Monday, March 19, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 48: Celestia's Teeth

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


  1. I didn’t care for this one. Sure, Celestia can be playful (mischievous is a little too strong of a word), but in this piece she's rather on the rude side, particularly during the meeting when she crunches loudly on the onions to disrupt it and get her way. That struck me as out of character for the ruler of Equestria because she comes across as a stubborn teenager. Yes, I would be annoyed at having a personal tooth cleaner but I would think she would find a better way to handle it. Plus, the letter was unneeded. Not only is it too rubber mallet like for my taste and I really felt that a ruler of a thousand years and more would know this by now.

    Nitpicky but this is contradictory, as well:
    "It's been a bumper crop year," Celestia explained. She made it a point of pride not to lie to her subjects, even if her advisors would have preferred she be a little more political.

    I had no idea!" Celestia lied cheerfully.

    Personally, I also didn’t think it was funny either, my annoyance with the above being a big reason. The funniest bit was the fact that the royal council actually hired a royal tooth cleanser, and quite frankly, that could been portrayed (with adjustments) in a two panel comic and still worked (probably better as well). Otherwise I found this to be a rather dull and forgettable. Not bad, just something I’ll never feel the need to come back to.

    As far as Celestia ficts go, I still prefer Sunny Skies, which at the very least made me like the character more. This one… made me sign the petition for the Lunar Republic,

    If Dragonshy hadn’t already.

    Speaking of dragons, the episode struck me more of a case of male (dragon) vs. female (pony) ways, which still doesn’t make it defensible given how it portrayed one as destructive to the point of murder. It brought to mind that one of my bigger complaints about this show is that it does a rather poor job with males (all males are bland, antagonists, background, or Spike, who’s usually just a token annoying, little brother) and non-ponies (dragons are evil, the only griffin we’ve seen is a jerk, the diamond dogs are both annoying and greedy monsters, the minotaur is a brute), which I feel hurts its message.

    Which makes it more amusingly coincidental that the next story for review is the only six-story to focus on the show’s zebra. Should be interesting to talk about Zecora.

    1. While the male-female analogue is certainly there, you have to remember that teenagers do this sort of thing. I found the portrayal completely believable. What're we gonna do? Go steal stuff! What do we do once we've stolen it? Uh, I dunno, smash it or something.

      Children are cruel beings.

    2. I always like seeing what you have to say about my reviews, because it's clear that you and I tend to react very differently to what we read. The fact that you take the time to lay out why you enjoyed a story more or less than I did is much appreciated; it helps me see my "blind spots," so to speak, as a reviewer. I guess what I'm trying to say is, thanks for telling me when you think I'm wrong.

    3. I had an exam this week, so that's why I'm late in responding.

      Chris: Thank you for the kind words. I agree, we have different opinions on a number of fanficts (and will probably continue to do so), although we share some as well (after all you did give a five to my favorite MLP:FIM fanfict (Memories of those Friends) and I wouldn't have found new favorites like "the Liar" without you). Truth be told, I usually write my opinions before I see your review and then make small adjustments after I do. I don't intentional play devil's advocate.

      So, even if I don't agree with your reviews, I still like reading them. They're intelligent in ways that most comments about fanficts are not. Plus, I feel confident knowing that we can civil about our different views.

      PP: I had a longer response, but instead of an essay, I will say this, "I simply disagree." No friend of mine or myself as a teen committed anything that might be considered disorderly conduct. Nor were we that callous towards the other living things.

    4. Neither was I, but those crowds exist.

      Though I may be confusing teenagers for younger children. Seriously, no creature on this earth is crueler than a child. When they don't know better, of course.

  2. If we want to over-analyze, we could also argue the moral is a statement on "Nature-versus-Nurture".

    Looking ahead in EQD's archives, and hoo-boy do we have some doozies coming up. At the rate this blog is progressing, we've got "Half the Day is Night," "It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door" and "The Thessalonica Legacy" all coming up in the next 4-5 weeks. Three big, long stories plus some really popular ones like more Dr. Whoves and "tTe Vinyl Scratch Tapes".
    Hope your eyeballs don't fall out from overuse.

  3. I loved this story, too. Your review nudged me to go read it again and it's just as fun as I remembered.

    BTW, thanks for doing this review blog. I just became aware of it via the Pony Fiction Vault. If I had only found it earlier, it would have saved me many hours of wading through undeserved 6-star stories, waiting for them to get better!

  4. Thank you for the great review! I'm glad you enjoyed reading the story. I'll definitely be following your reviews now that I know you have great taste. ;)

    1. You're very welcome! And while I'm posting:

      iisaw: Thanks for the praise! I'm glade I've spurred you to do some (more) reading--that's my goal, after all.

      Eric: I know, right? Hopefully I'll be able to keep up when all the big stories start piling up.

  5. Aww... someone beat me out for best Celestia story. Ah well, it was a really good story, I must admit. I'll just have to try harder next time.

    1. You can take some of the credit, considering that I wrote Celestia's Teeth because I was inspired by Sunny Skies All Day Long. :)

  6. Gotta say that I agree with Bugs the Curm on just about all points on this one. I found this story to be a plodding bore, and this didn't feel much like Celestia to me. I can't really complain about the technical, though. The writing flowed well, and I didn't really see much in the way of grammar errors. It just wasn't a story I was interested in.