• Member Since 18th Aug, 2013
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very trustworthy rodent


with direct eyes, to death's other kingdom


T
Source

In the 19th century of Princess Celestia's rule, Equestria experienced an acceleration of its progress and prosperity as the first westward expansion began. Yet there were some ponies who took this call to progress as a warrant for ever more radical reform. In 1858, 148 ponies left Equestria to realize that radical dream. This is their story.


Written for a Writeoff Association contest (based off the prompt "Distant Shores"), but more broadly intended as an homage to Nathaniel Hawthorne, inspired by and deeply indebted to his great short story, Earth's Holocaust.

Chapters (1)
Comments ( 34 )

Excellent story :pinkiehappy: It reminds me of the lunacy of some of the first settlements in America

6400447
thanks! that's exactly what it's supposed to evoke. :twilightsmile:

Wow. I felt like I was reading something over a hundred years old. And it is chilling in its telling.

This was my favorite story on my ballot, and it's kind of a shame it didn't make the finals. It's all very chilling, and feels authentic to the type of atmosphere you're trying to invoke.

It's an excellent story, though it lacks a certain essential poniness. Yours isn't the only, or particularly the worst, offender, but I do get the distinct impression we're dealing with a human story layered over with a thin pony filter; details and trivia.

6401710

It's a good story. Very chilling. But this is very true. (I mean, it's not totally the author's fault, ponies will always be humans in another skin, the degree to which we can make them not human can be changed though).

Welp, I think Celestia probably dodged a bullet there...

Though she might have been better served simply incincerating Scarlet Flame before she started. (S'what I'd have done. 'Course, I'm a might more tyrannical - and Evil than she is, so...)



Sadly, this has the ring of far too much truth in it. I have read accounts of humans that have had results as terrible and worse than this; all it takes is one madcreature to gain power and lack of culpability by slipping away from his nation, and all manner of atrocities will result,

6401710
I tried to address this in the thread, but the long and short of it is that I did have some idea of what significance ponies would have in this, and that mostly relates to class. I'll just quote the most relevant part of the post:

Most of the "pony aspects" of this story are meant to be implicit and raise questions about pony power structures. They build a supposedly equal society, but the unicorns still constitute an intellectual "planning class" rather than workers (and are apparently much better conversationalists). There is a unicorn aristocrat named Lisianthus Logos who is described as possessing "dignity," compared to stodgy earth ponies with names like Cotton Lilac and Bumper Crop, who are portrayed either as victims, thugs, or Scarlet's useful idiots. If "unicorns don't unicorn" means that they don't really use magic in this, I accept that, but I wanted to speak more to the class and culture of unicorns vs. earth ponies regardless of magic. Related to this is the fact that the population is almost all earth pony but their de facto leaders are two unicorns and a pegasus. These were all deliberate ironies.

Woah....holy shit

This was a really well written story that provided a thoughtful take on some bigger political issues. What I liked most about the piece was the voicing. The narrative voice you've given to Scarlet Letter (nice shout out to Hawthorne) really helps transport the reader back in time to the period of human history which the story aims to evoke. The beginning also serves as a really effective hook for the piece. Yes, it "spoils" the end, but by doing so, it allows the reader to focus on the details of how the reformers on the island meet their end.

That said, I do echo some of the concerns of the other commenters that setting the piece in Equestria does not add anything to the piece. The story covers some well trodden grounds in Western literature (e.g. Lord of the Flies), philosophy (Hobbes et al. and the discussion of the "state of nature"), and human history (all of it). The story plays all of these aspects straight, and while it may execute them well, it doesn't really add anything new to these tropes. By considering more deeply how these ideas would play out in a pony-specific society, and focusing on how things might differ between humans and ponies, would have been one way in which to make this story stand out a bit more. Of course, stories about ponies are stories about people, but there have already been many stories on this topic about people.

Nevertheless, good job, it was a beautifully written piece.

Man. I'm reminded of the Puritans, Hippie Communes, and the infamous Jonestown.

Excellent work. Though this doesn't exactly feel like a Ponyfic, more like a original story.

