Friday, April 13, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 57: It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Today, I (finally) review one of the best-known of this fandoms "major," i.e. long, stories: Jetfire's It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door.  While it's not the longest (that distinction goes to one of the Fallout: Equestria side-stories, I believe) nor the most famous (Past Sins almost certainly has that honor), it is regularly held up as one of the best examples of the amazing literature this fandom is capable of producing.  Does it live up to the hype?  My thoughts, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  My first exposure to the world of Middle Earth was pre-natal: my mother read The Hobbit aloud while she was pregnant, her own variation on the fad of playing classical music for your fetus that was just starting to become popular when I conceived.  I first read Lord of the Rings on my own in 4th grade, and have since voraciously consumed all of the materials which Christopher Tolkien has gathered and published in their various states of completion.  My first exposure to fanfiction was in the LotR community, and I wrote some truly awful stories and even worse poetry over several years, exploring the universe that Tolkien had created.  I think it's safe to say that his writings have influenced me as much or more than any other work of fiction I've ever consumed.

What I'm getting at is, I really love LotR.  And so, when Dangerous Business was being written, I eagerly devoured every chapter and loved every second of it.  I'd say I probably enjoyed it more than any other fanfiction I've ever read.  But, but, but... I wasn't exactly reading critically at the time.  I was looking at the story through the eyes of an enthralled fan, eagerly devouring the fanfiction equivalent of uncut heroin: a homage to Tolkien, told via ponies.  Nothing wrong with that; it's not like one's enjoyment of a story doesn't count if one fails to properly parse and analyze every sentence.  But to write a useful review, a more analytical approach to reading is required.  I really hope this story holds up as well as I want it to, but we'll see.

Also, I see there was some editing done back in October.  Looks like it was mostly general clean-up and a few minor scene additions.  I remember the story being reasonably clean when I first read it, but few and far between are the fics that can't stand a little tidying.  Obviously, my review will be based on the "revised" version.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight falls victim to a dangerous illness which can be cured by the Beneviolet, a flower that is only found in a mountain range far to the west.  Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity set off to retrieve the magical flower, on a quest that will take them far past Equestria's borders.  Together, they must travel strange lands, racing against time as Twilight's condition steadily deteriorates.

Thoughts after reading:  First off, let me apologize; this is going to be a long review.  Not just because I'm reviewing a long story, but because I'm going to spend a lot of time comparing this story and LotR, and I love LotR, and I get really loquacious when talking about something I love.

One of the most important themes in LotR, and to my mind one of the most powerful, is the redeeming power of grace.  What too many people seem to forget when they talk about the books is that the fellowship's quest failed.  Frodo was unable to cast the ring away, instead claiming it for himself when he finally had the opportunity to destroy it.  But through providence, Middle-Earth was saved: Gollum's final betrayal effected the ring's destruction, where no mortal will could have succeeded.  This was possible only because Frodo and Sam spared Gollum's life time and again, even after they "knew" that to do so would only endanger their quest.  A more coldly rational person would have slit Gollum's throat at one of the dozen opportunities they had and have been done with him, but because Frodo and Sam showed mercy even when logic demanded otherwise, Sauron was defeated.  And because of that mercy which they showed, the fellowship was redeemed despite its ultimate failure.  Throughout his works, Tolkien came again and again to this theme, but never (to my mind) more eloquently than at the summit of Mount Doom.

The appeal of this theme is obvious: it tells us that mercy and kindness are transcendent values, and assures us that the exercise of both will be rewarded in the end, the preponderance of real-life evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  It promises that good will triumph over ill, even if there is quite literally no way for good to succeed.  And it shows (are you listening, Peter Jackson?  This next part is important) that heroism isn't defined by violence or physical prowess, but by one's capacity for doing the right thing.

Dangerous Business is not a crossover with LotR, nor is it even structured particularly similarly in terms of plot.  But the thematic ties (as well as the obvious shout-outs, including the title itself) between the two are unmistakable.  Jetfire's key message throughout the story is that a decision made for the right reasons will always prove to be the right decision in the end.  Although less nuanced than Tolkien's vision of redemption by grace, the similarities between the two are unmistakable.  And the care which Jetfire puts into this central theme is equally unmistakable; the story constantly shows the characters' struggles to figure out what the right thing to do is, and how they must go about doing it.  Sometimes they seem to chose wisely, other times poorly.  For example, even a second read-through leaves me unconvinced that the "best" course of action at the very beginning wouldn't have been to let Dash and a couple of other pegasi go try and fetch the flower, rather than bringing along Applejack and Rarity.  But what the author flawlessly succeeds at is showing that, because these choices were made for the right reasons (concern for Twilight, friendship, etc.), they are the right choices.  And if a story that takes such an admittedly concrete and archetypal view of right and wrong isn't for everyone, then this is no less an exemplar of such storytelling for that.

The writing style throughout this story is unobtrusive, its heavy emphasis on narration mitigated by the clear and straightforward language used.  If the style attracts no comment, however, that doesn't mean there are no issues with the writing whatsoever.  In particular, this story is plagued by an acute case of Lavender Unicorn Syndrome, with short descriptions constantly replacing character names.  In this case, the name is quite literal: ctrl-f "lavender unicorn" in chapter eleven and you'll see what I mean.  Oddly enough, the middle section of the story seems to be the most affected by this--the first and last few chapters rely much less on LUS, to the point where I might not even have mentioned it had I skipped the middle section entirely.  But while few readers will object to an occasional reference to Dash as a "sky-blue pegasus," constant overuse of the phrase in place of her name eventually becomes off-putting.  Otherwise, the fic was extremely well edited, especially considering its size.

