:

1. Besides, can you even imagine Discord tolerating being the same as anybody else? I can’t.

#1: During the scene that introduces Discord in The Return of Harmony, Cherilee says “this creature is called a draconequus,” which many authors chose to interpret as implying that other members of the species exist, and that they’re actually a species in the first place. Which I don’t find very well founded, because in human mythology, ‘Pegasus’ was a singular creature, and no hints that Discord could ever have been representative of anything has ever surfaced, so there’s no reason to suspect ponies can’t have similar, singular mythological creatures that are still referred to by a general term.1

2. Which is an idea that I’ve seen picked up once or twice.

Cherilee basically treats the statue as a heraldic animal, rather than a statue of any kind of person, and her words, exactly, are that it “represents Discord,” as an abstract concept. Other statues in the park are also taken to represent abstract concepts, like “victory” and “friendship,” so she is perfectly justified, though I wonder if they aren’t also not really statues, or at least, are statues of specific, historical ponies, now forgotten.2

#2: When describing Discord, (ibid.) Celestia says the following: “It seems an old foe of mine, someone I thought I had defeated long ago, has returned. His name… is Discord. Discord is the mischievous spirit of disharmony. Before my sister and I stood up to him, he ruled Equestria in an eternal state of unrest and unhappiness. Luna and I saw how miserable life was for Earth ponies, Pegasi, and unicorns alike, so after discovering the Elements of Harmony, we combined our powers and rose up against him, turning him to stone. I thought the spell we cast would keep him contained forever, but since Luna and I are no longer connected to the Elements, the spell has been broken.”

3. Celestia does have a general tendency for poetic exaggeration when doing exposition, but I shall write more on that some other time.

For a long time, this statement has been pretty much all the information on Discord’s origin that we had. There are a few problems with it: How long is “eternal,” and most importantly when did it start, and did it start? Hearth’s Warming Eve implies pretty clearly that it has to have started sometime, unless it ended before the events of Hearth’s Warming Eve. As other statements imply, it had to have ended afterwards, which kind of devalues the idea of true eternity, and makes me think Celestia was exaggerating for poetic reasons, and what she actually meant to say is that it felt like an eternity to the ponies affected.3

But that leaves us with no clear statement on how long. Further quasi-canon provides a “when” to this equation, however: It happened “after discovering the Elements of Harmony.” According to Journal of the Two Sisters, that has happened after the sisters were crowned, after they got their cutie marks, in the time when their rule over Equestria was already well established. Which makes Celestia’s ramble on “saw how miserable life was” sound somewhat odd, since at the time, it would have been their responsibility to keep it not so miserable, and even prevent Discord from showing up in the first place. But it may imply, that for a certain time, Discord’s rule was considered acceptable, until the princesses decided it was not.

4. The only specific statement is by Discord, who says that his plunder seeds should have “captured Princess Celestia and Princess Luna thousands of moons ago,” but as there is considerable confusion and misuse of the word “moon” as a measure of time, it’s not helpful at all.

#3: In “Princess Twilight,” in a flashback, Celestia and Luna confront Discord. Few things of note are said during this exchange,4 however, a few noteworthy things are visible:

  • While both of them are somewhat battered and worn, both princesses are wearing their royal vestments, including even matching saddlebags which we have never seen before or since. The level to which they are disheveled is identical to the state of Princess Cadance after she was imprisoned by Chrysalis for at most a month.
  • They certainly don’t behave like lone superheroes who saw a wrong that needs righting, more like hero queens reduced to appearing on the field personally.
  • The architecture on screen is decidedly less advanced than anything seen in any other era, the houses are poor and in obvious disrepair – but they are obviously within Discord’s purview and could look like that because he decided they should, rather than have been originally like that.

Which at least implies that Discord’s rule has not lasted that long objectively, and pretty clearly settles that it has to have happened after Celestia and Luna have been ruling for a while.

#4: This is a bit of a side statement, but is important by implication: In comics, in Micro-series #8, Celestia’s issue, professor Inkwell is seen teaching a class with Discord being prominently depicted on the blackboard as, presumably, one of the subjects of the class. Parts of his body are marked up, though it is not explained why.

Professor Inkwell’s age at the time of the flashback clearly places this event well before Discord’s reappearance, and even before Twilight’s time at the School for Gifted Unicorns. However, the very next frame ribs her for “old fashioned ideas,” by depicting Inkwell at an advanced (and current, for the comic) age, in an identical situation, with a very similar (but more sinister) drawing of Discord, marked up with a “really a friend?” comment. Which can only happen after the events of Keep Calm and Flutter On.