I suppose I should save said in the write off that I did enjoy this story, other misgivings aside. I have enjoyed other works like this. It gave me thoughts that Starlight Glimmer must have been a follower or descendent, or found the teachings of Scarlet Flame, and thought "She didn't go far enough."

6400488 Something tells me that Starlight Glimmer is a fan of Scarlett

Compared to the real world, Equestria seems like such a nice place. There's no murder, no lasting hatred, no famines or wars. Wouldn't it be nice to live there instead of here? That's the kind of thing Letter seemed to be thinking, only Equestria was his troubled real world and the Island was his utopian fantasy. Is the real world so deeply flawed that a fresh start could create something better, or is it better to stay and try to make the best of this flawed world? That's what I was thinking as I finished reading this story, and it's why I think this works as a fanfic.

Even so, I have some complaints. The story seems to shy away from some of its thematically-important details in favor of lesser ones. Scarlet Flame's race is only brought up twice, one of them in passing. Distant Shores' race is mentioned only once before the end. No mention is ever made of horns or wings, either. As such, the detail of the leaders' races was lost on me. Distant Shores' cutie mark was likewise overlooked. It's mentioned just once, and so early on that it doesn't stand out at all. Shores herself never seems to do anything after arriving on the island, despite being one of the supposed leaders, making her folly hard to keep in mind.

The inclusion of weapons among the discarded evils of society didn't bother me when I read it, but looking back it seems extraneous to the story. In that same sequence, they discard monarchy, aristocracy, history, and money, all of which play important parts in the show; weapons do not share that distinction. Letter's worry that weapons might have been hidden away foreshadows the later murder, but that could have been done elsewhere in the story. The irony of the use of an improvised weapon is, like the initial discarding of the weapons, weakened by the irrelevance of weapons in the source material. I understand the appeal of including one's headcanon in a fanfic, but in this case it weakens a sequence that's central to the plot.

6413754

Even so, I have some complaints. The story seems to shy away from some of its thematically-important details in favor of lesser ones. Scarlet Flame's race is only brought up twice, one of them in passing. Distant Shores' race is mentioned only once before the end. No mention is ever made of horns or wings, either. As such, the detail of the leaders' races was lost on me. Distant Shores' cutie mark was likewise overlooked. It's mentioned just once, and so early on that it doesn't stand out at all.

Scarlet Letter is an unreliable narrator. He doesn't even question the fact that leaders have horns and wings except as a small practical detail. That's why it's ironic. It's a fact that I only wanted to surface on a close reading.

The inclusion of weapons among the discarded evils of society didn't bother me when I read it, but looking back it seems extraneous to the story. In that same sequence, they discard monarchy, aristocracy, history, and money, all of which play important parts in the show; weapons do not share that distinction. Letter's worry that weapons might have been hidden away foreshadows the later murder, but that could have been done elsewhere in the story. The irony of the use of an improvised weapon is, like the initial discarding of the weapons, weakened by the irrelevance of weapons in the source material.

Almost all Equestrian history is ultimately headcanon though, especially where concerns culture and technology. I assumed the use of weaponry based on two assumptions extrapolated from Over a Barrel:

1) Ethnic cleansing has occurred/is occurring in Equestria.
2) The principal agents of this ethnic cleansing are earth ponies, whose only natural means of defence against larger buffalos are their kicks.

Equestria's only a nice place because it's the setting of a show aimed at children. You can either work within that framework (e.g. My Little Dashie) or outside it (e.g. any number of the many Equestrian war fics). You can even confront it as a metaproblem; a previous WriteOff winner, Trick Question's Price of a Smile, explains the implausibly childish portrayal of ethnic cleansing as a feature of a pony Matrix. I just chose to assume in this particular story that the MLP show itself is only half the truth since the implications of pony society and values extend further than those portrayed in the show. I would compare the show to a depiction of, say, Japan as an incredibly efficient and harmonious place with almost no crime. It's not wrong, but, assuming that ponies/Japanese people are in fact sentient creatures with independent wills, there must be more variety of experience simply by inference. You don't build a monarchy on good feelings. You don't steal land from buffalos without having the tools and skills to displace or kill them.