The pacing of the story is slow, but never draggy.  Much of the story concerns traveling, and as with real traveling, action is a relative rarity.  Much time is spent on the characters figuring out what to eat, how to distribute their supplies, and with the three ponies simply chatting with one another as they travel.  I think an excellent job is done of maintaining a balance between emphasizing the relative haste (and necessity therefor) of the quest, and showing just how long two weeks really is, not to mention just how far they must travel.

As I mentioned earlier, this story is basically an homage to LotR.  This includes not just broad thematic links, but entire races and nations which are designed with an eye toward those Tolkien created.  Specifically, the land of Gildsedale (Rohan) and the Shimmerwood (Lothlorien), and the inhabitants of each (the Rohirrim and Elves, respectively).  Of these, I was more impressed by the former than the latter.  Part of this is no doubt that the residents of Gildsedale were simply easier to write; a strong-willed, militaristic people have a more natural appeal to the reader (as strong-willed guardians and/or stiff-necked antagonists) than do a race of aloof, alien beings, whose knowledge and whose cares are explicitly beyond the ken of the protagonist's (and by extention, the reader's) comprehension.

Tolkien combated this in his most famous work (we'll leave his posthumous writings aside for the moment) by taking great pains to show that the Elves weren't just humans, only smarter and better and more magical.  In his writing, they were almost tragic figures, whose inability to adapt to change made every passing year a new source of pain, and whose great hubris was not the desire for power, but the desire for stasis; an impossible dream that good things should not fade.  Viewed in this light, the Elves become almost pitiable.  And in any case, speaking of "better" or "worse" becomes meaningless in this context, as it's obvious that Elves are far too different from humans in temperament, flaws, and needs to even try and compare them in such terms.

Whether Tolkien succeeded or not in showing this is debatable; certainly, plenty of folks have read the stories and come away with the message that Elves were better than humans, period.  But I can hardly fault any reader who comes to the equivalent conclusion here; despite a tragic and hubris-filled backstory given by Galadriel's expy, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Shimmerwood's inhabitants are "better" than Equestria's.  Even with the flaws which ruined them in times past, the residents of the wood are essentially shown to be wiser, more powerful (though they disavow the idea), and all-around superior morally and physically to the Ponyville contingent.  This was by no means a fatal flaw to the story, but it did make them harder to relate to as characters and as a nation.

Interestingly, the culture I found most intriguing was one which I believe Jetfire invented whole cloth: an entire race who have dedicated themselves to acting as messengers, with the goal of promoting worldwide peace through speedy and open communication between the rulers of various nations.  In addition to having a fascinating history (and to having a very likable fellow as their primary representative in this story), they were responsible for what is easily the strangest section of the entire story: a dream sequence/vision quest.  This section of the story (and it alone; the rest of the fic sticks to convention with regards to formatting, an excess of bolded words used as emphasizers notwithstanding) utilizes colored text and an abrupt tense change to convey both the otherworldly bizarreness and the intense intimacy of the dream.  For myself, I found this to be perhaps the most powerful portion of the entire story.  The dramatic departure from convention made it stand out exactly as it was supposed to.  That said, I doubt every reader will appreciate it; while the execution was excellent, the simple fact that it's so different from the rest of the story will alienate some readers, and others will no doubt find the use of colored text affectatious.

One thing which this story did exceptionally well was to take the canon characters it focused on, and expand upon them.  Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash are all front and center for the majority of this story's 150,000-ish words, and by the end of that time the author had not only shown his ability to represent them faithfully, but had built both their backstories and their interactions up to the point where they were as fully realized as any fictional characters reasonably can be.  Dash in particular was given a great deal of attention, focusing especially on one of the primary roots of her insecurity.  And although the story was mainly centered on those three, just enough glimpses of Twilight and the other ponies were given to remind the reader what the impetus for the entire story really was.

One of Tolkien's great strengths as a storyteller was his ability to make the world his characters inhabited seem real (which was a good thing, because he was frankly a little hit-or-miss on making the characters themselves seem real).  The primary way he accomplished this was by filling his stories with unexplained events or history and expressions never given context save in his own notes.  Doing so shows the reader that the world doesn't consist only of those things which directly impact the protagonist and their quest, but that the other inhabitants of this secondary reality have their own tales, which we are sadly not privy to.  From the barrow-wights to the tale of Beren and Luthien to the Mouth of Sauron (and not the travesty that Peter Jackson made of him, either) to the ever-enigmatic Tom Bombadil, the world of Middle-Earth as presented in LotR is rich with mysteries and hinted-at depths, which have fired countless imaginations ever since the books were published.

Jetfire attempts the same, with mostly positive results.  The ponies' first encounter in the Drakonridge mountains, for example, does a wonderful job of creating a larger world for its inhabitants: what it is that they encountered is never fully explained, and the sense of mystery and depth it lends the story is welcome.  However, there were a few misfires.  In particular, I'm thinking of the komagas: because they play such a central role to several chapters worth of action, lack of knowledge about them on the part of the residents of Gildsedale is jarring.  True, the folk of Gildsedale are shown to be a people more concerned with the here and now than with distant causes and hypothetical histories, but the sheer incuriosity they display towards the komagas is staggering.

Then, there was the ending, by which I mean pretty much everything past the Shimmerwood.  I'm of two minds about it, but my thoughts basically come down to this: on a thematic level, I thought it was perfect.  The way it dramatically showcases how doing what you know is right is never a hopeless gesture flawlessly encapsulated the story's primary message.  There's a particular passage from the penultimate chapter ending with the phrase, "but they didn't" which I wish I could quote, if only because it's so powerful in its sureness and simplicity, but... well, spoilers, much?  In any case, the emotional and structural flow of the ending are breathtaking.

