» It’s a Kind of Magic

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.

Twilight Sparkle's first brush with magic didn't go so well. Twilight Sparkle’s first brush with magic didn’t go so well.

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. 

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  1. Great Article. The shows use of magic is always one that strikes me as unique for alot of the reasons you mention. However, the power of the magic within the world often varies depending on the unicorn and their special talents. Very seldom do we ever encounter a unicorn that is very powerful in overall magic, since twilight points out in Boast Busters that a unicorns magical ability is always related directly to their special talents, and that there are only a few whose special talent is magic itself. This is a very clever way of both avoiding the Dues-ex-Machina and leveling the field for the three races, as magic associated with talents only allows a monopoly on what that talent is. This can be likened alot to our own existance where people often have advantages over others (some in terms of athletics, brain power, etc.) but in very specified ways. The uniqueness of everyperson solidifies around those special advantages leveling the field for everyone. This is what the show captures very well in their portrayl of magic in the MLP universe, the fact that magic is just another talent and tool, and not a be all end all. Great article again.

  2. Also, as stated by Spike in the episode “Boast Busters” Unicorns are supposed to have a little magic that matches their special talent. Since Twilight’s talent IS magic, that kind of makes her overpowered in a way. Though I do agree that the writers use magic limitedly, it is strongly hinted at that Twilight is much more powerful than she knows she is, and so, is capeable of something, or perhaps many things that other unicrns can only dream of. Therefore, I surmise, that Twilight’s little telaportation ability may not be all that common. All I’m saying is that you are making a lot ofassumation based off implied cannon, rather than actual connonacle evidence.

  3. This is one of the most well -written editorials I have ever read. This ideology from you and Headless Horse just ignited a spark of literature in me. Reading this is going to make big changes now in the fandom. Just look my name a month from now in a chapter of a new twist to a brony’s biggest fantasy.

  4. Very interesting! And here is another observation, which I will elaborate on: magic in the show can be very well likened to knowledge in real life. And wisdom too, since “friendship is magic” within the context of the show – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. But I love how this opinion piece got me to start thinking on this!

    Twilight is an “egghead”, a bookworm, and Princess Celestia’s bestest most faithful student. Her favorite past-time, aside from spending time with and helping her friends (and through this attaining wisdom through experiences, character from adversity), is staying at home/the library and learning about magic and other subjects (knowledge) from books. Now in todays world, not very many people would be considered to have these two activities as top priorities of theirs. Sure, some of them might claim that they do, but not in the same way that Twilight does. After all, Twilight and the rest of the pony gang are all about being moral and having values, i.e. being true to their respective elements of harmony.

    Real world examples of hanging out with friends or taking much time out of your day to study usually come with a catch to them, that is to say, they are often carried out in morally questionable, sometimes devoid of ways. For instance, instead of spending time with a friend or group of friends just for the sake of having a good time and maybe helping each other out with something, folks might resort to something like gang activity, or alcohol and drug use. Same goes for studying; instead of doing so in a responsible and honest way like Twilight (usually) does, I know tons of people who are in it only so that they can get into a good college or university, and sometimes might even resort to cheating and lying to get their way there, where what they should be doing is studying with an honest heart and an inquisitive mind.

    To somewhat finish on this sloppy post (sorry if you had to read through it, don’t have much time to proofread since I’ve got to get to classes), the practical reason why Twilight is so magically gifted is because she carries things out in the right manner. If Twilight were a real pony, I mean person, her hard work and intellectual honesty would translate into a wealth of knowledge, and her willingness to be a leader and help out her friends whenever they’re in need, would translate into a treasure-trove of wisdom (yes, yes, within the show as well I realize.) So if people were more willing/capable of following Twi’s example, and being morally upright, virtuous, hardworking individuals, then THEY too would be as gifted and talented as she is, magically or otherwise.

    Imaging what Equestria would be like if every unicorn were as dedicated as she is? (Innate magical giftedness aside that is.) Lulz.