Re: Equestrian values, I could have done more to highlight the anti-harmony nature of Scarlet Flame, but it's difficult to say you hate harmony and friendship in a propaganda speech. At best you could posit a false consciousness narrative of some sort (this idea of harmony is a imposition from the elites to keep you in line), but it's much more trivial to lie. Even fascists claim to represent the will of the people, and fascism is aristocratic in nature. Still, it's something to revise if I can think of a way to slip it in.

6414518

I assumed the use of weaponry based on two assumptions extrapolated from Over a Barrel:

1) Ethnic cleansing has occurred/is occurring in Equestria.
2) The principal agents of this ethnic cleansing are earth ponies, whose only natural means of defence against larger buffalos are their kicks.

You can extrapolate all you want, but in that episode the settlers defended their town with hot pies and rodeo tricks, not with kicking. The use of proper weapons by the settlers is entirely a fabrication of fanfic authors. Not necessarily a contradiction, but not supported by the source material either.

Almost all Equestrian history is ultimately headcanon though

I don't know what history you're thinking of, but there's plenty of Equestrian history in the show and other official sources. The unicorn lady clinging to her ancestral wealth could have been mistaken for a callback to Princess Platinum, if that's not what you were thinking of when you wrote that part.

I just chose to assume in this particular story that the MLP show itself is only half the truth since the implications of pony society and values extend further than those portrayed in the show.

You seem to have this idea that the show is tacitly lying about its own subject matter, and thus you have to make up things that contradict the source material in order to tell a better story within that world. If that's the mindset you were in when writing this fanfic, then the parts that made sense to me must have been totally accidental. Writing a story about that kind of idea is one thing, but writing a story where that's treated as one of the basic assumptions about the setting in a tangentially-related plot is a disservice to your readers. If that's really so important to you that you can't excise it, the least you could do is add an Alternate Universe tag to let readers know you're giving your own dumb headcanon a priveleged place in the story's setting.

Writers like you really annoy me. You could have written a whole nother story instead of writing all these responses to critics. You could have written a better story with what you learned from the criticism. Instead you write thousands of words justifying your unwillingness to change.

6415524
If "plenty of history" means the Hearth's Warming Eve play, a few references to Discord's reign, &c., then I disagree. We don't have a real history of Equestria in the same way we do Middle Earth (or indeed our own world). We don't even know exactly how long Celestia and Luna have lived, or the particulars of how they came to power. Our only depiction of Princess Platinum et al was a fictionalised performance. You have to guess and extrapolate if you want to write Equestrian history unless it's an extremely limited scope you're working within.

There are many, many, many stories on here that assume ponies have far richer emotional lives and complexity in their relationships than is portrayed in the show. darf just returned here after two years (!) and uploaded a story in which a depressed Twilight smokes marijuana. This is technically AU since neither depression nor marijuana would exist in Equestria were it how the show depicts. I'm not suggesting that the show is a lie except possibly by omission, and it's not really what I'm getting at in the first place. The show is made to fulfil particular aims (faintly moralistic stories that interest and entertain an audience predominantly made up of young girls), and it goes quite a bit beyond those, as evidenced by our presence here. It's a good show. The broader point is that the notion that the show and its derivative works should bear a high degree of formal and functional closeness is rather arbitrary and depends not on an objective standard but on the aims of the writer. A story should be true to its aims, and if that involves treating ponies as emotionally rich or serious moral agents, it requires one to assume that the canon is an incomplete picture. You cannot treat ponies as serous moral agents and maintain that ethnic cleansing via pies and rodeo is possible. It just isn't. This is why My Little Dashie is the ultimate example of fidelity to the show—Equestria actually is an inviolably perfect place where the Arab-Israeli conflict would be solved with pie-throwing, and humans aren't good enough to live there because we're grey and miserable and do bad things; it resists Cold in Gardez's argument that "ponies are people." Equally, if my favourite writers on this site did not violate canon, they would not have produced the work that I like. Given that the canon itself is ultimately Lauren Faust's MLP fanfiction, it's a rather empty prescription.