On the other hand, I had some issues with the logic (and logistics) of the situation.  Without saying too much, I thought that the final obstacle which the three ponies had to overcome as they attempted to obtain the Beneviolet was ill-explained and ill-explored.  It appeared too suddenly to have the dramatic impact it deserved (though it certainly had plenty of shock value), and I think there needed to be a bit more clarity about what ultimately happened to it.

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

I've gone back and forth between four and five stars for a while now (which is part of why this post took so long to write, the other part being the fact that it's about twice as long as my average review).  The case for four is easy: I can just point out the LUS and the weaknesses of the ending, mention that some of the attempts at worldbuilding came across more as plotholes than anything else, and conclude with a line like "this was an incredible story, but these flaws were too much for me to overlook entirely."

But that doesn't do justice to what Jetfire's accomplished.  I'm not talking about wordcount or fame, though this story has both; I'm talking about vision.  Dangerous Business takes a simple, elegant central theme, interweaves it with subplots demonstrating the importance of loyalty, generosity, and honesty, and creates from them a poignant yet uplifting conceit around which to build.  It creates a half-dozen histories of various races and nations, and makes each a fully realized entity.  It builds a more complete vision of the world of Equestria than any other story I've read.  It's a damn fine adventure/exploration story in its own right.  And it is at turns touching, funny, and positively engrossing.  Compared to all that, the flaws I found seem pretty trivial.

This story may not be perfect.  But it's better than a lot of stories that are.

Recommendation:  This truly is one of the best stories the fandom has to offer.  Not everyone will like it, but hey; not everyone likes LotR (no accounting for taste, I suppose).  If you have little patience for stories which take the time to explore their characters and their setting in turn, and would prefer a steady stream of action in your fics, then this isn't for you.  If you can't stand for important things to be left unexplained, this story will drive you batty.  But if you're looking for one of the best pieces of fanfiction ever written, I recommend It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door.

Next time:  Feedback, by Kegisak


  1. I've been waiting a long time for this and I was not disappointed. :D

    Kegisak will be probably be pleased to know his story's coming up as well!

  2. This is my favorite story to date in the fandom.

  3. I always get so warm and tingly when I find someone who speaks of LoTR as fondly and as in depth as my self. Chris, this review was a joy to read just to see you talk about it, let alone about the story itself, haha.

    I actually started this one the other day, and I still haven't finished it (regrettably). But from what I have read, you are spot on in literally every regard. It's an absolute pleasure to read, and it has all the ingredients needed to be a triumph of the fandom.

    In a word: inspiring.

  4. I almost didn't bother reading this fic after the first page. There was that moment of trying to explain magic, and then the 'teleport lube' thing...I wanted to stop right there, but I'm glad I didn't. Not because I went on to like it, but if I hadn't I would not be able to take this time to disagree with you, Chris, on your most important points. I certainly hope you'll find it interesting.

    I dislike LotR. I dislike Tolien's writing. I love Tolkien's vision. He's a worldbuilder par exellence, but I wish he'd given his ideas to another writer to actually WRITE the damn stories. He'd probably be the world's best roleplaying GM though.

    I'm absolutely with you on the whole 'grace' thing from LotR, but I disagree that it was represented in almost any way within the pages of 'Dangerous Business'. The closest by far was the story within Guilderdale, but even then, as you say, the local's obliviousness to the nuance of their situation made it feel more than a little contrived. That at least was trying to represent AJ simply paying a bit more attention that most, and yet, because it was something that played into her skill-set, it also felt more like 1+1=2 than a character demonstrating grace.

    Which brings me back to where the adventure first gets rocky. AJ saves the party, and we don't know how or why at the time. Later, we discover that it's because she has some spanky ability. I like to call this one 'superman syndrome', where making characters special makes them less special by default. Suddenly, I'm left feeling that the encounter was actually quite formulaic. It didn't revolve aroud the character, but the ablity. Sure, it's not easy to avoid the trap, but it detracts from my empathy and investment with the characer's actions.

    The other character's things were as bad, if not worse. Rarity's at least requires some finesse, but still smacked of 'I got through it because of my snacky power', but Dash...OMFG Dash's...I accept I probably come off as a over the top here, but I honestly felt that the explanation of that power was dark to the point of evil and manipulative, and deeply insulting the concept of the human spirit (and it's human spirit we're infusing these pony characters with). I was actually appauled by the idea.

    1. Then, there is the matter of the stuff they gained. It made me feel like the story was a re-telling of a computer game. I wouldn't have felt any more offput if it had flashed up "Applejack Levelled Up! New Power Gained!" There was really no resistance, or feeling of accomplishment of having gained this new insight/skill.

      This was triply so for Rainbow Dash. The Dreaming is a lovely metaphor, but as per the 'explaining magic' issue I had at the start, it lost it's magic for me when they tried to explain it. Further, they build it up to be difficult to master and a challenge to do in one sitting, and frankly, RD breezes through it. Equally, I thought the backstory OC for Dash was ruined by 'superman syndrome' too. If she had demonstarted a facination for a particualr power, rather than the unique possession of it, I think she would have been an amazing addition. As it was, she struck me as a ham-fisted way of forcing an encounter and ruining any sesne of empathy I had for either her or Dash. Also, I would be among those who thought that the coloured text and mass-boldening was a cop-out, and I disliked it immensely, but maybe that's just because the concept it was dealing with feels almost childishly easy for me.

      Then comes the other effect of Rarity's power. By adding all the prophecy and far-sight stuff, the story rides roughshod over the concept of free-will and peronal choice. There is a reason that prophecy is virtually ANY story ever is wildly unspecific and rarely accurate. It undermines character actions, devalues choice, and generally ruins suspence, which is exactly what I felt it did in Dangerous Business.

