• Published 19th Jul 2012
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The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

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Chapter 41

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 41

Six days passed at the remote cabin. Voltaire wished that he could show Celestia all the wonders that humanity had created in the seventeen and a half centuries since the last time Equestria had been in contact with Earth, but he found that he had very little to work with. As far as art was concerned, all the cabin had was a cheap reproduction of a weepy Crucifixion. For literature, there was a Bible, some religious tracts, and a whole lot of specialized books about soil chemistry and similar topics. This was not to say that the Bible doesn’t contain some wonderful passages, but unfortunately when Celestia’s translation cap was being prepared, Voltaire had unthinkingly selected French as the language to use instead of German, and of course German was the only language Oscar could speak or read. He recited some bits of a French Protestant Bible he had glanced through once, as well as he could remember—which was not very well at all. He regretted leaving his gray cap back in Equestria, as that would allow him access to the excellent Latin translations of that work.

So instead he fell back on the book he was reading right before falling into Equestria: Gulliver’s Travels. He had read the story enough times in English to be able to translate it into very passable French. The work was too long to cover in the amount of time they had, especially with all of the explanations that would be required for Celestia to make sense of it, so he resorted to paraphrase.

~ ~ ~

Celestia used to think that Voltaire was talkative, until he switched from speaking Latin through his translation cap to speaking French through her translation cap. Now he just wouldn’t shut up.

This is not to say that she didn’t enjoy his wit or his charm, or the extreme mental work he was going through translating that Gulliver story while keeping up with her. It was just that there was so much of it!

Every day had the same general pattern: The two would eat breakfast from Oscar’s larder. Celestia would travel out into the woods for half of the day, with Voltaire huffing and puffing as he tried to keep up while declaiming Swift’s masterpiece. They would return to the cabin for lunch. Celestia would tend Oscar’s garden in silence while Voltaire would read or write inside the cabin. They would share a dinner where the bounty of that garden would dominate. And then they would play games of chance or logic before turning in for the night.

If you’re thinking that a working garden in Germany in November is an impossibility, you would be correct, unless you took into account two facts: Celestia was part earth pony, and she had a lot of spare magic available from not having to raise or lower the sun each day.

~ ~ ~

On the fifth day, Voltaire got so close to finishing Gulliver’s Travels that he insisted on intruding into the first hour of Celestia’s “alone time”. The alicorn did her work while the human spoke, nodding her head slightly from time to time to let him know that she was still listening:

It is now five years since I have returned to my native land. The look and smell of the English Yahoos I still find intolerable. The first money I laid out was to buy two horses, which I keep in a stable. My horses understand me tolerably well; I converse with them at least four hours every day. They are strangers to bridle or saddle; they live in great amity with me and friendship to each other.

“And so the tale concludes,” said Voltaire with a flourish. “So, what do you think?”

Celestia smiled politely as her magic worked a trowel. “I find it interesting that you chose that of all works to tell me.”

“Should I have lied about our flaws?” Voltaire said, his civility a thin veneer. “I would not think to deceive you about the true state of mankind.”

“I already knew the true state of mankind,” Celestia said wearily, “for Ovid was a very bad liar. And my sister just had to come over here and see for herself. I don’t suppose you know of any stories or legends about a midnight-blue alicorn haunting the dreams of your ancestors?”

“No, I can’t say that I do,” Voltaire said after a moment of thought. “But you haven’t given me your opinion of the work yet.”

“The author sounds like a very bitter man,” Celestia observed.

“Your Highness...” Voltaire scolded lightly.

“What would you have of me?” Celestia said, finally putting her tool down and rising to her hooves. “Do you want my outrage? Are you so unused to your employers not losing their temper at your antics that you must provoke me by any means possible?”

The look of surprise followed by introspection in Voltaire’s expression made plain that this was precisely the unwitting reason for his actions.

Celestia sighed theatrically and put a hoof on her chest. “‘I have heard enough!’” she cried. “‘The history of your country seems to consist of nothing more than a squalid string of conspiracies, rebellions, revolutions, murders and massacres. Every judgment seems to be motivated by greed, by malice, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, lust and madness!’”

Voltaire laughed. She had just repeated word for word what the ruler of the Brobdingnag giants had said to Gulliver.