I am telling you my thought process behind the writing of this story because I have come to my own conclusions about the matter you are addressing. It is not a justification but an explanation. It does not significantly impede my ability to write other stories, and I find your implication that I should've behaved in a particular way a little disingenuous. There is no correct way to behave in response to criticism. I could've ignored your comment entirely and taken nothing on board from anyone's suggestions, or I could've rudely rebuked you. I did not do these things because it would be impolite. No one is obliged to accept the ideas or opinions expressed in a civil discussion. You are free to think what you like about this story, and to express it here, but I have not been convinced by your argument, and if it bothers you to be contradicted on this, you are not approaching this conversation in good faith. I am willing to accept criticism, but not the moral imperative to accept criticism according to your whims and interests.

I am not surprised at all that, having gotten rid of their higher-tech weaponry, somepony should commit murder with a rock. Like us, the Ponies are sapient tool-users, hence the abolition of weapons is impossible. Ban guns and crossbows, and spears and knives will be used. Ban spears and knives, and clubs will be improvised. 'Tis the price of the ability to create technology: one can create destructive technologies, and from scratch if need be.

Now, in Equestria they're not often that violent, but these Ponies are in a hothouse situation beyond the rule of any laws save the rather impractical ones they're making by random public declaration. Unlike in a small Equestrian village, there's nowhere for the discontented to go. Nor is there any larger society to detect and punish malefactors. And they have the same passions as any other Ponies. It's a situation just primed for disaster ...

... and the disaster is taking a classic turn. Anarchy breeds warlordism, and Scarlet Flame has rediscovered the vanguard party system of dominating a larger group to become an effective warlord. Complete with "re-education." I can see you've studied the history of totalitarian dictatorships!

A very dark tale. Well done!

TYPO:

In his frenzy for reform, Scarlet Flame had neglected the most elemental needs of his populous

Should be "populace."

6402504

Celestia doesn't like to kill Ponies. That's pretty obvious from the show. She much prefers to banish her enemies. Here, she even provided them with their own ship and plenty of support; had their ideas been even remotely practical, they might well have succeeded in founding a flourishing independent settlement.

6472100

I'm not convinced that the attitude of "make this someone else's problem" is ever a responsible attitude to take, which is all banishment is.

Esepcially as it so frequently backfires. (Evidence: EVERY occasion where we've seen something banished: Nightmare Moon, the Sirens - Tirek, even (Sombra we'll give her a pass on, since he did it himself). All of those neccesicated somepony else having to step in and prevent disaster; fortunately, thanks to Twilight, no lives were lost.)

In this particular case, if Celestia had ponied up and did the necessary evil, she would have likely saved the lives about 147 ponies.

ANY attribute taken to extremes (including compassion: see It' Ain't Easy Being Breezie) is unhealthy and as a national leader sometimes Celestia ought to accept that she has to get HER hooves dirty and do things she'd really rather not, in sacrifice for other pony's lives. That's kind of the point of being the one in charge; the buck has to stop with you.

6473704

Did I ever claim that Celestia's leadership was perfect? What I said was that she really hates killing Ponies (or any beings, really) if she can avoid it. In the Shadow Wars Story Verse, this is one of the reasons she needs her Sister with her. Not that Luna really likes to kill Ponies, but she's more willing to do so if she considers it necessary.

6474006

I don't think we're particularly disagreeing, so much as crosstalking, then really...!

6472090

Should be "populace."

Whoops! I should probably go over the story entirely at some point; I haven't really edited it since the writeoff.

Thanks for the comment and the follow!

it's one of the best stories i have ever read and i loved it! :raritystarry:

As a 'Dark' fic lover myself, I must say this has got to be one of the best pony fics I have ever read. I'm just in love with this style, and your ability to wield your words. Just beautiful, and with this fic, tragically so.

6888703
Thank you for the kind words, and for the follow! :twilightsmile:

By blind luck, I was skimming through the Seattle's Angels post and came upon this. I see that you were inspired by Hawthorne and see that you have a character named Scarlet Letter. I skim the narration and see, from first glances, a remarkable, original, and elegant narration style, better and beyond the incondite, "realistic" styles of typical fan-fiction (and modern novels in general).