      Then there's faith. I think it would be unreasonable for me to broach this without making it absolutely clear that I am a militatnt atheist. I find the very concept of faith to be the most poisonous, de-humanising, pestulent pox that ever contaminated a mind. This is no less true in this instance. Why bother with faith when you could speak about having courage, or conviction, or inner-peace or some-such. That is to say, something useful and advantageous to our day-to-day existance. "Have faith," is a uselessly negative concept that sought to dis-empower Rarity's motives and actions from that point on.

      Understandably then, the prevalance of deific references is a little hollow to me, and it reminds me how much I respect Faust for actually being extremely tactful with the detail given out in the show itself. There is absolutely zero in the show to assume that the Princesses are anything more than just fairly pokey, but given American culture, I can appreciate why this assumption is made, so I try not to hold it against anyone. Suffice to say, I found it all unnecessary and undermined the relevance and importance of the quest the characters were on.

    2. So, underneath it all, what did I think of the story? It had potential. If the snacky powers, both innate and learned, the deific references, the prophecy and poorly contrived reason for starting the quest were stripped away, I think it would be a great story. As presented, it isn't.

      I did love the character interactions, but given the situations that occured, I actually felt the characaters became more paper-thin and generic as things went on: the life being snuffed out of them slowly by overwhelming unique-snowflake-isms. they didn't grow, they got buried alive.

      I'm a philosopher and student of the human mind, and this story, if I'm unashamedly honest, reminds me how deluded the human mind can be. Hospice did exactly the same for me, except that I understand it's a social commentary for exactly that reason.

      I don't see a story of grace, I see a story of self-delusion and letting what you are define who you are.

      Scott 'Inquisitor' Mence
      "Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way." -Christopher Hitchens.

    3. I'm glad I'm not the only one willing to say that Tolkien was a bad writer. :B

    4. Tolkien seems to go in and out of style every couple of decades. LotR became a phenomenon in the 60s, and by the late 80s the pushback among critics and reviewers had become intense. For a while, it was fashionable to decry Tolkien as an incompetent writer who relied almost entirely on tired cliches to ever-so-slowly advance his story. Sometime before the Jackson movies came out, a new generation of literary critics began resurrecting LotR's image by casting it as a modernist interpretation of Early- and Middle-English storytelling. In this view, Tolkien became the equal and opposite of Hemmingway; while the latter responded to the atrocities of modern war (and modern life) with expositional succinctness and what is sometimes called "empty clarity," the former retreated to the literary and storytelling traditions of the past to frame his tales. Nowadays, Tolkien seems to be on his way out again, at least among the critics.

      So no, you two aren't alone in thinking Tolkien wasn't a terribly good writer. As to whether or not you should read it, PP... well, hopefully my review gave you enough material to make an informed decision about whether or not you'd like it. But I can assure you that no, this is definitely not "LotR with ponies."

    5. Well I certainly wouldn't decry his an incompetent. In fact, I was quite specific in my use of 'dislike', as it's very neutral.

      Nor, in hindsight, would I actively suggest anyone avoid this story. I would hope, possibly in my arrogance, that people can read this story and understand the things I have said, because it just might make the world a wiser place. I'm certainly not going to complain if people like it just as it is though.

      And no, it definitely isn't LotR with ponies, but there are some heavy references. We're all here bastardising a pony show for our own ends though, so let's not get picky about that!

    6. Eh. I wouldn't say that the good fics bastardize the show; they're like episodes that never would or could be made.

    7. I will, if nothing else, read this story (eventually) because I remember Jetfire being a good author. Despite the fact that I have no idea what other story of his I read all those year ago.

    8. I also don't have a high opinion for Tolkien. While I enjoyed the songs and poems that Tolkien put in and respect his skills at world building (which is just a fancy term for setting), in many other respects I find him lacking. Biggest problem, his pacing is bad because he can't figure out what's important to include and what to cut out, so he keeps it all in and it makes the books tedious and dry.

      PP: It's probably "the Sun Never Sets; I remember that one if only because I was unsure what to think of it after I finished it.

    9. If that wasn't it it, I still actually remember reading that story (after the second sentence even!) and it was very good then and now. Thanks for pointing me back to it. :D

    10. I agree with InquisitorM, with the added criticism that the "grace" argument shown above is itself flawed, if not outright silly in its criticism of "cold logic". The reason the quest succeeded was because of an improbable contingency that no one could have foreseen. It doesn't show that mercy is transcendent, as it might have done if Gollum had experienced a change of heart as a result of such mercy and thrown the ring in himself (which in any case doesn't transcend anything if Gollum's nature didn't let it). It shows that blind luck plays a part; Gollum is essentially an unreliable tool who happened to be useful this one time because he slipped, so I might just as well credit the transcendence of slippery rocks. It could just as easily have been the case that he murdered Frodo and Sam before they ever got to Mount Doom, with the added epistemic justification for thinking this was more likely, and where would the transcendence of grace and mercy be then if it wasn't for luck?

      The quest's success was secured just as much by the physical violence as by the luck in the first place, so it seems surprisingly ungrateful to act like the work of Aragorn et al. was incidental to the quest's success.

  5. Ooh, Feedback. :D Looking forward to that.

    I'm going to ramble at you for a bit, if you don't mind. I remember when this story was released (on Ponychan, no less), I was very interested in reading it because I'd read something else of Jetfire's and loved it. I still haven't gotten around to it, however, so most of what I know about the story is what I've heard from others. While mostly glowing praise, such as your review here, one piece of criticism stands out to me, and I want to know how you would react to this: "It's just LotR with ponies."

    From the context, I believed that Jetfire had, indeed, written a crossover where the characters were find-replaced with pony names. From reading your review and love of the series, I think you'd have noticed if that was the case. Admittedly, the source of the line is a person about whom is often joked "he hates everything", but it's kept me from seeking this out too soon.