This establishes a few things not otherwise available:

  • The story of Discord’s previous attack on Equestria might not be well-known, but is at the very least a part of folkore and subject of academic study.
  • Discord’s reformation has been public knowledge if not national news, enough to make Inkwell’s opinion feel out of date.

5. Then again, she doesn’t get much of an opportunity to put in a word edgewise, since first, Celestia is talking to the entire Mane 6, and then Discord takes over the conversation.

It does leave us with a question of why didn’t Twilight recognize Discord instantly,5 since Inkwell had to have been one of her teachers, which leads me to suspect that Discord’s story is not well-established history, but is as much a legend, if not more, than Nightmare Moon was, and is simply not part of regular curriculum, but something Inkwell used to demonstrate a point.

#5: In Twilight’s Kingdom, Discord is never mentioned when Celestia retells the story of Tirek. However, when they meet, Tirek recognizes Discord, and they are both clearly at least aware of each other’s existence and reputation, if not previously acquainted. Whatever Discord needed to know, Celestia could have told him, but the same is not true for Tirek. Tirek explicitly tells Discord that “you are legend!” and yet is surprised that Discord is free.

6. Discord’s betrayal is another interesting event open to a lot of intriguing interpretation, but that’s a subject for another day.

This is not very conclusive, but at least gives us the interpretation of Discord’s rule occurring before Tirek’s own stint at villain of the month.6 I find that it is far less likely for Tirek to have heard of Discord while being imprisoned. While he was aware of Cadance being a princess (which is, according to semi-canonical statements elsewhere, a recent event) he was not aware that Twilight is, until he saw the stained glass window, and it is unlikely for Tirek to have heard of Discord’s rule after his escape, because then Tirek would also know Discord has been free for quite some time.

As a side note, Discord mentions that Luna has access to his dreams in this episode, which establishes at least some things about his true nature, but nobody follows up on it, and it only comes up later in comics in Friends Forever #20.

#6: The Friendship is Magic #2 issue of the comics contains a map of the region traveled through on the way to Crysalis’ new base, which contains a checkermarked spot labeled as “Sight of the Battle of Discord (Quarantined)” (sic!) and the checkerboard colors match the ones depicted in Princess Twilight, obviously meant to imply it’s the same place. It is not clear exactly where the region actually is, however, as the only landmark that can possibly correspond with anything on the main map of Equestria is “Appaloosan Mountains”.

Our only practical takeaway from this one is that Discord’s influence probably did not extend to the entire Equestria. If the site of the battle is still in a chaotic state, the most likely reason for this is that it did not revert to a non-chaotic state upon Discord’s imprisonment, and the princesses did not attempt to restore it. If the entire Equestria were like this at the time, the site of the battle wouldn’t be the only place remaining uninhabitable.

#7: In Friendship is Magic #24, on an extended trip to the past with Fluttershy and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Discord visits a realm of ancient Egyptian jackals ruled by one Anubis – who have ponies in their guard for whatever reason and have a stele depicting the worship of what Sweetie Belle recognizes as Nightmare Moon – who are both aware of his existence and are on terms far from friendly with him. Discord assists the leader of talking cats named Baast, who states that Discord had previously helped her start a rebellion against Anubis and has primarily positive things to say about him.

This is a generally problematic sequence, in that worshiping Nightmare Moon would have to have happened long after Discord was imprisoned. However, it still can be made to fit the general scheme of things if you whack it hard enough and assume Sweetie Belle is simply misinterpreting the stele. In this case, the episodes related to the jackal culture would have to have occurred before Discord’s confrontation with Equestria’s princesses.

#8: In FIENDship is Magic #2 Discord can be seen in King Vorak’s throne room as Tirek enters.

At the time, Tirek is a prince, and is still far from his stint as villain of the month in Equestria, but since Discord has yet to be imprisoned, and is not flashy as a “ruler of Equestria” would be in presence of other royalty, we can assume that Discord’s own attack on Equestria has yet to happen as well.

…And that’s most of it really, unless I missed another subtle hint. So where does this leave us? My interpretation of this entire mess is as follows, summarized:

7. Alternatively, she remembers a version of history she has already erased out of existence with time travel, which would make a for a nice story if you like that kind of thing, but is beyond the scope of this post.