The only one of Hawthorne's novels I've read is The Scarlet Letter, but I must certainly get around to reading Earth's Holocaust (and then I can perhaps getting around to reading yours). May I say, I find it quite a pleasure to see someone else on this site who appreciates and sees the value of romanticism! But I have yet to see if your plot and characterization come together in the romantic style as well (but from glances at some of the dialogue, I suspect that they do).

6899045
Thank you very much! I find Hawthorne (and that whole strand of American literary romanticism) compelling for that very reason—it's precisely the opposite of contemporary prose fiction conventions. Everything is so heavily symbolic; the prose is florid and packed with said bookisms; the dialogue communicates moral ideas rather than psychological features of character. There's a sort of Hemingway consensus where concerns quote unquote proper prose style (at least in the creative writing circles I've encountered), and it can be stultifying, so this was a deliberate reaction against that.

That said, I have a soft spot for realism. My story After the Races was meant to be in a more contemporary realist style, though I slip out of the idiom in a pretty unforgivable fashion as it draws on—it's way more prolix than Carver or Hemingway. If I had to choose, though, I'd take nineteenth century Middlemarch realism over the more contemporary Carveresque form. It bothers me that "iceberg" prose has been a dominant stylistic idiom for such a long time. It's the kind of convention you'd expect more major writers to break at this point.

Damn, what a great fic. Despite never having read Hawthorne, or much of the American literary canon for that matter, but I really like the style, as well as how well the emotions of the protagonist flow from the writing. You mention in one of the comments that he is an unreliable protagonist, and this really came through. In particular how he tries to absolve himself of guilty (after all, he is a leader, yet did very little to stop Scarlet Letter's cultural revolution), as well as how much of their supposed Utopia actually survived. Part of me would want to believe that, after the death of their leaders, something akin to a more stable government would have survived.

I did get bothered by what 6401710 mentioned, however, and it did take me out of the fic somewhat. Maybe using the more uniquely pony triad of races in a meaningful race would have fixed that, since from what we see here, there is a certain homogeneous hierarchy that isn't all that applicable to the show universe.

6909155
Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for your comment. :twilightsmile:

Having read the story, herein I present my thoughts, analysis, and criticism.

Lest I be taken as part of the mindless hoi polloi of FimFiction, who would regard anything involving video games, sex, violence, and swearing as quality literature, I would like to briefly enumerate here my literary experience. Among divers other works, I’m familiar with, and would even say a fanatic for, the Romantic movement. With respect to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, I’m familiar with Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Washington Irving, whose magna opera I have all read (but, if I am to be honest, I have read their said opera and little else of their works). At the risk of offending the author of this pony novella’s good American sensibilities, I’m also quite familiar with the French romantics, specifically Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas (père), and— would I dare say—in terms of plot composition and drama, in the Romantic movement, the French have the Americans beat (I’m still trying to find a novel better and more intricately plotted than The Count of Monte Cristo).

Of Hawthorne, I’ve read only his marvelous The Scarlet Letter, and, on the recommendation of the author of this pony novella, the short story Earth’s Holocaust.

Let us start the criticism proper.

It’s often as meaningless as it is easy for a work of art to bill itself as “inspired by” the work of another. Inspiration merely describes what impels an artist to create his own work; but inspiration does not imply continuity, neither thematic nor stylistic, nor even in technical ability. One need only look at the atrocities of the modern art movement; no amount of justification by their “artists,” no amount of cited “inspiration” will make them anything other than incomprehensible blurs, smears, and quite literal trash.

In a perfect world, a work of art could bear the “inspired by” tag only if it took a theme, the style, or the technique of one work of art, and used it to create something greater, something that the original author did not conceive, or could not have conceived, of.

Yet if there is any story that is worthy of the tag “inspired by,” it is very trustworthy rodent’s The Wealth of the World.

