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Opinion: Applejack is the best pony

Your rating: None Average: 3.8 (20 votes)

ApplejackI realized last week, when Hasbro thought it was a good idea to release a movie based on Battleship, that I will probably be reviewing a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic movie within the next couple of years. At least that is a Hasbro property people actually want a movie of.

In preparation, I decided to sit down with the first season of said Hasbro property. Finally, I feel I understand where these “bronies” are coming from.

It involves cats, but first ...

Confession

This needs to be put right up front.

I try to put up a façade of elite, cynical snobbery, but in point of fact, I am very much a hayseed. A redneck. A hick.
On one hand, it is something I am ashamed of. On the other hand, I am also thoroughly proud of it.

I come from the area of the USA most heavily devastated by what is now known as the Dust Bowl, which caused a mass migration of farmers who are now known as “Okies.” To this day, the population density of “No Man’s Land” is so sparse, it is still considered unsettled territory.

My grandparents were not Okies. They stayed.

I heard that the dust got into everything during the worst of it. I assume that includes my genes.

All this is just to answer a question I know you are already asking. You want to know which is my favorite pony, and why.
I like Applejack. She is a hick. She reminds me of my Grammy. That is all.

Analysis

I am not a bronie, in case you still think that is what I was confessing. No, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a decent show, with appealing animation, great voice work, decent characterization, a guaranteed belly laugh every other episode, and tight story structure. I can admire and respect the show for those qualities; but, at the end of the day, I cannot get worked up enough about it to apply some kind of label to myself. In point of fact, it is not that groundbreaking; its true strength as a show lies in how old fashioned it is.

I have heard a lot about how well-written the characters are, and will admit that the six main characters are each readily-identifiable and distinct from one another. However, they are hardly earthshaking in their originality. Applejack may be my favorite, but you can guess her character traits just by looking at her design. Pinkie Pie is a wacky cartoon character, which is pretty common in cartoons, in case you have not yet noticed. Heck, she’s not even the only wacky cartoon Pinkie.

So, how about the story? Here’s a test. The younger, dark-haired member of a pair of siblings destined to rule a magical realm rebels against the older, fair-haired sibling and is banished to the inky blackness of space. Eventually, this younger sibling returns, threatening the world. Six heroes must learn to work together and combine their special talents to meet this threat.

Now, was I describing the plot of the first two episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or the plot of the recent Avengers movie?
In case you have not yet seen the movie and/or episodes in question, the answer is both.

So does My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic being about a group of superheroes with the surprisingly effective secret identities of a girl’s toy line from the 80s explain bronies? I mean, guys really like superheroes, and that outweighs objections to ponies, right? Well, not exactly. After all, it’s not like superhero teams that are not also talking ponies are hard to find. My point is, the plot of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is no more mind-blowing than its characterization.

Still, originality is overrated, and despite fairly traditional character types, fans seem to identify very strongly with these characters, as I have with Applejack. The real magic of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lies in its tight adherence to tried and true storytelling techniques.

Formula

Movie and television storytelling is very different from prose storytelling. One major difference is that prose is cheap, film is not. Films and television shows must be popular to be profitable; a good book can appeal to a smaller fanbase and still make the author money. If an author wants to keep writing even if the profit margin is small or even nonexistent, he can continue to do so. If a filmmaker wants to keep making films, he had better turn a profit, or at least have a very generous patron.

Movie and television are also visual mediums; we are allowed into the heads of characters in books. Not so much in movies. Whether this leads to great characterization is beside the point; authors are told to “show, don't tell,” but TV and movie writers do not always have that option. At least, not without horrible dialogue.

Screenwriters have developed many tricks to deal with such issues, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic uses one like a virtuoso: the ponies of Ponyville are absolute masters at saving cats.

The theory behind this trick actually comes from movies rather than television, but the principles are the same; an audience must like a character to sit through an entire movie about them, but they also must believe the character is truly good, or at least worth rooting for. To show this, movies often begin with important characters doing something nice for no personal gain, such as saving a cat.

This little trick has become less common as time has gone by, mostly due to the rise of the anti-hero. Even in cases when the protagonist is not really an anti-hero, it has become out of style to show said protagonist as a moral paragon who goes about his or her day saving cats, metaphorical or otherwise, because that would be unrealistic. This has been the dominant thinking for at least the last two decades.

However, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is about talking ponies; reality need not apply. The first episode does not feature a lot of cat-saving; we meet various key ponies, and learn who they are. The next, in which the main ponies assemble like Avengers, is where the cats come in.