Celestia is exaggerating.7 Discord’s rule was neither eternal nor covered the entirety of Equestria, and in fact, it is possible that for some time it was simply tolerated. The confrontation with the princesses was a major event, that left permanent marks on the landscape and was retained in legend for over a thousand years, but was far less important than it could have been. It occurred a decade or two before Tirek’s attack, a considerable time before the original appearance of Nightmare Moon, and a considerable time after Celestia and Luna’s coronation, and whatever atrocities Discord has committed lasted at best a month before being satisfactorily resolved by the use of the Elements of Harmony.

This feels kind of boring, but then it presents us with a different opportunity for drama, that I feel is much more promising: Just where did Discord come from, what he really is, and how did he come to be?

The fact that he is still subject to Luna’s dream magic suggests he is an entity of a caliber no higher than Luna herself is. Depending on what you believe Luna to be, it can be a lot, but Discord’s behavior actually seen in canon implies he is a mischievous trickster, rather than a torturing maniac, a jerk, but certainly not an explicitly evil force even before his reformation. The primary motivation he is depicted to have is mocking Celestia personally, belittling her accomplishments, making her question her values, and in general, he doesn’t have a bone to pick with just about anypony else, except Anubis, who, in his brief time on the pages, is presented as a rather tyrannical and autocratic ruler of his kingdom.

If my memory serves me right, the word “opponent” in ancient Rome was used to denote a specially designated person who would run next to the chariot of a general during their triumph, which is essentially a victory parade. The opponent’s job was to continually remind the said general that they are not a god, by belittling their accomplishments.

Even if my source is wrong, Discord’s attitude seems to suggest that’s exactly what he is, and the ideas that “Discord is actually transformed Starswill the Bearded,” (A silly notion, but not entirely impossible) and “Discord is Starswill’s Monster just like Frankenstein’s Monster was created by Frankenstein” suddenly become much more plausible, if not well founded canonically.

And I think I like this personal kind of drama much better.

EDIT: By the time Aporia was written up to the point where the issue of Discord came up, I evolved a variation on the concept of Discord’s rule that I believe fits even better.

According to this variation, Discord never actually ruled anything or anywhere. As chaos and disorder is his ideal and final goal, doing so would actually be counterproductive, anyway. If anything, he engaged in systematic destruction of local government and opposition to any and all rule, by destroying its elements in a random order.

His brief adventure in Ponyville is a typical example: He would turn a town into a “chaos capital of the world” for a period of time. When the Princesses would arrive to deal with the situation, he would taunt them, shrug off or take whatever magical damage they could dish out, dish some out himself, and then run, leaving them to deal with the traumatized ponies and damaged landscape, to immediately start torturing another town elsewhere in Equestria. By the time the sisters would be done fixing things, news would arrive that Discord is attacking another town, and without an opportunity to rest, they would be forced to travel there and engage him again. The need for Elements of Harmony as an anti-Discord weapon comes not so much from being unable to fight Discord at all, but from needing to disable him completely with one shot, before he can escape and continue his campaign elsewhere. This is an option open to Discord precisely because his goal does not include political power.

This explains why the sisters are alone and worn out when confronting Discord – such a campaign would necessarily make using any kind of support force impractical, and would tire them out quickly. It still leaves room for Discord to be perceived as taking over the entire Equestria, since, by visiting each of the major cities and torturing it for a couple days, he would traumatize pretty much the entire country personally. The places remaining in chaotic state after the entire thing is over are just places the Princesses did not feel worth restoring to their original condition.

Report Oliver · 1,272 views · Story: Aporia · #canon research
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Comments ( 9 )

I think your second theory is pretty on the mark. Discord was less a tyrant and more a sapient natural disaster. I noticed when the Princesses finally fight him, there is absolutely no one around, which to me suggests he has no court or advisers or anyone helping him "rule." If the Princesses already had the Elements of Harmony, and Discord was able to be taken almost completely by surprise by them (as it looks like in his first battle) then I would guess Discord's reign only lasted a month or two tops.

A few little quibbles about the comics though:
1) Inkwell saying “really a friend?” doesn't mean that flashback had to happen after Discord was released, it could just be that Inkwell, who is shown to be eccentric, came up with the crazy theory decades ago that Discord could be reformed, and Celestia later came around to this theory of Inkwell's.

2) Anubis himself was raising the sun and moon in that hieroglyph, Sweetie just seems to be thinking he resembles Nightmare Moon because he looks angry and evil and also raising the sun and moon. Maybe he was also infected by the Nightmare forces, but that whole concept was retconned out of existence.