    Your note about Tolkien's expansion of the world beyond what affects the main characters is interesting, because in recent times it seems that doing such a thing is frowned upon. Of course, the world-building author's driving force is to pack as much of their notes into their story as they can, as a "look at what I did!" impulse, and that should be frowned upon. But even incidental things seem not to be appreciated anymore, and time and again I see reviewers and fiction commentators trying to sway authors away from doing just that. I wonder if it only has a place in longer epics, or what.

    Lastly, my opinion of the Lord of the Rings books. Put shortly, they made great movies. I read the Hobbit in high school, and Fellowship in a college fantasy course, and I found them both awfully dry. I have never before had to slog my way through genre fiction, forcing my way through every word. Tolkien, in my mind, is a terrible writer, and this has caused an internal feedback loop of self-doubt because I explained why to myself as, "He's a linguist, not a writer." That is, he crafted a very rich world with realistic cultures and languages, and there's a good story in there somewhere, but his ability to present that to the reader is lacking. The self-doubt comes into play because I am also a linguist and I often fear that my own writing suffers from this Tolkienian condition. Maybe that's why I haven't written anything long-form yet in this fandom; my last attempt certainly didn't garner any accolades.

  6. I can't say I ever gave this one a shot. It was for a simple, shallow reason (beyond being rather long): when I read fanfiction, it was pretty much exclusively stories written in something like the show's style. People said this was great, but I never felt like reading something that was such a radical departure from the show's tone and setting. If I was going to read a fantasy novel, I could read a fantasy novel.

    1. I don't think your reason is shallow, but rather reasonable. After all, what attracts you to the show is what you want to read about when it comes to those characters.

      That said, I'm of two states of mind to that idea on a personal level. On one hand, I'm don't feel it's right to reject or put down a good work such as "Best Night Ever" just because it's not as episodic as "Sunny Skies All Day Long". Good literature should be praised even when it's a fanfict that strays from it's source.

      On the other hand, there also comes a point where I feel the writer should take the fict out of the MLP universe and putting it in a new one. You know make it original because I feel their connection to MLP is tenuous at best and it would work better as one of it's own.

      I personally leaning more towards the former because face it, I want to read something that's good, so I willing to let a non-episodic works slide by if I feel it's good. But there are a few fanficts that made me think of the latter while reading.

    2. I guess I just have less respect for fanfiction as a form of literature than that. When I write fanfic, I pretty much always view it as an inferior stepping stone towards original work.

    3. As for why I read fanfic in the first place, back when I really loved the show (as opposed to now being a casual fan who would probably have stopped watching season 2 at around episode 6 or so without the efforts of a friend who always wants to watch it with me), it was a mix of something to talk about with pony loving friends and as a fix between episodes. Now that I don't need a fix, I don't need a fic, as it were.

    4. Wait a minute there.

      While, the episodes of the show are great, and not all fanfiction has to be dark and heavy, when someone automatically disregards the potential of any fanfiction to be literary, it brings everyone down.

      I am saying this as someone who reads stories, not to get more of what I like out of a visual and time-based medium, but to see characters grow and change, to explore concepts that could not and will never be explored in the show, to see people pushing the boundaries of *this* medium rather than trying to be a pale imitation of something it is not.

      I say this as someone who reads because she likes reading, rather than because there is nothing on the television to watch.

      By nature, the a fanfic could never match up to the quality of the show. Not because of inferior writing, but because a written story and a cartoon are very different things. Some fanfics which imitate the show, like Celestia's Teeth, arguably have better writing, yet they ultimately fall flat. This is not because they're fanfiction but because they are not animation.

      The written word is its own medium, and it is a disservice and patently absurd to say that stories done in this medium cannot be treated like they they were done for this medium.

      For context, imagine you went to deviantart and saw a picture of the most amazing quality. It has great design, beautiful lighting, the technique is flawless and you would not feel ashamed to have it printed and framed on your wall.

      And then you scroll down and find out that the man in the background is a character from Touhou.

      Does that lessen the value of how the image made you feel? Your enjoyment of it? Does that make it less than what it is? Is it worse than if the picture had a different man in the background? Is it bad because it is not like the anime? Drawn in the style of the anime?

      By nature fanfiction is derivative. It is correct that this means these characters and worlds aren't entirely your own. But part of the intrigue of fanfiction is how a writer can work within these constraints to make something meaningful and different: to open up the world that's been given to them and find all the facets that would be best expressed in writing rather than in images and sound. By using a written medium, a writer opens up him or herself to all the possibilities that literature brings.

      Not all fanfiction has to be taken seriously.

      Nor should it be.

      But there have been fanfics which have both exceeded the depth of the original work and have played so brilliantly in the constraints of the universe that they keep people in the fandom long after they have lost interest in the original series. There have been character studies, showing far more about a character than the series ever could.

      In the end, a good story is there not just to kill your time until the next episode comes out, but to make you think. To let you understand. You can pick up something that entertains you and then cast it aside and forget about it, but to assume that this is the purpose of an entire medium is both degrading to yourself, and to the people who have ever gone the extra mile and done more.

      It doesn't matter whether the characters and setting are someone else's, or whether they're your own.

      A story should affect people on its own merits, not based on the perceived merits of its genre.

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    6. One thing I realized I was vague about: when I said inferior stepping stone towards original work, I didn't mean, in this case, MLP: Friendship is Magic. I meant a stepping stone towards writing your own original works.

      And sure, fanfics are fun, and there are great, creative fanfics. Some of my favorites explore things that their original shows could never touch. I'm not saying I haven't enjoyed fanfics. I've just never felt changed by a ponyfic in the sense you're talking about.

