RIP Golden Oak Library (The Elements of Harmony)

It is June 4, 2013. The top song is “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Ray Dalton, which from what little I can follow of the lyrics seems to be about hedonistic spectacle as a form of revolution. Appropriately, the song is overlong, but has a nice brass bit near the middle. The top movie last weekend was Fast & Furious 6, and the top movie next weekend is The Purge. You will know doubt be utterly unsurprised to learn that I know nothing about either of them; in my defense, I did watch three movies in May and June that all hit number one at the box office, just not either of these two.

In the news, the Obama administration expands sanctions on Iran; the trial of Chelsea Manning–at the time frequently misgendered and misnamed in the press as Bradley Manning–for leaking classified documents in the WikiLeaks scandal begins; and over three million people take part in the world’s largest gay pride parade in Sao Paolo. Equestria Girls comes out in two weeks.

And, the reason we are discussing this day in the first place, The Elements of Harmony: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The Official Guidebook by Brandon T. Snider. There is fairly good reason not to tackle this book. It is in many ways the anti-My Little Po-Mo, and official, hardcover, slickly produced, full-color, heavily illustrated guidebook. It is informative, straightforward, unpretentious, and unchallenging; this is not the sort of book whose author likely ever giggled to himself over the tricks his latest entry played on the audience.

Which is not to say it is entirely without tricks. The cover of the book is, quite cleverly, designed to mimic (other than the title and the Friendship Is Magic logo) the book which was the very first object seen in the series. The inside of the front cover and the frontispiece are filled with quotes from the show, in different colors, fonts, sizes, and orientations, which is reflected by a similar patchwork of (entirely different) quotes on the last page and inside back cover. The book is an island of order within the chaos of the show, a straightforwardly organized and neatly summarized guide to the messy, mazelike realm depicted by the quotes.

Which is to say, it is mostly far less interesting than the show itself. The majority of the book (pages 82-213 of a 255-page book) is taken up by quick summaries of every episode of the first three seasons, and most of the rest is a dramatis personae. There are occasional quotes from the writers and staff of the show, which can sometimes be quite interesting, and the attempts to quote friendship lessons in episodes that lacked letters to Princess Celestia can sometimes be entertainingly odd (Princess Celestia’s speech quoted in the entry on “Magical Mystery Cure” sums up to “Twilight is great”), the book is sorely lacking in production details or anything else not easily available in wiki form. This is odd, since the only people likely to purchase a book like this are adult or teen fans who probably already have access to the wiki.

The book is quite aware of those fans. The final chapter is a strange discussion of the fandom, shifting from the light, children’s book diction of the episode descriptions to a (213-250) patter that would fit right into a press release from Hasbro’s marketing department. Compare “At first, Twilight believed the spell had no effect, but now she knows it accidentally switched her friends cutie marks, causing them to do things they aren’t good at!” to “In a market flooded with animated programs and requisite toy lines, My Little Pony has excelled because of its combination of branding and substance.” Most curiously, although the final paragraph of the chapter is written as if it is the conclusion of an apologia for teen and adult, non-parent fans, the bulk of the chapter talks about the show empowering young girls and being a useful teaching tool for families. It sits strangely within the book, and it is perhaps appropriate that it is hemmed away from the rest of the book by song lyrics on one side, and the quote-maze of the back cover on the other.

By far the best parts of the book are the two segments where Lauren Faust is given space to speak. In her an interview near the middle of the book, she talks a little bit about process, about how she views the characters, and most interestingly, explains her thinking behind having some villains reform and others not, gesturing toward what I have noted before is one of the show’s most-needed lessons, that some people will never be friends and that’s okay. Even better is the foreword, where she talks about the magic of “frilly pink silliness.” It is well worth reading in its entirety, but the core of it is the penultimate paragraph, a justification of not only Friendship Is Magic itself but its fandom, this blog, and everyone who’s ever written thousands of words about “frivolous” entertainments:

If we give little girls a respectful treatment of the things they like–if we dare to take it as seriously as they do–we will see for ourselves that it’s not so silly at all. We can truly appreciate the merit they see in it. And, amazingly, we can enjoy it ourselves.

This is a silly book. It is an information-light guidebook to a series too simple to require one, easily dismissed as just a cash-grab from deep-pocketed fans in the lead-up to the show’s theatrical debut. But nothing is silly–which is to say, everything is equally silly. If this is a show worth taking seriously–and there are people who take it seriously, so it must be worth taking seriously–then it is a show worth having this sort of book for.

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