And that’s how Equestria was made (Family Appreciation Day/Hearth’s Warming Eve)

Sorry this is a few minutes late. This one’s a bit unusual with the formatting. I had to fight a lot with Blogger, and it’s still not entirely right. Let me know if you have any suggestions to improve it.

Thanks to KPShadowSquirrel for all the coding help, without them this post wouldn’t exist!

She watches. And waits. And bides her time.

It’s January 7, 2012. The top song is LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” which works pretty well as a parody of the top songs we’ve had for most of this season, and the top movie is The Devil Inside, about which I know nothing. In real news this week, the death toll of the Syrian uprising passes 5,000, Iran successfully tests two long-range missiles, and the U.S. Republican Presidential primary is officially underway, with Mitt Romney winning Iowa and Michele Bachmann dropping out of the race. Also, it’s my mom’s 63rd birthday.

On TV, Cindy Morrow writes and James Wootton directs “Family Appreciation Day,” a cute but unremarkable little story that is mostly noticeable for (assuming the source for the story-within-a-story is reliable) dramatically increasing our knowledge of the history of Ponyville.

She watches. And waits. And bides her time.

It’s December 17, 2011. The top song is still the same Rihanna, and the top movie is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which I thought was pretty good but paled against the first. In real news, Time names “The Protester” as its Person of the Year, the 2010 U.S. Census results show one in two residents of that country is low-income or poor, and in its first report on the subject, the U.N. calls for the worldwide protection of LGBT rights. Also it’d be my dad’s 70th birthday, if he were alive.

On TV, Merriwether Williams writes and James Wootton directs “Hearth’s Warming Eve,” a cute but unremarkable little story that is mostly noticeable for (assuming the source for the story-within-a-story is reliable) dramatically increasing our knowledge of the history of Equestria.

Putting aside that possibility of an unreliable narrator, the use of stories of the past to defuse present conflict provides an interesting contrast to the real world, where such stories often serve more to fuel conflict than resolve it. Lawrence LeShan, in The Psychology of War, builds an argument that societies often engage in warfare as part of a process of mythologizing reality. History and national legend serve as tools to identify “the bad guys” as a monolithic, dark force that can be heroically resisted. Note, for instance, the frequent comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the Iraq War; by identifying the present enemy with a past foe, it becomes possible to other both into a monolithic Enemy, a monstrous entity that can be opposed without applying the normal moral constraints on violence.

Now, this episode does not involve a war per se, but it does involve a conflict between ponies in the present that resonates with a past relationship between their ancestors. Specifically, the ongoing bullying and teasing of Apple Bloom by Diamond Tiara is contrasted with the congenial relationship between Stinkin’ (later Filthy) Rich and Granny Smith. Now, this episode does not involve a war per se, but it does involve a conflict between ponies in the present that reiterates a past relationship between their ancestors. Specifically, the rather petty squabbling between the Mane Six in the present is deliberately paralleled with the conflicts between their ancestors in the story of the founding of Equestria.

Notably, however, the history being told here is not the history of a conflict or an enemy defeated. The creation of a new order is here the result of understanding, magic, and unity, which is to say more of an alchemical transformation than the violence of a founding myth that rests in revolution or the exploits of a legendary hero.

Like any town, Ponyville is built of families. Connections between these families, their histories and rivalries and alliances, form the unwritten history of the town, invisible to the uninitiate. Unaware of their families’ history, Diamond Tiara and Apple Bloom feud and fight. Ignorant of economics, Diamond Tiara knows that her father is well-dressed, that he provides her with sparkling accessories and a big cutecenera, and owns the biggest store in Ponyville. She equally knows that Apple Bloom has to do chores, that her family works a farm and does not have particularly refined manners or tastes.

To her, Apple Bloom is a member of a lower class to be mocked, but her worldview is challenged by the discovery that the Apples are the founders of Ponyville. This is unsurprising–their land holdings are massive in “Applebucking Season,” and this episode and “Super-Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” together reveal that the Apples hold monopolies on two of Ponyville’s major products, Zap Apples and cider.

Based on timing, this is the Christmas episode, and the decorations (especially Rarity’s Christmas tree hat) and hymn-like musical number both support that interpretation. Interestingly, then, the story of Equestria’s founding bears no plot resemblance to the Christian tale—no foals born in mangers or guiding stars here, and the three rulers from distant lands are neither wise nor traveling together.

Thematically, however, this is a story about fellowship and unity emerging from the coldest, darkest part of winter and beginning the journey toward light and warmth, and thus like “Winter Wrap-Up” before it this is an excellent Yule story, with all the old pagan implications fully intact.