      My earlier comments were a bit degrading; I want to apologize to anyone who was offended. I realized that it denigrated the website as a whole, and I don't want to do that. I like this site; it's interesting to see what the fandom regarded as 6 star worthy and Chris' attempts to figure out if it was really worthy, and what they were thinking.

    7. Fanfiction is just fiction, with certain aspects of the universe being pre-established, whether it be characters, setting, tone or anything else like that.

      And I'm not just talking pony fic, here. I'm talking fanfiction in general.

      Luminosity is a Twilight (yes, the sparkly vampires, not the sparkly unicorn) fanfic, that exceeds the quality of the original work by far. Although, given that original work is fucking, Twilight, I suppose that's not saying much.

      Most of the best-known parts of the Cthulhu Mythos are technically fanfiction.

      There is lots of *published* fanfiction (mostly of public domain works) that have won awards and are taught in schools, and I challenge you to find any Little House on the Prairie book that is actually better than Ursula Vernon's dark fantasy take on it.

      Have you seen all those adult re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast, Donkeyskin, or Cinderella, or any other fairy tales? Fanfiction. With this in mind, at least half of Robin McKinley's published work is fanfiction.

      Ever heard of the The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. It won a Newbery in 2009. It's also The Jungle Book fanfiction. He also did a story in the last volume of his Sandman comics that won him the World Fantasy Award in 1991. It is literally fanfiction of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's even crossover fanfiction on top of that.

      Jane Yolen's Lost Girls? (Not the comic filled with weird underage sex - that one's by Alan Moore). It is fucking rife with allegory about first-wave feminism, and goes into all these really chilling implications about kids who don't grow up. It's Peter Pan fanfiction.

      The Divine Comedy? Bible fanfiction.

      I realise that none of these are for cartoons or movies, but you also have to realise that film and animation are very young. There is comparatively little from them that is in public domain. I have yet to come across an excellent Nosferatu, Casa Blanca, or Gertie the Dinosaur fanfic. There's also the problem of big studios constantly renewing their copyright on certain characters and franchises, long after the original creator is dead. You can be expect Mickey Mouse to be the copyright of Disney long after you're dead. And not just because I'm standing behind you with a large knife. I promise.

      And if we are to get really technical, My Little Pony is *not* Lauren Faust's intellectual property. She's not even the original creator!

      She was a huge fan of the series as a child, and she went on to write her own version of the series. Based on her favourite characters. Based on the personalities she gave her toys as a child. Whether or not Hasbro approved and paid money for it matters little.

      Fan. Fucking. Fiction.

      Yes. You are writing fanfiction of fanfiction. Reading fanfiction of fanfiction.

      When you create something, you have to take ideas and make them your own. You put so much of yourself into it, that it can't be anything but yours. Even if it doesn't "belong" to you.

      And by extension, all fiction is derivative, and no ideas exist in a vacuum. If you think that anything is truly original, that thought could easily be remedied by heading down to tvtropes, looking up that work's article and taking note of all the ideas and concepts that it shares with every other work of media in existence.

      Fanfiction is just a lot more frank about it.

    8. Fine you win. My lower opinion of fanfiction is arbitrary. I'm willing to admit it. It just doesn't seem as real to me even when its better and that's completely subjective.

    9. I love to see intelligent discussion in the comments, but please watch the language and personal attacks. Bobcat, Sessalisk, from what I've read of yours both in your fiction and in your posts on this blog, I know you're both intelligent people, and intelligent people should be able to disagree civilly, without resorting to profanity or insulting tone. With that in mind, let's keep the discourse civil, please.

    10. Sorry about that. I didn't mean to come across as insulting - I just have a tendency to be very obscene when it's very inappropriate. I cannot discuss Shakespeare without resorting to expletives and vulgar language, for instance (although I'm sure he'd approve). I would blame the Homestuck fandom, but it's my own fault for falling into bad habits.

      If I've been demeaning or overly vulgar, be assured that it was not directed or meant personally, and I sincerely apologise if I've made anyone feel bad.

    11. Apology accepted. I'm willing to just agree to disagree.

  7. Also for next time, I could totally see a who's on first thing happening.

    I have feedback.

    On what?


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    1. Great review for a great story!

      I very much appreciated your explanation of how you arrived at the star rating:

      "This story may not be perfect. But it's better than a lot of stories that are."

      I am so gonna steal that!

  9. My opinion on this fanfict is… complicated

    Let me start by saying that both times I’ve read it (first time back in October and second time now), I was left in not the best of moods. It’s very hard for fiction to draw me but easy for it to push me out, and this work did just that when no one thought about contacting Celestia (that bothered me as soon as the trio left town during my first read mind you), which was one of the most mind-boggling bits I’ve ever read (come on, Spike mentions Celestia when talking about his fire and the whole town knows they’re going on a journey, you’d think someone would suggest it before they left). What followed kept me out. This included a prose that was over descriptive at times (so that the story drags), a lack of conflicts (equals dullness) in the Pronghorn and (particularly) Shimmerwood parts (by conflict I mean between the trio and the other species there) so that any world-building feels like I’m being read a bunch of dull history notes (conflict is a great way to world-build in my book, it can tell you a culture reacts to a problem), including some of my personal no-no’s when it comes to MLP fanfiction such as earth pony magic and the elements of plot device granting their users special powers, a number of things in the last few chapters such as the world snake (anything with a tongue that measures the length between Ponyville and Canterlot is a good example of where one tries way too hard to create a threat that it becomes laughable) and Falalauria (seriously, I couldn’t stand this character, one reason is that she has this “I’m better than you are” sort of attitude in her voice that it undercuts her supposed wisdom because seems like she learned nothing from the past), a feeling that the main trio was not in a rush to get the Beneviolet (some us of are “coldly rational” for a reason and it’s not like the other options were selfishly motivated), and the how the trio got back was a real bad case of Deus ex Machina (‘instant-magic steroids’). Plus what Celestia said she would have done at the end means that the story is a very close to committing one of the worst storytelling sins, the type of plot where the hero (or in this case heroes) doesn’t affect the outcome (the first Indiana Jones movie also has this problem). Oh and Niles talks like a hare from a Redwall novel and there’s no equivalent of Tom Bombadli in this story (there’s not much humor here either). There are more but I've had my fill.

