Friday, May 16, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 53: Foal of the Forest

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

Welp, I'm feeling better, so here comes another round of Fandom Classic-ing.  Click down below the break for my take on moguera's Foal of the Forest.


Impressions before reading:  The description sounds a little high-action for the SoL tag, but then I'm hardly one to speak when it comes to misusing that tag (what do you do when your story isn't an adventure, isn't dark, doesn't have romance, and isn't comic?).  If this is going to be about civilizing a child, then a lot is going to rest on making that child an interesting, sympathetic character, while still keeping it from becoming just an adult in a child's body--not necessarily an easy task, but one that can be very rewarding for readers.  Here's hoping that's what we get!

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  While out in the Everfree Forest, Fluttershy comes across a young pegasus who's lived outside of civilization for years, ostracized for his slit-pupiled eyes... and his knowledge of an ancient martial arts technique which gives him almost unimaginable prowess.

Thoughts after reading:  If you type some variation on "what makes a bad OC" into your search engine, you'll get plenty of advice--oddly enough, mostly pony-specific.  At a glance, "shipping him/her with a main character," "ridiculous superpowers," "special and unique physical characteristics that don't actually make him/her ugly," "canon-breaking abilities," and "mysterious backstory for the sake of drama" are a few of the more common ones which could be applied to this story's protagonist.  However, these aren't really how you make a bad OC; lots of stories have been based on characters with one or more of these traits, who were nevertheless strong, interesting, and well-designed for the story they were in.  That list is a list of symptoms, not of causes.

So, the reason I take issue with Dawn Lightwing isn't because he displays those traits; it's because of the problem from which those traits all spring, to whit: he's a fundamentally dull character.  From his Lt. Data-like dialogue to his almost total emotional passivity to the fact that essentially everything he does in the entire story is reactionary (rather than borne of any sort of personal interest or initiative), Lightwing is less a character than an otherwise unmemorable vehicle for all of those symptoms.  There are some hints of actual personality toward the very end of the story, but 100,000 words is simply too long a wait to introduce any personal characteristics.  For the rest of the fic, he's just an unrealistically unchildlike (not simply toughened beyond his years; he talks, thinks, and behaves like an emotionally stunted adult, not a child (emotionally stunted or otherwise)) cypher, and the fact that his defining characteristics are things like "can fly better than Rainbow Dash, is more magical than Twilight Sparkle, and can turn aside Applejack's kicks without effort" makes him fundamentally unlikable.  Those are things you could get away with as elements of a well-rounded character, but when they ARE his character, that's when you have a problem.

Frankly, the titular foal himself wasn't even my biggest problem with the story; that would be the subplot in the early going about a serial attempted rapist, which appears to exist solely for the sake of letting Lightwing prove how badass he is (he quite literally disappears from the story, nary to be mentioned again, as soon as Dawn finishes beating him up).  Leaving aside any question of how tasteful it is to use rape that way in a story in the first place, the rendition here includes some awfully questionable characterization of both the rapist and the victims--I can't go into too many details without spoilers, but the speed with which Fluttershy's friends were pushing her back onto the dating scene literally days after she was violently sexually assaulted appalled me.

Although the fic is well-edited in terms of punctuation, word use is a constant weakness.  Phrases full of overwrought descriptions and needlessly obtuse writing, such as "[His voice] also carried a hoarseness that suggested that the mechanisms that facilitated its usage had not been exercised for quite some time" are common.  There's also a tendency to pile on extraneous details in the narration, but to be fair, these were at least occasionally interesting in their own right.

But the biggest problem here, which both Lightwing's lack of realism and the rape subplot's beyond-questionable construction are facets of, is that there seems to be little, if any, connection between character actions and characterization.  Applejack has an absolute, sycophantic faith Celestia's divine ineffability, despite the fact that she never once shows any unusual obsequience to her in the show; Lightwing speaks with a wisdom and (conversational) maturity unmatched by any other character in the fic, despite having spent the last year or two of his short life totally isolated from anypony at all; Scootaloo's parents have somehow managed to be happily married for years before the fic begins, despite the fact that [SPOILERS].  It's difficult to imagine how the ponies could possibly have reached the positions they're in at the start of the story given their actions and attitudes, and so their plights and conflicts feel contrived and artificial.

Star rating:


The best thing I can say about Foal of the Forest is that the ending gives me hope that the multiple sequels are better than this is.  But for most of my reading, I was either being made profoundly uncomfortable by unrealistic and transparently narratively convenient trauma, wondering whether some over-the-top event or reaction was intended ironically, or both.