What's interesting is who saves cats in this episode, and how. Twilight Sparkle is our point-of-view character; to a certain extent, the other five ponies must prove themselves to her in order to prove themselves to us. She does not have her own cat-saving moment until the third episode, when she proves she has learned the lesson of friendship by returning both tickets to the Gala rather than leaving four of her friends behind.

Fluttershy’s wallflower nature arouses protective instincts in the audience; regardless of gender, you are pretty much on her side from the start. Her mission is not to prove she is a decent person – though she does that, too – but to prove she can be of use at all by taming the manticore.

Rarity and Rainbow Dash are the ones required to make personal sacrifices to prove their worth, as they are introduced with the most obvious moral flaws: Rarity is vain, while Rainbow Dash is overly proud. So, Rarity must sacrifice her tail to the dragon in a display of generosity, while Rainbow Dash refuses the temptation to abandon her friends when she comes in contact with a group of pegasi who praise her flight skills.

Pinkie Pie, like Fluttershy, does not require a save-the-cat moment at first; she is amusing enough that we forgive her her trespasses. Nevertheless, in another early episode, she refuses to play a trick on Fluttershy. She is also obliged to explain why to Rainbow Dash; due to Pinkie Pie’s similarity to other (amoral) cartoon characters, it is imperative that she prove not only can she do the right thing, but that she does it because it’s the right thing, and not just another random occurrence that happened to be the right thing.

This brings us back to Applejack, who is unique in that she is the only character not required to save a cat. She proves herself to Twilight Sparkle by telling her she is going to drop her off a mountain before she drops her off a mountain. In fact, she is the only pony who is obliged to prove that she has a flaw. Her early episode is all about finding this flaw; she stubbornly refuses to seek help, and suffers for it. And still manages to get a trophy for being awesome.

Conclusion

Coming right down to it, Applejack is the perfect metaphor for the show; it's old fashioned, but it gets the job done precisely because of that.

I think this is why the show spawned such a rabid fandom, seemingly overnight and out of nowhere. Over the past couple of decades, American popular culture has become overtly cynical about nearly everything. Here we have a cartoon with actual morals; not cynical joke morals, but real, concrete morals at the end of each show, exemplified by characters whom the writers have gone out of their way to prove are decent people.

The show feels so fresh because, sadly, we have grown so used to discrediting and discarding what we used to stand for that we have forgotten what it feels like to just root for a group of good guys doing good things.

It reminds us all of our Grammys.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Screenwriters have developed many tricks to deal with such issues, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic uses one like a virtuoso: the ponies of Ponyville are absolute masters at saving cats.

Did you just imply that Laruen Faust is a one-trick pony? ;-)

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

Well, given her last name, there are worse things I could imply.

But, seriously, the Pinkie Pie thing was what really struck me; I was watching, and then all of the sudden, bam, I just went "Oh my God, Pinkie Pie just saved a cat!"

It really is an old-fashioned trick; Blake Snyder's book pretty much begins saying "I love this part in movies myself, but lots of people told me not to even put it in the book, much less title the book after it, because they feel it's outdated and hackneyed." It is really, really, really out of style right now, though I suspect it will be going back in style soon.

I guess I should be clear before I get attacked by angry bronies is that it is a really darn good trick and I like it in movies and have tried to use it myself when attempting screenwriting myself.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

I think that it was a perfect review, and I'm a bit of a Twilight Sparkle myself. Actually, a lot.

Anyway, I certainly agree that the cat saving is big draw. I once read a piece by a psychologist talking about how the show is an escape from the troubles of real life, and it does this by making you feel good, and giving a nice little lesson that can be applied to real life. To quote a friend, "People like an escapism that actually allows them to escape, they don't want to see the same failure that they deal with in their own lives." Or something very similar to that anyway.

And to GR, even if she is a one-trick pony, at least it's an awesome trick! ;D

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

The comment about cynical pop culture got me nodding my head, but my problem is that I've been totally out of the loop of pop culture. So while I get the impression that MLP:FiM is a bright, happy change from the norm - What has the norm been lately? Does this mean there have been few cartoons with the same light, fluffy feel in the past five years? If so, it would certainly explain the brony phenomenon exploding out of 4chan - who could have guessed so many of their users would drop the snark and come out beaming at a much-needed change in toon content?