In Earth’s Holocaust, Hawthorne had conceived of the titular holocaust as a mere psychological fantasy, to use his words: “a parable of my own brain.” In his novella, there was no plot; the characters themselves did not push the events of the story, but rather stood around the holocaust reacting to what happened before them. But The Wealth of the World takes the same premise—i.e., that of a mass discarding of all the world’s trumpery—and builds an actual plot, which is exceptionally integrated with the motivations behind said holocaust. Not only that, but Wealth takes it farther; whereas Hawthorne had only speculated, in a passing sentence, what would be the result of this purge, Wealth actually constructs a build-up of events which eventually results in an inevitable, spectacular climax and tragic denouement.

The choices of the characters, and not the whims or passing comments of the author, are what defines them, and are what defines the plot. This works, because the characters themselves are exceptionally well-drawn. The reader is always aware of what each man stands for, his vision of utopia, his idea of how to effect it, and what measures, lukewarm or fiery, he is willing to take in order to get it. In each character, these ideas differ, and through this conflict the plot naturally, seamlessly runs its course.

True to the romantic style, these men are not averages; they’re massive archetypes, and each one of their thoughts and choices feels as if they carry so much weight—the only story worth writing and reading. It was the style of narration, and the style of dialogue, that helped convey this feeling of grandeur, which was even more effective in conveying the sense of abject devastation that was the inevitable result of such a clash of titans.

The theme of this novella is “The lengths men will go to achieve utopia, and the costs they are willing to incur especially at the expense of others.” And the tragic irony is that the one who was more willing to pursue his ideals than all the rest, even more so that Distant Shores, who, by the narrator’s admission, was one of the more radical ones, was Scarlet Flame, the primary antagonist, and it was his will that resulted in the destruction of everything. The more consistently each character pursues his vision of utopia, the more disaster strikes.

The style, the dialogue, the characterization, all are incredibly Hawthornian (save for, thankfully, his peculiar use of the subjunctive and his often irritating of listing things). I’ve heard it said that when one writes in a style that’s not one’s own, it is incredibly apparent; but never did anything in this novel feel forced or “unnatural”; indeed, everything in this novel is depicted lucidly. I have to praise the author for his ability to render scenes and emotions like this, in such a beautiful, vivid way.

I see some people in the comments section saying that this work does not “feel” like a pony fan fiction in the slightest. I have to agree; rather, it feels as if it were a proper published work in a proper periodical. People in the comments are using that as a criticism; the unspoken assumption is that a fan fiction must contain elements of the show. I disagree: I don’t read pony fan fiction, usually, because it’s mostly just people trying to replicate the tone of the show. If I wanted more of the show, I would watch more of the show. A good story is a good story, regardless of how well it captures whatever it’s based off of or “inspired by.” And this short story is an excellent story, certainly better than 99.99% of the stuff on FimFic (I don’t say 100%, because I admit of the possibility that there’s a brilliant story out there somewhere that I haven’t read, and probably never will because of my prejudice).

Though their criticism does bring up a good point, which is why the author chose to make all the characters ponies, when the story certainly would’ve worked with humans and been published in a proper human novel. I cannot say, but I can only hope that this is a pony fan fiction because the writer is an aspiring writer, and wants to practice with fan fiction before writing for real—which is the only proper use of fan fiction.

6957911
Thank you for your analysis and praise; I'm glad to have inspired such in-depth commentary. This story has clearly found its audience. I'm not sure I have much to add since your reading of the story hews pretty closely to my intentions in adopting the Romanticist idiom, but I'm appreciative.

Though their criticism does bring up a good point, which is why the author chose to make all the characters ponies, when the story certainly would’ve worked with humans and been published in a proper human novel. I cannot say, but I can only hope that this is a pony fan fiction because the writer is an aspiring writer, and wants to practice with fan fiction before writing for real—which is the only proper use of fan fiction.

This is pretty much my attitude to fanfiction—a chance to develop my style and try out different voices and genres without any real stakes. Since this story is a pastiche, it was an ideal fit.

Have you considered submitting this to Equestria Daily? I can't see any reason they wouldn't accept it, save for a misplaced word here and there. If they rejected it, it truly would be their loss.

6976572
I haven't, actually. I may as well submit it; it's always worth a shot.

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