Recommendation:  Readers who are prepared to invest the protagonist with personality themselves, and who aren't going to think too hard about how and why characters act the way they do or what those actions imply, might get some enjoyment out of this, if they're into DBZ-style martial arts (the "proving badassery via ridiculously one-sided combat" bits, that is, not the "charging up for forty episodes" stuff).  For the general reader, though, I don't recommend this.

Next time:  Wonderbolt, by WovenWord

...But first, we're going old-school! Next week is Retro Week, as I go back and grab three 6-star fics that I haven't reviewed yet, starting with...

Dresden Gets Schooled, by Chengar Qordath

22 comments:

  1. Wow. This thing sounds like the paragon of OC shittiness. How did it get into the Fandom Classics list?

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    1. It's classically bad.

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    2. I was thinking the same thing, but hey, I'm glad he reviewed it.
      Next time I come across such a story, instead of simply telling the author, "Your story's bad and you should feel bad," I now have a better idea of how to explain why. Especially that bit about being reactionary. gotta remember that.

      Word of the Day: Sycophantic.

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  2. I read this story after being encouraged that it got a lot better in its sequels. While it does get better—the conflict becomes more engaging and better OCs are introduced—at some point the story becomes entirely about the OCs and their culture and canon MLP characters/aspects barely appear at all. While this can be done to phenomenal effect (see: Fallout: Equestria) in this case it just made me suddenly realize that I was reading a below-average, generic action story, and I quit midway through a chapter.

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  3. Now would probably be a good time for me to finally - after only sixteen months! - read My Little Denarians. I've got the extra time, now that I've given up on the fic I was supposed to be reading for the next week. See if I take anymore recommendations from those hacks at the RCL :p

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  4. Chris, sometimes I bad for you. This is one of those times. This story sounds painful in the extreme and you read one hundred thousand words of it. I'm not sure if you deserve a medal or a psychiatric exam.

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    1. It's okay. I bad for him too.

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    2. We are none of us in a healthy and loving relationship here.

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    3. Don't remind me :/

      Ya know, for a fandom supposedly full of "fags", the selection's absolute crap! I'd have better luck if I were straight

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    4. You know, it would be nice if just once I could leave a comment without typos. ::Stomps off grumbling::

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  5. I'm interested in hearing how this made the classics list. I'd never even heard of it before. Is it simply the number of upvotes or what?

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    1. To answer you and Whooves: the list is culled mostly from recommendations I get, occasionally supplemented by me when something "obvious" (e.g. My Roommate is a Vampire) hasn't been suggested. This story was actually recommended by two different people, and it (and its sequels) are certainly popular enough to merit a look. If you don't like the fics you're seeing, throw me some more suggestions!

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    2. Well, that explains a lot. I'm gonna guess this was recommended on the strength of its sequels. Talking of recommendations, I might have a few. I'll send them in an email. The address in the "about this site" section is still what you use, right? I don't know how old the page is, so I thought I should ask.

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    3. I'm fine with the ones you're picking. I was just wondering. Really, if you come across something good that I've never heard of, that's a win for me!

      You've done The Star in Yellow, haven't you?

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    4. Danny: Yup, still at the same address! I'm all about inertia when it comes to those sorts of things.

      iisaw: I've read it, but I don't think I ever reviewed it. I'll have to check--if not, it'd be a good one!

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  6. "Fluttershy's friends were pushing her back onto the dating scene literally days after she was violently sexually assaulting"

    I'm surprised this didn't beat out Applejack's devotion to Celestia as the most unjustified characterization. Provided that's not just a typo, that is. ;-)

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    1. It's always the quiet ones...

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    2. How'd I not catch that?! Dammit, I'm slipping

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  7. Aha. Haha. Ha. No, seriously, what? What was that? A fic in which Fluttershy is violently sexually assaulted, and it's just there for a boring OC to beat up the rapist? Seriously?

    It's not like I'm in disbelief or anything. I've seen way worse before. In fact it's almost a rite of passage in the corner of the internet I came from to be exposed to as much awfulness as possible before you're considered legit. But I'm with everyone else here: how the hell did this fic get considered a fandom classic given content like that? I mean, I'm not against using rape in fiction, but, y'know, it's kinda something that needs to be treated with a degree of respect. You can't just throw it out there like that. You don't get to be that callous.

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  8. Never even heard of this one. And now, I wish I hadn't.

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  9. I'm going to stick my neck out for a second and say that I actually liked this story, and it does get a lot better as the series progresses. However, just about all of the weaknesses that Chris mentioned are true (even though there has never been any mention of Dawn "being a better flier than Rainbow Dash and more magical than Twilight Sparkle").
    Also, just about 90% of the stories of this list I have never heard of before, yet I'm not automatically saying that they're bad just because I just heard of them.

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