Monday, July 4, 2016

Author Analysis: Twilight Snarkle (Part One)

Happy 4th of July, everyone!  Take heart, for today need no be just grilling, explosions, and beer (not necessarily in that order): today, we have an author analysis post to share!  That's right, Icy Shake has taken on the considerable task of reading Twilight Snarkle's oeuvre, and breaking it all down for us.  I love these kinds of posts; seeing what speaks to an author, and how they change and grow as time passes, is fascinating to me.

There's just one problem... Snarkle's written a fair number of stories, and Icy isn't doing this halfway!  So, for the sake of not dropping 11 pages of text on you in a single day, we're breaking this up into two posts; the first one (i.e. today) will cover his "early fandom" period, while on Wednesday, we'll look at what he got up to once he got a FiMFic account, as well as give the grand summary.  Click down below for a breakdown of Two Ponies, Order From Chaos, and more!

Once again, Chris has been kind enough to lend me his soapbox for the day—thank you, Chris—and I’ll once again be using it to explore the works of an early fandom author. But where I was already well acquainted with Somber’s work before doing his author analysis two years ago, in this case I’m largely seeing my subject for the first time. My first exposure to Twilight Snarkle was Chris’s review of “Two Ponies,” and apart from reading and thoroughly enjoying that story, I haven’t revisited him much until now, though the extremely complimentary things people have had to say about “Order from Chaos” in particular have kept him on my radar and RiL.
“Two Ponies” hit Equestria Daily at the end of June, 2011, towards the beginning of the first inter-season hiatus. Although this unusual romantic character piece is very different from the crossover work that makes up the bulk of the Twilight Snarkle bibliography, it does display some features that recur frequently.
With a couple of minor exceptions, his stories feature the world of Equestria, but none of the familiar characters from the show apart from the classic alicorn princesses, Celestia and Luna, instead focusing on OCs. In this case, the story revolves around Smudge and a few ponies whose lives he touched at the beginning and end of his own: Copper Key, Cayenne, and Spice Drop. Smudge is a slow but kind and earnest earth pony, and was well matched as a foal with first Copper Key, whose infirmity and wistfulness made him a good complement for her, and as an adult with Cayenne, an energetic and inquisitive filly intrigued by the understatedly mysterious loner. The writing style, tending towards simple and direct, has a fairy tale feel that allows the rapid development of the friendships and—after a fashion—loves between Smudge and Copper Key and Cayenne, quickly, while the level of detail given to key events and images enables the build-up for emotional payoffs, as in this case describing one of Smudge’s great pieces of art:
To the left was a delicate, almost frail earth pony. She had a dancer’s legs and a regal bearing, and her hazel eyes glittered with mischief. Her coat was a faint jade green, almost white. Her mane and tail were a deep forest green, worn long, but they were thinning - only a few hairs grew high enough on her neck to fall as a forelock, and her tail was more of a suggestion than a reality. She sat against a weathered tree trunk. She was beautiful. And she was dying.
It also displays another aspect of the writing the story uses to emphasize plot points or themes: repetition. This paragraph mostly consists of a word-for-word restatement of Copper Key’s introduction at the beginning of the first chapter, and this kind of restatement of description or dialogue shows up repeatedly. In “Two Ponies,” the method also reinforces the major theme of repetition in life, end especially that although life may offer very similar situations at different points, you do not need to make the same choices in each case. Cayenne, though her loss of Smudge echoes his of Copper Key, need not direct her gaze always behind her, or hide the beauty Smudge had created from the world.
“Two Ponies” is an excellent debut for Twilight Snarkle, an emotionally powerful and very well structured story with few notable weaknesses, mainly a somewhat superfluous epilogue and a first few paragraphs that would have fit better as a prologue or long description, and Princess Celestia explicitly stating the moral.
The follow-up, “Kindness,” is something of a step down. Set in an AU in which Twilight Sparkle returned to Canterlot after the S1 premiere, it follows the quiet desperation and isolation of Fluttershy, who is almost utterly alone since the death of Angel. It covers some of the same feelings as “Two Ponies,” and brings Princess Luna in (dodging full-form Sad Luna) to deliver a message that Fluttershy need not remain forever alone, retreading Luna’s own path (if less destructively), if she is willing to accept Luna as a friend.
This was somewhat overwrought, and went needlessly dark when the story had Fluttershy contemplating suicide—“She could move into Ponyville... or move to another town... or slide silently into the dark waters here...”—and similar to “Two Ponies” had an ending that wasn’t necessary to the story, making a sudden jump to Celestia’s perspective to recapitulate, if anything even more explicitly, the moral and parallel between Fluttershy and Luna. Along the way, Fluttershy’s voicing is off, even taking the tone as granted—for example, “I don’t feel any appreciation for what I do... nor love, nor respect.” Simply put, this is one of Snarkle’s more skippable stories, especially since it didn’t cover much new ground compared to “Two Ponies.”