3) The fact that Luna can influence Discord's dreams doesn't mean they are on the same level, dreams seem to be part of Luna's portfolio, as a part of the night. Based on all their various actions, Discord seems to be an order of magnitude more powerful than an alicorn. He has also been around since the time of the dinosaurs, apparently (And was in the court of Tirek's father, though I have no idea what that means).


Inkwell saying “really a friend?” doesn't mean that flashback had to happen after Discord was released, it could just be that Inkwell, who is shown to be eccentric, came up with the crazy theory decades ago that Discord could be reformed, and Celestia later came around to this theory of Inkwell's.

Yes, I suppose I could be reading too much into that one. :) Discord being a subject of academic discourse is very useful, though: Just like a Discord-made-it-so theory can be used to explain anything, so ponies can reject it because it can explain everything, when they invent the notion of falsifiability :)

Anubis himself was raising the sun and moon in that hieroglyph,

Damn, I missed that. That actually gives me a very interesting picture of a pre-pony-civilization Equestria...

The fact that Luna can influence Discord's dreams doesn't mean they are on the same level, dreams seem to be part of Luna's portfolio, as a part of the night. Based on all their various actions, Discord seems to be an order of magnitude more powerful than an alicorn.

What I meant to say is, Discord might be magnitudes more powerful, but is not, fundamentally, a type of creature so different as to dream differently. If Celestia and Luna are deities, so is he, just a bigger one, if Celestia and Luna are creatures of flesh and blood with immense powers and wisdom of long life, so is he, just a stronger one. There is no question that he's so powerful that fighting an alicorn is a curb stomp battle.

3869429 I kind of feel like he has to be Starswirl then. If he was around since dinosaur times, either he is actually a god, or he's some crazy Whoovian-esque time traveler, which pretty much means Starswirl.

I need to track down some stories with Starswirl-as-Discord and see how they went about this, I suppose.

As much as I enjoy the mental picture of Discord in a stereotypical Viking helmet, aboard a longboat crewed by singing fish, pillaging the various settlements of Equestria, there is an alternate hypothesis.

Discord's powers dwarf that of any unicorn, and we already know of three that have manipulated time: Starswirl, Starlight, and Twilight. It isn't outside the realm of plausibility that Discord could take time out back and beat it with a hammer for a while. Increasing the timescale of a town he walks into, ruling it for a lifetime, (or until bored) then doing the same thing to the next town "tomorrow." Or "five minutes later."

A rapid procession of this would allow him to rule unchallenged until the Elements of Harmony are harnessed and neutralise his domain.

Time fuckery is a bit of a cheat, like you said, though.


Make that a flying longboat, of course... He could, technically, and the jackals incident mentioned in the comics above says he at least can time travel as casually as Starswirl supposedly could. The only question is how quickly he would get bored doing it not just one forever, but multiple forevers, but if we're going to make Celestia's statement literally true, that's one way to do it. :)

I'm kind of leaning in the opposite direction and suspecting time fuckery on Celestia's side of the equation, though. Possibly, a groundhog day scenario, which was eternal for Celestia and Luna, but wasn't quite long enough for Discord to get bored...

Makes sense to me.

On the matter of Discord's power relative to Luna, it is also worth noting that in Return of Harmony Part 2, Twilight (a unicorn at the time, assuming alicorn status boosts magical power, which is an entirely different subject for discussion in itself) was able to negate Discord's magical grasp on the other mane 6 and even neutralize the changes he made to a spot on the ground with her shield bubble. This says to me that maybe Celestia and Luna could have negated his magic as well and reverted the damage he caused, they just couldn't keep up with him, which works well with the idea that he caused localized destruction to make them chase him around.

Interesting. Definitely offers a different take on Discord, one that suits canon quite well.

Personally, I've always been a fan of the theory that Discord's shenanigans more or less broke reality for awhile. That is, during his relative "short" reign, time flowed at different paces and in some cases backwards, during which he did more or less anything that amused him-in this case, obliterating most forms of order and government he encountered and in some cases multiple versions of himself running around doing different things-hence, what few records survive are in all honesty extremely contradictory, with some claiming his rule lasted thousands of years while other saying it lasted five minutes, with no real consensus.

‘Pegasus’ was a singular creature,

…yeah. No need to duplicate rather than link. It bugs me, too.

But that leaves us with no clear statement on how long.

Well, he was seen disrupting one prime method of timekeeping on his return; I rather expect he did so in his reign as well.

Hmm, this was getting long enough that I should make my own blogpost about it, rather than leaving it here…

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