“Anypony could,” Trixie said, as she felt eldritch might gathering around her – but oddly, not within her. In each of her friends, yes…but she, herself, contained nothing. Not yet. That wasn’t Magic’s role in this. “Anypony could have become the Elements. You’re wrong, Corona. Power isn’t magic. Friendship is magic.”
Corona paused at that. “That,” she proclaimed, “ is the stupidest, most insipid, worthless dross I have ever heard!”
|A highly inaccurate depiction of the Lunaverse.
Mostly because the buildings aren’t on fire or in ruins.
Once again, we’re discussing something that can’t quite be pinned down in time, but we’re somewhere between early 2012 and the present, which seems fitting given that the beginnings of the Lunaverse are an exercise in disorientation, regardless of whether one regards those beginnings as the first Lunaverse story written, Rainbow DoubleDash’s “Boast Busted,” or the first story of the Lunaverse’s first season, “Longest Night, Longest Day.”
Both stories begin without explanation, thrusting the reader into a situation that is at once familiar, yet distorted. In “Boast Busted,” just as in the episode “Boast Busted,” Trixie puts on a self-aggrandizing magic show only to be disrupted by hecklers. In “Longest Night, Longest Day,” the personal protege of the Princess is sent to Ponyville to oversee a solstice celebration. But in the former story Trixie is a resident of Ponyville and it is her heckler, Twilight Sparkle, who is the wanderer newly arrived in town; in the former Trixie is the protege, and the solstice in question is winter, rather than summer.
But if the Lunaverse were simply a matter of reversals, it would not be worth writing about–just another fanfiction based on one simple idea that cannot stretch very far, as opposed to a vibrant universe at the heart of a vibrant community and hundreds of thousands of words of fiction by multiple authors (due diligence: including a very slow-to-update story by myself). Thankfully, it does something more.
The core conceit of the Lunaverse is that the Princess who tried to seize sole control a thousand years ago was Celestia (known mostly in the stories as Corona, the Tyrant Sun) rather than Luna. Corona is motivated by pride more than Nightmare Moon’s jealousy, and as such proves rather more resistant to redemption; as of the end of the first “season” (that is, the first 26 canonical “major” stories and an assortment of minor “webisodes”) she is still at large, though she has mostly attacked through proxies and minions. The first story of the season details her escape from imprisonment from the sun during the midst of the Longest Night Celebration in Ponyville, and the attempts by six ponies to acquire the legendary Elements of Harmony to stop Corona: Trixie, who becomes the Element of Magic, of course, and five minor and background characters from the show: Cheerilee, the Element of Laughter; Carrot Top, the Element of Generosity; Raindrops, the Element of Honesty; Lyra Heartstrings, the Element of Loyalty; and Ditzy Doo, the Element of Kindness and best pony. (What is it with me and Elements of Kindness, anyway?)
Nothing in the premise is in and of itself particularly compelling–the idea of an alternate Mane Six is pretty much a cliche in the fandom, as is the idea of Luna being good and Celestia evil. What makes the Lunaverse is what it does with this premise; namely, while some of the stories are alternate versions of stories already done by the show (including the two already mentioned and “At the Grand Galloping Gala,” the season finale–all three by Rainbow DoubleDash, Emeral Bookwise’s “Griffon Over the Line,” and several more), others are entirely new adventures, such as “Helping… Hands?” in which Trixie accidentally turns Lyra into a strange sort of hairless ape, much to both their horror, or GrassAndClouds2’s “Symphony of the Moon and Sun,” in which a series of musicians over a period of centuries try and fail to play a piece about Celestia’s transformation into Corona and banishment despite Luna hating all prior attempts.
One of the best examples of these is GrassAndClouds2’s “Carrot Top Season,” in which the titular farmer ends up the representative of the smaller farmers of Ponyville in conflict with the large and powerful Sweet Apple Acres, owned by Applejack. This version of Applejack serves as a type case for the differences between the Lunaverse and Maneverse (as the Lunaverse community refers to the world of the show): she is recognizably the same character but slightly twisted, just that little bit darker, with the consequences of her beliefs more fully explored: Obsessed, prone to working to exhaustion, and totalizing everything–she believes both that the slightest setback could spell the end of the Apple farm and that the Apple farm alone stands between Ponyville and starvation–she quickly becomes tyrannical, turning the entire town against her as she tries to pressure them into supporting her farm.