Another reason why I think the show is appealing - Fan art. The simplified style is a lot easier to adapt and imitate than trying to copy whatever the latest 3D CGI film is doing. Sometimes, simpler is better. :)

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

It has been going on a long time, the whole cynicism thing. The Simpsons and Seinfeld were probably what brought it to the mainstream, though Seinfeld was ultimately cynical about cynicism (the contreversial last episode has the four main characters going to jail for, essentially, being cynical).

The eighties also began what is known as the Dark Age in superhero comics. During the nineties, DC comics came in designer shades of black and red, while everyone in the Marvel universe carried a gun. Even now, Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers' spend more time discussing the ethics of being superheroes than actually being superheroes.

Last decade's Best Picture winner No Country For Old Men is another good example. This was the year host John Stewart asked the Academy if they needed a hug, as super not-light-and-happy There Will Be Blood was the obvious second place finisher.

The tide is turning. Nowadays, in comics, you have the cult character Squirrel Girl, who takes being a superhero seriously while having fun in a completely non-cynical way (at least until she got written by Bendis, who missed the point completely). The King's Speech beat the critically preferred The Social Network mostly because it was a good movie about a Good Man with a Good Friend doing a Good Thing, while its rival was a good movie about a Bad Man with a Bad Friend doing a Bad Thing.

The bronies are part of a trend. The phenomenon starting on 4chan, the Internet's heart of cynical darkness, is emblematic. Somebody had the guts to recommend the show completely seriously, just because he liked it. That's as uncynical as you can get.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Crossaffliction, you are one of my favorite contributors to this site.

And no, it's not my rampant alcoholism or my love of the pony cartoon that leads me to write those words.

Your rating: None Average: 1 (2 votes)

At first I was thinking. "'Applejack is the best pony' What a stupid thing to write about." Then I read it and was thinking, "Okay, that wasn't really about Applejack. In fact it was a pretty darn good read." It really was a good read and totally changed what I thought I would have to say about this.

Aside from your poor choice in favourite character I only had one issue. The second season of MLP:FIM finished fairly recently yet you made no mention of it. Why write about the first season, which is essentially old news?

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

Presumably he hasn't watched it yet. Flayrah expects its reviewers to have seen the work they are reviewing.

The goal of this piece was to explain the swift and unexpected rise of MLP:FiM fandom outside its target market. The initial episodes defined the show and brought this fandom into being, so they were sufficient for this analysis.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Yeah, that.

Also, I really like that kind of title.

Your rating: None Average: 2 (2 votes)

"Aside from your poor choice of favourite character"?

Dude, it is a kid's show. You can pick whichever character you like from it. There is no right or wrong answer in who you pick.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

But you're wrong Sonic was made for Sally! All those Sonic/Amy worshipers should take a long walk off a short pier into a lake of firrrre!

...Oh wait... we were talking about MLP...

Never mind keep going.

Your rating: None Average: 1 (2 votes)

I don't see how it being a kids show is relevant. I didn't say there was a right or wrong answer either, I just stated that my choice is different.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 2.7 (3 votes)

"Aside from your poor choice"... Yeah, that is not 'just stating a different choice'.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)

Rakuen's original post was saying an opinion piece that was literally about my favorite character and nothing else would be a stupid piece, inappropriate for Equestria Daily, nevermind Flayrah. He's saying, "Oh, I see what you did there!"

"Aside from your poor choice" is entirely in keeping with the tone of the "trophy for being awesome" tone of the article.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Having never watched more than one episode of this show and not getting into it, I have nothing to say regarding the relative merits of the individual ponies or of the franchise as a whole, but I have recently taken to wonder:

In the French version of My Little Pony, is her name Calvados?

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

From the sounds of it, she's retained her original name. (Video link.)

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

She's apparently the only pony from the original series they are still legally allowed to use, for some copyright reason that baffles me. So, any alcoholic jokes slipped into a kid's show are from the 80s.

Well, except for that one episode where a shrunken Applejack (I'd say it makes sense in context, but it doesn't really make sense in context. It's a cartoon.) is referred to as "Apple Teeny."

And that episode from the second season I haven't seen about cider that seems pretty much to exist for no other purpose than to provide out of context pictures of ponies carrying mugs of something that looks suspiciously like beer, but is totally just cider, and by cider I of course mean American, non-alcoholic cider. Probably.

... yeah, the "Applejack is a type of alcohol" thing is totally acknowledged in an "adult bonus" kind of way.

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You can see the European, alcoholic cider, probably, at the beginning of this Soviet-era Russian animated cartoon, Nu Pogodi #14:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuHuIoUrMGo

(This is my personal favorite of the series for the robotic hare.)