    And yet, there’s so much that I like and even think is inspirational (that is I wanted to apply it into my own works) about this piece: above-average (if not in the 90th percentile) characterization of the main trio (Dash panicking about seeing the sky made me smile on a bad day (not for sadistic reasons, mind you, but because the essence of a drowning child was wonderfully captured)), almost everything about Gildsdale (which is probably the best case of world-building in this fandom from what I’ve read), a lack of villains (and in a long adventure story mind you), use of mundane animals instead of the flashy mythical ones as the other species they meet (although I’d cut out the powers), the Dreaming (well expect maybe Firefly should have been hinted at a few chapters before and I still prefer Thicker than Water’s backstory for Dash) and the hints of a larger world (you never all of its mysteries anyway). It’s a weird relationship where if I don’t read the work and just think about it, I like it.

    In the grand scheme things, I’d be lying to say I enjoyed reading it. But I can easily understand why others do (I’m not Tolstoy). So more power to them I say because there’s a lot to admire, there’s a lot that inspires, even if there’s also a lot I’d like to throw into a fire.

  10. This has, by far, been my favorite review of yours. It's done something no other review's done before, and which I'm not sure you intended: made me want to read two stories. Although being a fan of The Hobbit, I never got into LotR. I tried, once, when I was about 14, but I was bored to death by the end of the first chapter. But the way you described it in your review makes me want to give Fellowship a second chance. Are you sure you're not Pinkie Pie?

    The comments section's been quite entertaining as well. Even if I end up disliking this story, I've gotten the impression that it's something that NEEDS to be read. I'm also glad to see I'm not the only unimpressed by Tolkien's writing (at least in LotR. I loved his writing in The Hobbit). Although I like to think I have good taste, I'm also aware that I like some things I shouldn't (Sugar, Sugar) and don't like some things I should. It makes me feel a little insecure sometimes.

    1. Don't let people feel bad for your taste; Sugar Sugar is a perfectly fine song. Not every song has to be Beethoven's 5th.

    2. Make you feel bad, that is.

  11. This is one of my very favourite fics. It was about the tenth one I ever read and the thing that inspired me to start writing my own (thank you Jetfire for bottled dragonfire!).

    I may be slightly positively biased towards this and Half the Day is Night because they're the stories I most want to read in this fandom -- lengthy adventures that keep characters IC, only go a little bit more mature in tone than the show, and don't involved weird internet fanfic stuff (alternate universes, shipping, crossovers, rule 63, humans, OC additions to mane cast, etc...)

    I loved The Hobbit and wasn't so big on LotR, but I read them both when I was ten, so my opinion may differ if I revisited them today. After hearing the "It's A Dangerous Business, Copying Tolkien So Much" jokes, I told myself it was a good thing that I didn't really remember the books that well, because it meant Dangerous Business felt more original to me.

    I've often wondered if reading crossovers with works you don't know might improve your opinion of them in some cases, because you won't see how they've copied their source material -- the stories (on EqD) "Derpy Hooves The Muffin Queen" and "The Invisible Hairless Ape" spring to mind, as they were fun reading at the time but really left a sour taste in my mind when I found out how much they'd cribbed from elsewhere. Ignorance might have been bliss in those cases.

    Anyway, Dangerous Business: this was a good review and you should feel good. Thinking about the big "why didn't they call Celestia" plothole as a larger version of "why didn't they just let SPOILERS Dash zap up to get the Beneviolet" END SPOILERS puts my mind at ease a bit. That plothole was the one thing that really bothered me about this story (well, that and the LUS, which I've just find-replaced in my personal copy... thankfully Jetfire seems to keep mostly to "the [colour] [race]" and doesn't go for nonsense like pink party ponies and farmers and magicians and speedsters and chromatic/alabaster/canary-yellow anything).

    The worldbuilding in this story (and to a lesser degree in the short sequel "A Day for Spike and Twilight") is inspiring, even if a lot of it was borrowed from Tolkien. It reminds me of why I like MLP's setting so much -- because there's room for epic fantasy elements like this, room for western things like Appleloosa and Dodge Junction, and even room for DJs and high society Canterlot. We see such a diverse array of fics because there's just such a ridiculous amount of potential and somehow all these disparate elements manage to coexist comfortably.

    It's too bad he hasn't written anything else in this little continuity of his. I've heard there were one or two sequel stories by another author but I haven't heard anything good about them.

    Jetfire's other, unrelated stories "The Sun Never Sets" and "Nightmare State of Mind" are also things I like, but for entirely different reasons. This author's got range.

  12. So many people saying that they didn't enjoy LoTR... I think I may cry.

  13. I was wondering - how has the reread affected your enjoyment of the story? Seeing how it has a similar style to LoTR, and how much rereading that can make you appreciate much more the settings and the small things that really make the experience special.

    1. Honestly, rereading a fanfic for a review is almost like going into it for the first time (at least, for me). While I don't think of myself as a particularly lazy reader normally, I'm a lot more engaged when I'm reading for a review; I'm trying to figure out why I respond a certain way to the story, how other readers might respond to the same things, what elements of the story particularly stand out (and WHY they stand out), etc. It's really kind of zen-like, and I find it takes a lot of energy--I can read all day, but when I'm reading something for a review I'll usually spend no more than a few hours at a stretch reading.