The resulting story (one of the Lunaverse’s longest) ends up an exploration of the perils and pressures of competition, the organization of labor, and the dangers of capitalism far more complex than “The Super Cider Squeezy 6000” could ever achieve, because it is not that there are good and bad ponies that is the problem in “Carrot Top Season”; it is that the pressures of business have so warped Applejack’s worldview that her good impulses lead her to act like a petty tyrant, and the consequences of her actions leave her more isolated than ever.
That one word, “consequences,” more than any other defines the Lunaverse in comparison to the show. Swapping Trixie and Twilight doesn’t just make a cutely flip-flopped story; setting a giant space bear loose in a town is a crime, and Twilight isn’t just fleeing embarrassment but the authorities as well–not to mention that Twilight has a family, and their responses to her altercation with Trixie end up setting the stage for the season finale. Another of the early stories, “Family Matters,” involves Ditzy Doo (or, more accurately, Ditzy’s daughter Dinky) facing the consequences of her youthful indiscretion, and of course one of the main differences between “Longest Night, Longest Day” and “Elements of Harmony” is that in the Lunaverse Corona isn’t instantly reformed, only weakened and driven off–she is still out there, gathering power and occasionally sending minions into Equestria, and the consequences of that influence several stories throughout the season.
But this focus on the stories can partially obscure the truth of what the Lunaverse is. The Lunaverse forum on FIMFiction is as much a part of the Lunaverse as the stories are, because it is there that story ideas are debated and modified and the world and characters fleshed out. That community is a huge part of the Lunaverse, and an excellent example of the difference between fanfiction and commercial fiction in general.
It is a received wisdom that folk culture is dead. After thousands of years of people deriving entertainment by telling each other stories and singing songs together, a century and change of first radio, and then television–of music and stories crafted by experts and delivered directly into our homes, replacing the amateur story nights and singalongs that once occupied them–have wiped folk culture away.
This is nonsense. Television and radio can fulfill the craving for story and music, but they cannot fulfill the need to create that so many people share. We still make up stories and songs–and we still take the common myth cycles of our people and transform them for our own purposes. It’s just that instead of Thor and Loki getting into drunk shenanigans, it’s Kirk and Spock having sex–or six “wrong” ponies getting the Elements of Harmony. Fan culture is folk culture, and like folk culture it is influenced by the top-down “canon,” but produces its own works in a bottom-up process. Yes, it has its leaders–Rainbow DoubleDash has the final say on what is or is not part of the Lunaverse canon–but ultimately anyone can write for the Lunaverse, and a number of very different people have. The results are necessarily messier, more chaotic than a polished, commercially produced show (not to mention all the inherent differences between prose fiction and television animation), but also more (for lack of a better term) authentic. There is no line between the authors and readers of the Lunaverse–even people who haven’t written a story can help shape one by commenting as chapters are posted.
Like any folk community, the central tension of folklore is present, between the creative impulse (which, as it is a drive to create something new, is therefore always a drive toward change) and traditionalism, which is always present in a context where the main method of creation is modifying something that was handed down by others. There is a tension between those who want the Lunaverse to be its own creature, and those who want it to be a reflection of the show–for example, whenever some new development in the show contradicts something established in the universe, there are those who want to incorporate it into a story and either retcon the Lunaverse to match or explain away the difference, and those who don’t care because the Lunaverse isn’t the Maneverse.
“At the Grand Galloping Gala” is a good example. Its climax hinges on a weird blend of populist ideals (“the nobles are corrupt, and us good peasant folk need to do something to straighten them out”) and royalist sentiment (“we just need to get the Princess involved, and she’ll straighten things out”). Such a juxtaposition is not at all uncommon in folktales, where it isn’t unusual at all to find a clever, plucky peasant outwitting the evil, corrupt nobles–and being rewarded by marrying a princess and becoming nobility themselves, presumably so that the next clever peasant has someone to outwit. The revolutionary, anti-authoritarian impulse is tempered by an almost-worshipful treatment of traditional, “good” authority.
But such is, as I said, the nature of a folk community.
In the end, the products of the Lunaverse are amateur work. Grammatical errors abound. Stories are sometimes clumsy, characterization is uneven, and jokes sometimes don’t fit (shoehorned-in Babylon 5 references are nearly as common as in Time Lords and Terror and its sequels), but in exchange there is a vibrance to it, an ever-changing and growing supply of stories (about a half million words in the canon portion of the first season alone), and an active and extremely welcoming community. It is an expression, in other words, of everything bronies love about ourselves–a micro-folk within our larger folk community.
Next week: Everything new is old again. It’s time for yet another Apple-sode.