Fred Patten

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See because Calvados is the French equivalent of Applejack

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A significant chunk of that episode is also a light-hearted reference about apple products and how fans will wait in ridiculously long lines to aquire them.

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What I enjoy most about:

The current Pony show is how it ever so gently twists the standard sorts of kid show plots. In the two-part pilot, for instance, when the dark-haired younger sibling is defeated, rather than being sent back into exile or what have you, she is offered--and accepts--a chance at redemption, something I can't recall seeing in this sort of story before. In "Suited for Success," when all her friends pitch in to help Rarity with her dress designs, rather than making things better as in the standard cartoon plot, they just make things worse. The same sort of thing happens in "Sonic Rainboom," and in "Party of One," her friends' attempt to throw Pinkie a surprise party leads her to the razor's edge of a complete mental breakdown.

Maybe it's just that I haven't seen a lot of cartoons lately, but my favorite Pony episodes take the standard formulae and give them a refreshing little spin.

Mike

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I was having a conversation with my friend Deuce about what message could be drawn from the "Hearth's Warming Eve" episode. I can't remember what message he got from it, but on a more subversive level, what I got out of it was "Neutralize your battling leaders and your more level-headed underlings will be able to actually get things done."

Your rating: None

It's been a while, and my more recent ranting has mostly focused on the later episodes in S2 (which I enjoyed a lot less than most of the first half of S2, for the most part). If memory serves, I'd had a "fridge horror" moment when thinking about the "fires of friendship" song lyrics. To someone as cynical as me, the message could be taken as "if we disagree, make light of it and sing hymns and ignore the underlying cause of the disagreement".

This was right after the brony panel at FC '12, which while laudable and nifty, was also scarily like a prayer group as far as social dynamics go.

Your interpretation of HWE is more entertaining, though };>.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Hey, really insightful comment I found on Cartoon Brew from a poster named "Jason" (for context, the discussion was of an ill advised press release to Cartoon Brew pimping a new Care Bears reboot as the next MLP:FiM, despite showing all the signs of being everything MLP:FiM avoided.)

Really insightful stuff bolded.

That little girl, creepy or not, represents a lot of what’s wrong with this.

She’s clearly just an avatar for the intended audience (young girls) and looks irritatingly peppy enough to annoy any adults who happen to give this show a chance. She goes to Carealot and yells about how “beautiful” it all is and makes instant friends with everyone.

My Little Pony, on the other hand, gave us Twilight Sparkle, who initially seemed as happy to go to Ponyville as the rest of us were (which is to say, not very). There are good character dynamics in My Little Pony, and I think that just about every member of the main cast hates each other at some point – because they have distinct enough personalities that they don’t always get along. When they settle their differences, that makes a good story, and THAT’S why people watch. Not just for the irony of liking a girl’s cartoon.

Looks like Care Bears will just give us the designated “Grumpy Bear” and the others will be varying shades of perpetual happiness. It takes more to have a colorful cast than just, you know, colors.

Not to mention CG just looks much less appealing visually. Sure, MLP is technically done on Flash and not really hand-drawn, but we get less of the uncanny vacant stares like that one particular screencap.

Seriously, I cannot stress enough how important those first six or so episodes were. They sold those characters, and the thing "Jason" points out is yet another reason they worked.

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It's a dynamic:

They've maintained throughout the series, too, with most of the episodes focusing on conflicts between the main characters rather than between the characters and some outside force. And even though I'm one of those who was slightly disappointed by the second season--both show runner Lauren Faust and story editor Rob Renzetti left the series after the initial script approvals, and the lack of a head writer really shows in the way a lot of the scripts kind of fudge over important plot points that a few lines of dialogue could've easily addressed--the writers always get the character interactions right.

It's just a show that encourages overthinking. I mean, I've already written one essay on it, and if I didn't have so many other projects going on, I would sit down and firm up this piece I have floating around in my head to compare and contrast the radically different outcomes of the second season episodes "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" and "Sweet and Elite" even though Rainbow Dash in the first and Rarity in the second are essentially behaving in exactly the same way. Fun, fun stuff!

Mike Again

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So in other words, "Jason" is saying The Smurfs started the decay of kids-oriented media. :P

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

You are wrong, sir; Rainbow Dash is best pony.
http://i2.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/186/501/71788%20-%20deal_with_i...