Snarkle returns to form in the first installment of the Sonic the Hedgehog crossover series which comprises by far the largest part of his work. I must preface this by saying that I had at best a cursory knowledge of the franchise going in, though I’ve been in that situation before with other pony crossovers (most notably FoE, where I knew even less) and it’s worked out fine. Happily, this was once again the case with “Order from Chaos,” a series of journal entries by Dr. Robotnik following his arrival in Equestria near the town of Pasofino. The only part where I felt greater familiarity with the other half of the source material was when he appeared surprised to find the world populated by talking ponies—after all, his enemies are talking animals—but I gather in hindsight it might be related to Sonic and the rest being “mutants.” So while I cannot say whether this is an accurate portrayal of the character, the story did independently build him up as a hypercompetent tinker and inventor with a sharp sense of observation communicated directly through the facts and concerns noted in the journal, such as the puzzling orbital mechanics of the moon or the mineral content of the water and plan to make a still to deal with it. Elements of desire to leave behind his former life and not to once more go down the path of seeking complete control over his surroundings and the conflict between them come out through projects taken on around town, and the need to suppress an impulse to carry them out to an extreme conclusion that would automate away the roles of his neighbors.
“Order from Chaos” is very much a character piece, with few plot points and those that exist focusing mainly on how they affect Robotnik—or Worker, as he goes after magically learning Equestrian due to a spell performed by Pasofino’s mayor—and his reactions. That said, it’s not as though he isn’t interacting with the ponies he encounters. Since he’s building a new life, he adapts his mechanical orientation to toy making as a livelihood, and gets to be friends with some of the residents of Pasofino. The two key events, though, relate to milestones in him becoming a unicorn: an initial transformation, and getting his cutie mark (the image of which, included in the story, is a delightful visual pun). The shock to Robotnik of getting a cutie mark cut through the fact that for the reader, that the segment it occurred in would feature it was heavily telegraphed—the significance of the setup and the general tone had all the markings of a cutie mark story, which was also the case of Smudge’s in “Two Ponies.” For me at least, this was a plus, as knowing it was coming built up to a moment of catharsis when it was observed; whether a positive feature or a negative for a given reader, this is a recurring feature of Snarkle’s writing in other aspects as well, as for instance in setting up the ship with Robotnik’s love interest.
Once again, there is an ending different in character from the body of the story, in this case, switching to a short scene between the princesses. While it, again, is used to draw a parallel between the main character and Luna’s own history, as well as state the moral of the story—drawing again from Snarkle’s preferred well of second chances and the ability to at least recover from an inauspicious past—this time the structure is different. Rather than being entirely severable from the rest, it serves as a promise for what’s to come in the sequel, and thus I found its inclusion more welcome than in the previous cases.
From the epilogue of “Order from Chaos” to his next project, “Moon & Memory,” Twilight Snarkle jumps from Luna seeking affirmation from Celestia that all ponies, not just she, “deserve a chance at redemption” to the path that brought Luna to needing that chance herself, and some of the first steps towards grasping that chance. In doing so, it serves as a prequel to and alternate perspective on the S1 premiere, and a bridge between it and “Luna Eclipsed.”
“Moon & Memory” presents a more extreme Nightmare Moon than the baseline, existing in reaction not merely to loneliness or a lack of recognition but explicitly feeling trapped in a subservient role, but moreover savagely embracing the effects of the story’s more realistic approach to the advent of eternal night—it brings cold and famine and very nearly a collapse of civilization with aspects calling to mind Azimov’s “Nightfall” before what would ultimately be death for all the mortals of Equestria—as justice for the world’s affronts to her.
It’s here that Snarkle first shows he can write an action scene as well as the more down-to-earth, as at the start of the fifth chapter:
The Moon Princess ducked behind a broken column, her eyes wild, her chest heaving. Such ferocity, such power! She was unprepared, and unpracticed. Where had her sister come from? Where had she been hiding? As if to answer, the top half of the column vanished in a gout of flame. No time to think. Not now.
She gathered her wits and teleported to another vantage point, appearing on a rocky outcrop that was familiar to her. She she (sic) had spent many nights here, when she was younger, perfecting her work. She could see her sister, now: bloodied but unbowed.
The prose matches its pace to that of the scene it conveys, and though the character of the events are very distinct from those in the prior stories, they still serve in large part to develop Luna as someone who has lost much, and is given the chance to regain it. In a sense, it is the complement to Dr. Robotnik’s story in “Order from Chaos”: where that picked up from his decision to leave behind a life that had wrought destruction on his world upon the realization that victory would be empty and defeat would mean death, and covered his building a new one on virgin soil, “Moon & Memory” covers the cycle of conquest, corruption, and defeat, only ending with a search for a path forward.

