Counting all the words I've committed to screen in the last couple of decades is a greater task than I'd care to undertake, but it's got to be well over five million: an antiquated plugin for the WordPress installation is showing over 3.5 million words in posts and nearly 1.5 million words in comments to those posts — and that includes none of the Vents or anything I wrote before September 2006. It's easier to count up the words I've expended on fanfiction in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe: it's about 70,000 so far, most of which is in the four-story cycle that started with The Sparkle Chronicles, written in 2012.

I am not, of course, the only person writing in this universe, or even a major figure therein. A chap not actually named Imploding Colon has devoted a thousand chapters, 1.6 million words, to a single continuous narrative beginning with Austraeoh, now in the sixth story of a planned twelve-story cycle, and this doesn't include any of the stuff he's written under another name. One of the reasons MLP:FiM has proven to be fertile ground for writers is that the universe, by design, is much bigger than what's actually appearing on the television program or in the printed material: we know very little backstory on any of the characters, and, in a process sometimes called "headcanon," we have to make it up on our own.

It did not occur to me that this practice was very much in a religious tradition:

One of the ways that Jews interpret Torah is through midrash, exegetical stories that seek to explore and explain idiosyncrasies in our holy texts. The word midrash comes from the Hebrew lidrosh, to interpret or explain.

Midrashim (the Hebrew plural of midrash; in English, "midrash" can be either singular or plural) work in a variety of ways. They may fill lacunae in the Torah text, resolve contradictions in the text, or articulate character motivations and emotions that aren't explicit in the text. Sometimes they make a meta-point, an argument about where we should focus our attention, how we should live, or how we should read the text at hand.

We have no creation story in pony — yet. And the creation story in Torah is not wholly consistent:

In one, Torah tells us that "male and female created He them," and in the other we read about woman's creation from the man's rib. So which was it: did God create male and female together, or did God create man and then woman? The Torah text is unclear, but midrash offers a variety of explanations.

Bereshit Rabbah, a classical compilation of midrash on Genesis written down in the fifth century CE but probably containing material from a few centuries earlier as well, offers one explanation: God initially created a bigendered being, male and female glued together at the back, and then sawed them apart. And a midrash in the anonymous medieval collection called the Alphabet of Ben Sirah says that God created two beings out of earth, a man and a woman; but the woman, known as Lilith, refused to "lie below" the man, citing their simultaneous creation as evidence of their equality. When the man wouldn't listen to reason, she uttered the ineffable Name of God and flew away.

And in those days, we may assume, uttering the ineffable Name of God got you thoroughly effed.

So if we ask if Celestia and Discord were once lovers, or try to find Scootaloo's parents, we're walking a long and (sometimes) honored path with our own contemporary midrash. Other fandoms work similarly:

Fan stories, like midrash, fill in lacunae in our source texts: for example, Doctor Who stories that ask, what other adventures might the Eleventh Doctor have had with River Song when they were courting? Fan stories, like midrash, articulate motivations and emotions that aren't explicit in the text: for example, LOST stories that explore what Ben Linus might have been thinking and feeling when he turned the underground donkey wheel to move the island.

What's more, there exists, so help me He Who Is, biblical midrash:

In the 2013 Yuletide story exchange, for example, one story spun the brief story of Michal, first wife of King David, into a novella. The year before that, a piece of fan fiction recast the tale of Noah's Ark as a space opera. That said, the vast majority of fanworks work with non-Biblical source texts. But they remain midrashic in nature and process.

And I freely admit that answering questions that aren't ever brought up in the show may be the one aspect of fanfic that's the most actual fun. In my own Second Act, Twilight Sparkle brings a human back to Equestria, where he will be transformed, via some arcane medical-cum-magical procedures, into an earth pony. Chapter three of that story explains those procedures, and even tells how one of them was developed:

From this experience, Prismatic concluded that it was this low-frequency vibration that transmitted earth-pony magic, and speculated that since there was no known specific receptor point, the magic was absorbed through whatever part of the pony's body, usually the hooves, happened to be closest to the ground at any particular moment. Princess Celestia ordered further investigation, and eventually Prismatic's theory was verified experimentally. The low-frequency wave was dubbed "hypovibration," thus causing confusion for thousands of students in succeeding years.

In 967, two distraught parents discovered that their earth-pony foal was taking in little or no magic, causing occasional spasms and general weakness. A specialist, a unicorn, was called in, and eventually she hit upon a treatment: mild electrical stimulation to the cingulate cortex. The shock to the system, as it were, temporarily reordered randomized synapses long enough to restore normal magic absorption, though it took several hours and three booster shocks. The patient went on to live a normal life. Over the years, the process has been refined: today, the components of the limbic system are exposed to multiple harmonics of the base frequency, which then create sympathetic vibrations throughout. It is still a lengthy process, however, since eventually every synapse must be thus retuned.

[The then-current Equestrian year was 1003, the era being defined as beginning with the banishment of Night Mare Moon, who returned in 1000. Her return is canon; the calendar is not. Prismatic did his research circa 878.]

At no point have I ever considered that there was any particular reason for this spate of storytelling other than that I just darn well felt like doing it. It is, however, somehow gratifying to know that I am helping to perpetuate a tradition.

The Vent

#886
  21 September 2014

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