To read the story, click the image or follow this link
I didn't think Saturday's episode, Dragon Quest, was all that bad on the whole. Some of it was contrived and overly ridiculous of course, but there were plenty of redeeming moments. But I was really bothered by the way the moral was presented at the end. If it had been something like "you don't need to pretend to be something you aren't just to fit in," I'd have been fine with it. But the lesson Spike learned seemed to be more along the lines of "being a dragon is a bad thing, and you should be happy to be an honorary pony." I know I'm over-analyzing to a ridiculous degree, but that sounds to me way too much like the exhortations once foisted upon African-Americans to "act less black" on the grounds that all aspects of white American culture were superior and that speaking, walking, or praying "like a black" was less than acceptable. The fact that there were (and are) plenty of examples of violence and inhumanity in African-American culture doesn't excuse this line of thinking, which paints an entire race and racial identity with the same sweeping brushstroke, and to me the fact that Spike hooked up with a half-dozen jerks doesn't excuse him or the ponies for deciding that "acting like a dragon" invariably means being a violent, abusive monster.
Or maybe it just says something about me that that's the first place my mind went. In any case, my review of Celestia's Teeth by Abalidoth, after the break.
Impressions before reading: I read this when it was published, and remember it being silly, ridiculous fun. Other than that, not much to say up here.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Celestia is used to being babied by her advisers and administrators, but when they go behind her back to hire a royal tooth-brusher on her behalf it's more than she can stand.
Thoughts after reading: The best comedy stories are usually the ones that have more to them than their tag alone might suggest. That's certainly the case with Celestia's Teeth, which manages to ask some pretty profound questions about the responsibilities of rulers to their subjects and vice-versa over the course of a fairly short (only a few thousand words) story. The ability of a monarch to ruin lives entirely by accident is directly addressed, and although it's dealt with in a rather perfunctory manner, that doesn't mean the treatment is dismissive or ill-considered.
Of course, the story isn't all moral implications; it's a comedy, not a polemic. Abalidoth mines most of the humor in this piece from the excessive deference which ponies show towards the Princess, and her increasingly unsubtle attempts to break through their reserve. This is territory that's been touched on in several MLP episodes to date, and it works well as an impetus for conflict here. Celestia's given a chance to get up to some harmless(?) mischief in a way which doesn't undermine how seriously she presumably takes her duties.
Luna makes a brief appearance in this story, and of course acts nothing like her S2 persona. Other than that (which I can hardly call that a flaw), the only canon character is Celestia, and her personality meshes seamlessly with what we know about her from the show itself.
Word use throughout the story is uniformly excellent; Abalidoth's vocabulary is clearly above average, but he never lets excessively obscure words trip up readability. Likewise, word choice is without exception precise and exact, showing familiarity with the nuances of the language. Relatively specific adverbs (ominously, apprehensively, etc.) are often used by inexperienced writers when more general words are called for; here, the author clearly is familiar with the exact impression each word will impart to the reader, and wields the language deftly. Editing was excellent throughout the piece; sp/technical errors were essentially nonexistent.
The pacing throughout is wonderful. After a short introduction to the central conflict, the story alternates between Celestia creating problems in her gently mocking way, and more serious bits of reflection. But even as these segments provide an obvious rhythm to the story, they never swing too far in one direction or the other for the sake of the narrative; the "comic" segments never abandon the central conflict for the sake of a joke, and the "serious" bits are full of their own humor, usually in the form of amusing character interactions.
As an examination of Celestia's methods, as a brief but thoughtful look at the dual responsibilities of subject and ruler in a monarchical society, and as a piece of comedy, this story simply works for me. And to accomplish all three things in less than six thousand words is a feat. I don't believe that there's such a thing as a right or wrong length for a fic, but I do think that conciseness is a virtue in storytelling. This piece feels more substantial than its length alone indicates, which is one of the marks of a great tale.
Star rating: ★★★★★ (what does this mean?)
When I review stories for this blog, I start with the assumption that they're 5-star material and look for reasons to downgrade them. Simply put, I couldn't find any flaws in this story worth mentioning.
Recommendation: I would recommend this story to anyone. Although it's tagged as a "Trollestia" story, there's none of the cruel or thoughtless capriciousness here which is often associated with that interpretation of her character. This is the same Celestia from A Bird in the Hoof, now dealing with the difficulties of excessive deference from her own inner circle. And it's wonderful.
Next time: Shaman, by The Mechanic