Of course, such a path need not be smooth or always proceeding in the direction desired, which brings me to the first sequel to “Order from Chaos,” “Justice.” Picking up years after his arrival and initial integration, Robotnik, now fully identifying as Worker, is on a trip to Canterlot to expand his toy business by distributing to the city. He’s very successful, and while there, pops the question to Skyshine, the mare who had been shipteased in “Order.” This and the wedding are the highlights of the story, but serve mainly as a frame for the real plot.
Luna is a fan of Worker’s toys, unaware of who the manufacturer is, and gifts one of his clocks to Celestia. Intrigued by the mechanism, far more elaborate than anything from Equestria and more efficient by an order of magnitude, she summons him to Canterlot to find out about him. In the process, she discovers that he was not always a pony, and investigates his transformation, ultimately determining that Luna cast a forbidden spell to effect the change. The central conflict is the trial to determine if Luna should be banished from Equestria for having cast the spell.
Unfortunately, the conflict and the plot build around it are deeply and fundamentally flawed. The contrivance that Luna forgot the law against the spell is one of the lesser problems, which include illogical sequencing of events—this passage, for example,
And what of the populace, when they hear of this? What of Luna’s reputation, when it emerges that she has committed a magical crime? She’s worked very hard, these last few decades, rebuilding her image to that of a competent and sensitive ruler.
“That much is true,” she mused, aloud. “Since her return, Luna’s made incredible strides towards reconnecting with her people. She’s even shed that ridiculous Canterlot Voice. She’s adopted more modern forms of speech and mannerisms, and has worked hard to understand the concerns and wishes of contemporary ponies.”
And beyond Luna’s reputation, Celestia, what of Luna? Don’t you care that the very thought of exile is enough to crush her? How much she’s missed you, these last thousand years? Because you sent her away once before?
comes as Princess Celestia is considering the sentencing of her sister, rather than at some point in the investigatory phase before even deciding on the nature of the prosecution, when a decision could shape if and how knowledge of the crime was released in the first place (and it should be noted that in the case of Nightmare Moon, it’s pretty clear that the princesses haven’t been entirely forthcoming about what happened). She brings up the possibility of lenience, but dismisses it because “the law demands a price,” but the story ends with no price being paid for reasons far less legitimate than merely offering clemency or a suspended sentence on the basis Luna had requested: rather than recognize the mitigating circumstances actually present, she uses Worker’s past as a murderous and megalomaniacal supervillain bent on world domination, which he testified to in court in Luna’s defense, to support a claim that Luna had acted to protect Equestria against a great villain as did Twilight Sparkle and her friends when using the Elements against Nightmare Moon, something contradicting the indications given of Luna’s actual intent. All this is compounded by the fact that the person on trial had previously been guilty of abduction of royalty, attempted murder, an attempted coup, trying to bring about eternal night, and generally making a go at entirely overturning the political, economic, and social basis of Equestria, and her punishment had been…nothing. If extenuating circumstances allowed for a “price” of zero in that case, why is that impossible (until it isn’t) in this one, which seems to justify far less a punishment than then?
Now, the goal of the story seems to me to have been to get to Worker’s confession in court in front of his new wife and all his friends from Pasofino, the forgiveness and reunion that follow, and more mundanely setting up Worker’s place in Pasofino and Equestria going forward. The speech itself is largely fine (if oddly placed) and his ultimate acceptance to be expected given not only Equestria generally but also Snarkle’s recurrent use of second chances as the backbone of his stories. The goal was accomplished, but the logic and motivations of the events surrounding and enabling them don’t withstand even cursory scrutiny.


Make sure to check back Wednesday for the thrilling conclusion!


  1. Snarkle hasn't been very active in recent years, so it's great to see someone focus on him! :D

  2. The only thing I've read by Snarkle is "Order from Chaos." I won't say under what circumstances I read it. I normally wouldn't choose to read a story that long or having anything to do with Sonic.

    It was a great story, one of the few that does a really authentic take on how a person would react to being changed into a pony. Few authors can manage that. For my money, I'd call it an inaccessible crossover, since it doesn't carry near as much gravity unless the reader knows who Worker is and why it's significant that his character development goes the way it does. It's also one that doesn't necessarily stand alone well, since there's a tease at the end that Luna was behind everything, except it never goes anywhere. But with those as my only reservations, I very much enjoyed it.

    1. I tend to disagree on the inaccessible crossover assessment where "Order from Chaos" is concerned. Or perhaps I don't, but rather think that it doesn't matter very much: the missing gravity (which even with some basic familiarity and the context added in "Justice" I'd judge to be pretty weak in comparison to someone who'd actively experienced the Sonic franchise) is additive to the well-done human in Equestria story.

      I'm more ambivalent on the Luna tease. In one sense, I'm comparatively fine with the obvious sequel-bait, because 1) I liked the story well enough to be interested in a sequel and 2) the author followed through. That said, it breaks the format rather than being integrated into the body in some way (recounting memories of strange dreams, perhaps?) and as-is it does fall into a pattern in Snarkle's work of epilogues that were not actually necessary.