      So I've got to say: for this story, as well as the others I've re-read, my enjoyment hasn't been particularly affected. Sure, some stories weren't as good as I remembered them being, but that didn't retroactively impact the pleasure I took in reading them.

  14. The comments you make in praise of Tolkien (and Dangerous Business) are the main reasons I dislike LotR, and consider Fallout: Equestria far superior thematically (and in world-building, although not in style or consistency).

    Re. the mission being saved because Sam and Frodo spared Gollum: "The appeal of this theme is obvious: it tells us that mercy and kindness are transcendent values, and assures us that the exercise of both will be rewarded in the end, the preponderance of real-life evidence to the contrary notwithstanding." Right. I hate it when people deliberately teach lies as universal truths. Almost all fantasy literature tells people comforting lies that distort their visions of reality and lead to more real-world suffering. When people act (and vote) with the false beliefs that the universe is fundamentally just and respects good intentions, it leads to suffering. Post-WW2, people had the chance to look at the Holocaust and ask, "How did this happen?" And the answer Tolkien, and virtually all other fantasy authors gave, was, "Don't worry. This happened in Germany because they are orcs. It could never happen to us. We understand what is right and what is wrong, and right will prevail as long as we have strength of character."

    False confidence like this is what /leads to/ holocausts. Whereas the premise of Fallout: Equestria is that, no, any nation can end up doing horrible things, even the loving ponies of Equestria. Tolkien's entire work, by contrast, is a series of deflections of serious moral questions with trite phrases and folk wisdom and reassurances that we know all the answers in our hearts and don't need to trouble our heads about them.

    "But what the author flawlessly succeeds at is showing that, because these choices were made for the right reasons (concern for Twilight, friendship, etc.), they are the right choices." - Do you think that describes reality? Would the world be a better place if people do the wrong things for "the right reasons"? I refer you to another fan-fic, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. One of its themes is that being ethical does not mean doing things that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Being ethical requires knowing the difference between right and wrong, but it also requires /getting the answer right/ when you try to figure out /how/ do right a wrong.

    1. I shouldn't say that I /disklike/ LotR. It's a great read. We owe a lot to it. But it's deeply conservative, in a lot of morally bad ways (racist, chauvinistic, advocating rules-based ethics over consequentialism, presuming the world is in a state of continual decay, anti-technological, anti-scientific in its belief that we should seek wisdom in the thoughts of the ancients rather than thinking for ourselves). It has supplanted more sociologically-intelligent fantasy, for instance Gormenghast, with morally self-righteous hack-and-slash. It has given many people wrong ideas about the world because Tolkien wrote it so well. If it were obscure, I might tell more people to read it. But because it occupies a position of such authority, it needs pushing back against more than it needs support.

    2. More or less agreed, but I think FO:E committed just as bad an error in the opposite direction. True: committing the just-world fallacy is a bad move, but so is committing the life-will-do-its-darnedest-to-turn-awful fallacy. FO:E gave the impression that the utmost worst will happen, even to things you think are morally high, and that you will have to go through hell and become a morally low character yourself to correct them, if you even accomplish that goal. It does it for no better reason than to shock the audience by combining ponies with blood and guts, which is one of the reasons I dislike it so much. It's one of those stories that probably would have been better off moving away from the kid's cartoon. It's almost insulting the way it teaches its moral, as though no one will appreciate the point about unintended bad consequences unless gore, blood, and every shock tactic possible are all rammed down their throats.

      Frankly, you don't need half-a-million words of watching a favourite show be turned into a gorefest spectacle just to make the point that it's possible for good people to make errors, and certainly it's a grotesque exaggeration to depict them making errors leading to a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which rape, torture, and murder flow freely. What kind of a lesson is that? There IS a difference between good and bad people, when all's said and done.

  15. So completely unrelated to this discussion, there are two new pieces of fanart for this story in today's drawfriend (#398) on EqD. The weird timing means that there's a good chance that both of those were created because of this review.

  16. I actually had no idea this story was based on LotR (which I have never read) until after I finished...

    On its own merits, it's such a good adventure story!

  17. While I'd have to go back over the whole story to find several niggling flaws which annoyed me (I thought too much attention was given to the cave to NOT explain it better, less would have been more in that case), I cannot forget how aggravating the ending was. I agree entirely, and more so that it simply came out of nowhere and then vanished without a trace, this monstrous thing that had the power to crack the world... totally forgotten once they got back.

    It's why I don't know how you still gave it 5 stars. To me, structure and internal logic are as critical as characterization and pacing. The ending 'big bad' was so suddenly jarring and inexplicable that it practically ruined my experience with the rest of the story.

    I would give it a 4-star of 5.

    1. Ah yes, the kangas. That was another annoyance. They showed up fleeing from something, then that was it. It was implied that what they were fleeing from was important, and it seemed to me that there was also the implication it had something to do with the thing in the cave. But it was just dropped. I found that to be another jarring piece of plot debris.

  18. Ha. This is like a book club. And I find it exciting! Why do I find it so exciting? Even when I'm months out of the loop?

    Anyhoo, It seems these comments are full of naysayers and I can totally understand where their coming from. The thing that bothered me most is the ending. I'm surprised no one mentioned how their main source of conflict in Shimmerwood was the fact that the Deer Leader whose name I forget was afraid of letting them awaken the World Snake. And then they do, and then nothing is said about it. Whan an amazing loose end.

    With that being said, this Fiction is definitely one of my favorites and one I will never forget! I can't say anything about Lord of the Rings because I never read or saw any of that. But it didn't stop me from loving this!

    "This story may not be perfect. But it's better than a lot of stories that are."
    Ho ho! What an awesome quote. Pretty well sums up my feelings on the matter.

    Bleh, reading this much of this blog in one sitting was a terrible idea. I'll never get enough sleep work work later today.