Ah, magic. Pretty important part of the show, don’t you think? You could even venture to say that it’s one of the most important parts of the show, next to friendship. Which is also magic. You get the point. And another point I want to make for longtime readers: yes, I have read Headless Horse’s piece on magic. It’s a very good read and you should definitely check it out here if you haven’t. This article’s content may overlap with his, but I will try my best to minimize said overlap.
One of the greatest advantages to making animation is the possibility of adding fantastical elements to your show. You could have imaginary creatures come to life, design lands too beautiful to comprehend, and destroy any laws of physics that limit our boring, grey reality. You can stretch the fabric of time until its threads show, or make space so small that neighboring planets are a hop, skip, and a jump away. It’s in this fantasy world that magic is often employed, able to explain some of the bizarre phenomena that take place. It’s an extremely powerful and convenient tool for writers, as it often is for their characters. But it’s a double-edged sword.
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Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Writing magic into your world is tough, because there seems to be almost too much you can explain away with magic. What makes the universe so loopy? Magic. How can they lift things ten times their weight? Magic. How did they thwart the villain, who may be the cartoon equivalent of Satan? A sudden and completely inexplicable surge of magic. Using magic as a Deus ex Machina is a cardinal sin in storytelling, at least for the most vehement of fans. So you have to be careful. Even some the most beloved characters who use magic, such as Jean Grey from X-Men and Raven from Teen Titans, have fallen prey to the convenience of their powers. Their potential looked limitless, and at times it was questionable whether there were conflicts their magic wouldn’t solve, even if they had to go through hell to use it.
So, you’re gonna assume I’m gonna put Twilight Sparkle through the same ordeal, right? Well, no. Before people come at me with pitchforks for starting the “Twilight is overpowered!” argument again, I’d like to say this article isn’t really about Twilight. Instead this is about the place magic has in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
While many other shows have a magic user be special and/or extremely powerful item in the show, FiM’s use of magic is a bit more muted. Magic is everywhere, and not just in a cliché Fairy-Godmother-the-treasure-was-inside-you-all-along way. Magic is literally all over the FiM universe, from Celestia raising the sun and the moon to Pumpkin Cake’s random magical outbursts. Its users are quite common. Instead of the rare wizard, a magic user is a unicorn, and assuming equal demographics, one in three ponies are unicorns. Compared to other franchises with races of magic users, one in three is absurdly common. Even in the Harry Potter series, where wizards and witches gather to learn magic in densely populated schools, their proportion to the Muggle population looks pretty small.
Now, I want you to think about what would happen if you suddenly got magical powers. Why, you’d conjure up tons of money, a few sexually attractive partners, and ride off into the sunset on your winged T-Rex that shot lasers from its eyes, right? Well, maybe that’s not what you’d do with magic, but you’d probably do something equally extravagant and impossible. Because to you, magic’s power is limitless, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of the possibilities it gives. You can get exactly what you want, when you want it. Heck, you could even make yourself lord dictator supreme of the universe, because it’s magic. Magic. But ponies don’t do think this way. Why?
In FiM, due to magic’s prevalence, it’s not really that special. Some ponies have magic. Big whoop. That means they can float some things in the air, cast some spells, and teleport if they really have to. Magic can look pretty mundane in the Friendship is Magic universe. Oh sure, it has the potential to be world-changing. Twilight can do Applejack’s job in a few minutes by levitating bushels of apples off the trees. Trixie can wow an audience with bright lights and big explosions, outperforming anyone who goes against her. But that’s not commonplace. Instead most unicorns use their magic for convenience instead of power. Rarity’s often using her magic solely for her job: picking up thread, using scissors, and looking for gems. There are tons more shots of Twilight levitating a feather pen than blasting the bejesus out of an enemy. Even Princess Celestia, the sun and moon raising powerhouse, is seen more often flying to meet her subjects instead of teleporting over there. Only bring out the big guns if you really have to.
What is Magic? It’s Friendship!
This is probably a more realistic way of how a group of species with varying traits would coexist peacefully. Unicorns clearly have the upper hand when it comes to things they can do, but that’s never said, because that would be pretty messed up. I mean, FiM would be a lot more dystopian if unicorns used their magic to overpower the other races, making the Earth Ponies and Pegasi their slaves. That wouldn’t really show the magic of friendship. Instead, each race has equal say and equal power, and that involves toning down the power of magic a bit. Magic is the easy way out in so many situations, for writers and their characters. The writers know that, very rarely invoking the Deus ex Machina tendencies of magic in the show. Ponies acknowledge that too, as in Winter Wrap-Up. Yeah, you could clear out the snow lickety split with a bunch of unicorns lifting it away, but the ponies take pride in an honest day’s work. This, of course, led to the scene is which Applejack scolded Twilight for breaking the rules. It’s just not satisfying if things are so easy. Additionally, excessive magic would mean Winter Wrap-Up wouldn’t even have been made. The horror!
So, what we have is a show that pours on the magic. Tons of magic. Everywhere there’s magic. It helps explain how ponies can use devices even though they have no fingers. When bucking is too aggressive, magic is used for precisely moving objects into place. And sometimes, when it’s really necessary, it can kick a villain’s butt. But a pegasus can beat the villain too. So could a strong earth pony. And heck, Rarity would rather resort to fisticuffs instead of using complicated spells. For FiM, magic is an option, but it’s not the solution all the time. These ponies often have to deal with things that magic can’t solve. And downplaying magic as a panacea is a great move by the creators. It keeps fans from heavily favoring one overpowered protagonist, instead diluting the role of the hero amongst six characters, and making life seem much more natural in a pretty unnatural world.
As the oft-quoted saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” But with FiM, great power comes with great utility. ■