The Yule tradition, Christmas included, is ultimately about celebrating the solstice. In the heart of winter, the longest night occurs, and thereafter the day lengthens–the sun is beginning to come back. It is a celebration about emerging from the ice and restoring warmth.

Exposed to stories of the past, ponies are forced to re-evaluate their opinions of one another and their interactions. These founding myths serve as instructions for life in the present as much as they tell the story of the past; like many legends, folk tales, and family stories, or Friendship Is Magic episodes for that matter, they have a moral to impart.

Granny Smith may appear to be a senile old mare, and Apple Bloom, while initially excited to help with the Zap Apple jam, is eventually persuaded by Diamond Tiara’s teasing that Granny and her traditional rituals are embarrassing. However, with her story Granny not only reveals that Diamond Tiara’s family’s wealth is founded on reselling Apple family products; she also reveals herself as more trickster than fool. Her rituals, though they may seem arbitrary, are actually purposeful, part of an arcane ritual that Granny herself discovered and developed, based on her decades of experience with Zap Apples.

The elderly, traditionally, serve as the repository of a community’s knowledge. Before the rise of other forms of record-keeping, such as writing, the stories and reminiscence of a community’s elderly were its only record of the past; indeed, there is reason to believe that this is the evolutionary reason that humans are able to live so far past reproductive age. Granny Smith is keeper of both the origins of Ponyville and the methods for making one of its major products.

True, that method appears arbitrary, but magic always does to the uninitiate. Meaning is contextual; without that context, the meaning is unavailable. Granny’s actions only appear nonsensical because we lack that context, just as, without the knowledge to interpret it, the graphs and equations in a scientific paper are incomprehensible.

It’s interesting that we have here the backstory for long-lasting racial grudges between the three tribes of ponies, and yet there is no evidence for them in the present day of the series. Instead, it appears the moral of this story has been taken thoroughly to heart by succeeding generations of ponies (and given that this story must have taken place before Nightmare Moon’s rebellion a thousand years ago, that is likely to have been quite a few generations).

There’s a notable similarity of the magic unleashed by the three second-in-commands to both the Elements of Harmony and the love magic Cadance and Shining Armor use in the season finale. Like the Elements of Harmony, it is triggered by the companionship of multiple ponies and restores the “natural order” disrupted by the episode’s villains (as opposed to simply driving the villains away, as the love magic does), but visually it strongly resembles the love magic from the finale.

The spell here thus appears to be the basal magic that both later workings derive from. Companionship and unity between those who are different is, after all, at the root of both love and friendship. Only in cooperation can harmony arise–and cooperation does not have to mean abandoning oneself; harmony is the mingling of distinct voices. Centuries later, the three tribes are still distinct.

Magic, ultimately, is nothing more or less than a system of manipulating symbols. Science is magic that works in the world. Stories are magic that work in our minds. The stories of the past can transform the present and our selves.

Next week: A pony volunteers to babysit, and finds herself beyond her depth. This sitcom plot then collides straight into a pile of horror tropes. …Is time broken or something?

0 thoughts on “And that’s how Equestria was made (Family Appreciation Day/Hearth’s Warming Eve)

  1. After two weeks of buildup I should have seen this coming.

    Also, remember when you were talking about what it'd be like if Pinkie Pie were a princess? Well, assuming the casting choices were as accurate as they're implied to be, this is it–she pretty much led them exactly like the other leaders of the time, only with slapstick interspersed.

  2. Wicked entry. I actually think you pulled this off better than Doctor Sandifier. You bring the thematic links out that I had missed entirely. I do have one question: what is the Apple Family doing with all the money?

  3. Thanks! What I was doing was actually a bit different though, since his essays are parallel while mine intersect repeatedly. Definitely inspired by him, though. A case of me looking at his article and saying, “What if I did that, but added this?”

    As for the Apples, they're farmers. They have hardly any cash at any time, all their assets are in the form of land. When they get money, they reinvest it in the land and equipment and so on. Rebuilding the barn every three episodes ain't cheap, y'know!

  4. Hmm, that does make a lot of sense…

    I really wonder how scripted the play was. Spike was obviously reading off a script, but I wonder whether the ponies' performance had any ad libbing involved. I suspect at least Pinkie's did.

  5. Well yeah. You don't cast Robin Williams in a leading role and then reshoot the scene whenever he goes off-script. Of COURSE they let Pinkie Puddinghead ad-lib.

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