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If I had to guess beforehand, that makes sense (though I could've put forward hypothesis that you were a Pinkie Pie or Twilight Sparkle, as well).

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I absolutely despise Pinkie Pie.

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You know, I just realized how much Pinkie Pie sounds like Baby Firefly from House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil's Rejects.

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Not her voice; her absolute inability to value her existence based on anything other than the number of ponies paying attention to her at any given moment. Her self-esteem is terribly low.

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It's true. She and Rarity obsess about things no one else could give a flying feather about.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I see what you did there.

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I don't know, Pinkie being needy is a weird complaint; that's something all the ponies share. Applejack crave approval despite, you know, having it, Rainbow Dash is obsessed with being cool, Twilight Sparkle can't move without Celestia's okay, Fluttershy runs around screaming "Love me!" Sometimes and, yes, Pinkie and Rarity are attention whores.

But that's kind of the point, isn't it, that need each other?

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Everything can be bad, if WAY OVERDONE.

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Subltety is not Pinkie's strong point, no.

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Pinkie Pie is also arguably Chaotic Neutral, which is why she gets on so well with Discord's antics – he's the same, just more powerful.

Pinkie Pie would make it rain chocolate milk all day if she could, despite the consequences.

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No, I would still qualify Pinkie as Chaotic Good; she does show concern for Fluttershy's feelings, after all. And Discord does shade into Chaotic Evil; of the episodes of the second season I've seen, he does enjoy destroying friendships, which is like the worst thing ever in the Poniverse.

Knowing you, GR, you hesitate to use the E word, but you did bring up D&D metaphysics, where Evil is basically opposition to the adventuring party that isn't explicitly Neutral like an animal.

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

Silly crossie, Rainbow Dash is best pony.

Apple Jack is her girlfriend.

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)

My whale is a car.

Your argument is invalid.

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Sorry, I don't ship after my Harry/Luna guess went south.

I mean, her last name was Lovegood. It was like the most obvious foreshadowing ever.

That being said, Applejack/Pinkie Pie would be Apple Pie, so that's almost worth it by itself.

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CI was always more of a Harry/Hermione supporter myself.

But that was years ago and I only shiptwo things anymore.

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From a story structure standpoint, Harry/Hermione makes sense; I actually like that about the Harry Potter novels is that Hermione not only wasn't just the protagonist's love interest, but wasn't the protagonist's love interest, period. I kind of like stories where the male lead and the female lead end up just friends instead of lovers. The sad thing is that the only other semi-recent example in any medium I can think of off the top of my head is Final Destination 3. And no, not because everybody dies; the movie makes it clear if they had survived the two leads would be just friends.

However, Hermione/Ron also made sense from a story structure standpoint, because Harry and Hermione's relationship starts neutral, while Ron actively dislikes Hermione at first. There's more dramatic tension in that relationship.

Luna/Harry made sense to me (and I guess this was more of trying to guess the outcome than real actual shipping and getting it wrong) because it seemed like the only reason for the character of Luna to exist. She just shows up in the fifth book out of nowhere, we've never met her before; Harry is dating for the first time, but his first choice is awry; she shares a very personal connection with Harry no one else does (she can see thestrals); suddenly she's hanging with the group in the climax (sure, Neville and Ginny get to tagalong, but we've known them from book one)like she's always been there (she's kind of like a really well disguised Mary Sue actually); there was that last scene where Harry helps her find her shoes that seemed to be foreshadowing that we will be seeing a lot more of her in the next book (if you know what I mean); and finally there is her name, which I though was Rowling being really ridiculously obvious.

And then she just kind of fades away. I really liked that character (and she was even better in the movies!), but I have to wonder what point she served. My guess is now she was supposed to die in book six after becoming Harry's main squeeze, but then Rowling realized her fans would kill her if she killed off both Luna and Dumbledore, so she was just brushed to the side. Hell, she later revealed Neville and Luna didn't get together when this was the obvious second choice, as if she forgot the character had a future after the books (thank God the movie said "screw that!" and had Neville and Luna as a pair, darnit, which is totally adorable and a better fate than "the girl Harry dated for a book then got killed").

And, oh my god, I have gotten to geek out so much thanks to this piece! It's the BEST PIECE EVER!

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There is never enough geeking out until I am able to work Carth into the conversation.

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About the author

crossaffliction (Brendan Kachel)read storiescontact (login required)

a reporter and Red Fox from Hooker, Oklahoma, interested in movies, horror, stand up comedy

Formerly Wichita's only furry comic.