“As if you needed an outsider’s judgment on your own affairs!” Celestia continued in her own words. “You have seen what my ponies might become if misled, so why should I condemn your kind for your vices? At least you are aware of them. This story seems to be a sort of ‘Frog Princess’ for humans. Do more than a tiny minority know that it is speaking of their own condition and not that of newly discovered islands on the other side of your world?”

“I think most of us know well enough,” answered Voltaire. “Although I have seen some sons of the English ambassador playing at being Gulliver in Lilliput with their tin figurines. Perhaps in a few years it will become a fairy tale like those of Perrault.”

Celestia nodded, her eyes straying back to the garden.

Voltaire, no longer having anything to do, took in the cultivated field as if for the first time. “I didn’t know this was a hobby of yours,” he said. “At least, I don’t remember you doing it during the time I was in Equestria.”

“Oh, the urge comes and goes. This world...” she gestured around her “...you have no idea what you have on this world, a place where the natural processes run themselves! I have never known what that would truly look like before coming here.”

Oh that’s right, realized Voltaire. That god Discord took over before she was born.

“The closest we had was this little alcove in the back of a cave,” Celestia remembered, “where my sister and I raised a mushroom garden. I didn’t know it at the time with all of our bickering, but the happiest moments of my life were Luna and I, tending that garden.” She waved a hoof at the dirt around her. “For me, gardening is a little bit like being a mother.”

Voltaire said absolutely nothing. It began to dawn on him that there may have been additional downsides to this whole “amniomorphic spell” business that he hadn’t considered before now.

“Gardening is the purest form of care you can imagine,” Celestia continued, oblivious to the growing sorrow on the face of the human behind her. “I watch over my little ponies, but my touch is always light. Always, I worry about how I am stunting their emotional growth by interfering too much in their lives. Oysters live in their gardens, and an oyster must have a grain of sand to make its pearl. In the same way, I make life good for my ponies, but not too good. I knew that Blue Belle was bullying Genevieve, for instance.”

“You did?” asked Voltaire, pulled suddenly out of his reverie.

“Yes,” Celestia said, with some regret. “I had hoped that their conflict would deepen Genevieve’s character, while bringing Blue Belle to realize the pain she was causing so she might become kinder as a result. I failed, however, in judging just how much pain the bully was inflicting on her victim. I misjudged a good number of things, as you well know.”

“Well, I think you could have predicted Genevieve’s emotional reaction well enough,” Voltaire replied. “From what I overheard, she was a fairly typical member of her age group. ‘Newly cutied,’ I believe you call it when talking about a pony in the same situation. We humans don’t have a specific term for someone between ten and twenty years of age—somebody should come up a term...‘fifteen-ager’ or something like that. I remember all too well what that was like: everything bad that happened to you was the worst possible thing, and your decisions were matters that the whole world must bear witness to.” The human smirked as he added, “Of course in Geneveive’s case, her decisions quite literally became earth-shaking. So, is gardening how you move on when ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough?”

Celestia knelt down and began aerating the soil with the trowel. “The thing I like best about gardening,” she told the human, “is that your creations live with whatever you do without judging you. It’s being a god, without the guilt.” She smiled wistfully. “Everyone who feels powerless should practice it, and even I feel powerless a good deal of the time.”

“Of course,” quipped Voltaire, turning the advice to apply his own circumstances. “Better to exorcise your frustrations at the unfairness of your royal employers and of Life itself on a hapless plant, than on anything capable of feeling pain.”

“Close enough,” Celestia said, and got back to work.

Voltaire stood there in silence for a few moments, then picked up a garden fork and knelt down to help her.

Author's Note:

As part of my research for this story, I re-watched the Jim Hensen/Hallmark-produced TV miniseries of Gulliver's Travels, and as a result I determined that, by hook or by crook, I would somehow get Alfre Woodward's speech as the Brobdingnag queen contemning Ted Dansen's Gulliver into Celestia's mouth. Of course in the miniseries, the speech was made by the significant character of the queen, while in Swift's actual text, the speech is instead wasted on the otherwise unused character of the king. So I compromised by saying that it was the speech of the Brobdingnag "ruler".

The other thing I like about this chapter is the part at the end about the garden. I never was able to figure out what Voltaire meant by his garden analogy at the end of Candide, so I decided to act in decisive Twilight Sparkle fashion and make a friendship problem! Err...make a meaning for gardens. That's what I meant to say. Honest.

It's also the reason this chapter is so short. The next chapter is going to get kinda dark, so I thought I'd end here on a high note, and make you all depressed tomorrow instead of today!