Monday, October 8, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 107: Pony for Christmas

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

As much as I love Christmas, October is just too early to start thinking about it!  Oh well, nothing like a little out-of-season cheer to brighten the day, I suppose.  Below, my review of Pony for Christmas, by Brookwood Bronco.

Impressions before reading:  There's actually two stories here, but a quick glance reveals that they're identically structured and thematically linked, so unless I find some major differences between them plot-wise that would necessitate separate reviews, I'm going to write both The Ballad of Pinkie Pie and The Ballad of Celestia up together (POST READING UPDATE: there's not much to say about one story that couldn't be said of the other, so a combined review it is).  Also, poetry!  Although there's a lot of poorly-written poems out there, I have high hopes for a six-star story written in verse.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:

The Ballad of Pinkie Pie:  A college student spending his first Christmas alone receives a very unexpected visit when Pinkie Pie pops into his dorm room out of nowhere.

The Ballad of Celestia:  When a young child reduced to begging on the streets on Christmas is given a stuffed animal Celestia by a kindly stranger, it comes to life and becomes his friend.

Thoughts after reading:  Writing poetry is hard.  Even crafting something as seemingly straightforward as a story composed of rhyming couplets is a serious challenge, given the requirements that it 1) rhyme, 2) hold meter, and 3) still manage to convey its story.

Unfortunately, both of these stories frequently fail on the first two counts.  Rhyming "time" with "five," for example, or "capricious" with "contagious," just doesn't work.  Sadly, these sorts of psuedo-rhymes were quite common in both stories.

Far more distressing to me, however, was the lack of rhythm to the verses.  Since I know many readers have trouble understanding rhythm in speech and verse, let me give an example.  First, a few rhyming couplets from a famous source: Clement Clark Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

I've taken the liberty of underlining the natural stress points (the syllables that speakers will emphasize when reading these lines normally).  Note that they form a clear pattern: four stressed syllables to a line, each separated by two unstressed ones.  This pattern is quite consistent throughout the entire poem.

Now, compare that to this set of lines from Pinkie Pie:

I skidded to a halt and told her, “That’s the closet.
And any plans on leaving, you’re gonna have to pause it.”
She asked me why, and I said, “Isn’t it clear?
You’re a pink talking pony in a world of humans, my dear.”

There's no consistent syllabic pattern (the lines don't even all contain the same number of stressed syllables!), which results in verses which are cumbersome to speak, and which prevent the story from developing any sort of flow.  Occasionally a few lines in a row would contain similar structures and I would begin to feel the rhythm of the piece, but these were invariably short reprieves in a sea of irregular and inconsistent meter.  Considering that both stories are written entirely in verse, the fact that the construction was so lackluster is awfully hard to forgive.

But if the poetry was unimpressive, what of the stories themselves?  Sadly, I can't say I found the plotlines to either story particularly enthralling.  Both rely on ridiculous contrivances to an unhealthy degree, even beyond the initial conceit.  For the sake of the poem, I'm perfectly prepared to grant Pinkie Pie showing up in the real world.  But taking her into town, having her speak in the presence of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people, and then having everyone write her off as a "strange-looking dog?"  There were far too many cases in both stories where my credulity was strained past the breaking point by these sorts of artificial contrivances.

The poems' attempts to wring emotion from the reader were similarly contrived.  Celestia opens with the nine-year old protagonist being sent into town on Christmas to beg for beer money for his dad, clad in a too-thin blanket.  While the steady litany of suffering which he has to endure is certainly deplorable, it's also transparently artificial.  I'd compare reading this story to listening to that paragon of melodramatic holiday glurge, The Christmas Shoes: well-intentioned, but so over-the-top that it becomes unbelievable and frankly, induces more eye-rolling than tears.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

These poems full cringeworthy phrasings, mediocre rhymes, and transparent, artificial, and overwrought attempts to provoke an emotional response from the reader.

Recommendation:  Despite how unimpressed I was with Pony for Christmas, I can see its appeal.  Heck, plenty of people manage to enjoy The Christmas Shoes unironically, and who am I to tell them they're wrong?  For those capable of swallowing the most sickeningly saccharine contrivances which the holiday season has to offer without blinking, and who aren't put off by poorly written verse, this could make for a decent seasonal story.  For all other readers though, I don't recommend it.

Next time:  It Takes a Villiage, by determamfidd


  1. For whatever reason, bad poetry seems to grate on my nerves more than any other kind of bad writing. What's worse is that this is a Christmas story, and even in the one time of the year where glurge is considered part of the fun, these just push it way too far. So yeah, not a fan.

    So, did you manage to catch up with It Takes a Village? Will the review be ready on Wednesday? Or do we have to wait until Friday to look at one of the most popular pony fics in existence?

  2. This has to be one of, if not the, most disappointing reviews you've ever done. Not because I disagree with you. I haven't read this one, and so don't have any opinions on it. Rather, I really like the premise (I know, it's wish fulfillment, but cut me some slack; this is my favorite pony we're talking about), but the problems you cited are huge issues for me. Anything involving Zecora is nearly impossible for me to read because nobody in this fandom seems to understand meter

    I'm not sure how I managed to miss The Christmas Shoes for all these years, but thanks a lot for breaking that streak. I was having such a good night, too

  3. Augh, bad poetry. This is why I refused to pre-read poems when I was reading. There are few writing issues I detest more than poor meter and half- or close-rhymes. Aforementioned Zecora dialogue is hard enough for most people to do, let alone entire poems in stories, or stories-as-poems? Sadly, they are, to an extent, legitimate poetic devices, though typically misused by writers who can't make the structure work for them.

    Still, if you can't write Shakespearean sonnets or at least the Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, please stick to free verse. And if you're writing free verse fanfiction, you should just be writing prose.