• Twilight Sparkle: The First Reformed Villain

    When Friendship is Magic premiered to the world in October 2010 a very complex character was introduced. A misunderstood and misguided pony closed off from the world because of her ambition. Somepony who, with the help of the ruler of the land, would see the error of her ways and embrace a new way of life. Garnering love and acceptance from her fellow ponies and a growing curious fanbase. I am of course talking about the beloved Princess………… Twilight Sparkle. What? It’s Twilight Day. Who did you think I was talking about?

    But that misdirection is significant to this discussion I want to present. Reformation of characters, mostly of the villains, has been a big point of contention when analyzing the series. People thinking that the mane cast are too forgiving or that villains change their minds way too quickly and don’t suffer consequences. But really, the ideology of understanding and helping people change has been front and center since the very first episode. Not just with the pony formerly known as Nightmare Moon, but with Twilight. Twilight Sparkle, was the very first reformation arc, of Friendship is Magic.

    I mean think about it. Internally Twilight wound up in a dramatically different place then where she started. Because of a path that is fairly similar to characters like Luna or Sunset or Starlight, who changed their views as well. Let me elaborate.

    Ambitious Reclusive Book Horse

    One of the best episodes that highlights this point is of course the first episode, where this transformation started. As Spike points out later in the series, it’s ironic that Twilight became the Princess of Friendship when she used to be such a bad friend. When we first meet our beloved book horse, she’s blowing off the only friends she does have to focus on her studies. And this attitude persists for at least half of Twilight’s first adventure in Ponyville. Dismissing cooperation and companionship because it gets in the way of her main goal. Being a good student. 

    Let’s be honest. Twilight was kind of arrogant and full of herself when we first met her. Not only not wanting friendship, but to me, believing that she was better than it. That she was meant for more, and studying and serving the Princess were more important than the frivolous activities ponies get into with their friends. She didn’t see the point of it.

    So of course the best way for Twilight to discover the magic of friendship, is to find the value in friendship. During that first trek through the Everfree forest to stop Nightmare Moon, she discovers how friendship can enrich your life and be a meaningful support system. Which turns out to be the very mindset she needed to stop the threat she’s been so focused on. Get it? It’s Ironic!

    Twilight’s journey during these first two episodes also mirrors many of the other reformed characters that would follow, in that she changes her entire worldview rather quickly. Like all the others, one episode length experience and suddenly she leaves everything she’s ever known to move to a small town and dedicates her life to documenting the significance of friendship. Well, that was quick. But while Twilight’s motivations and worldview may have turned on a dime, she hardly becomes an expert overnight.

    The Path To Change

    One of the arguments I pose whenever I try to defend the reformation arcs on this show is that while these characters tend to see the error of their ways and want to change kind of quickly, 8 times out of 10 the journey to changing, and building their lives into something new is long and difficult. With hurdles they have to overcome to maintain this new way of life they chase after for themselves now. And Twilight, is no exception.

    Wanting to be a friend is one thing, but learning how to be a good friend when you have little to no experience in it is a whole other thing! Heck the very first story after Twilight moves to Ponyville has her being pressured to choose between her new friends to attend The Grand Galloping Gala. That’d be a tough enough challenge with a group you knew for years, but a few days? Yeesh.

    Twilight’s decision to stay in Ponyville with her newfound friends and change the focus of her studies might have been easy, but practicing that friendship and tackling the challenges that came with it certainly weren’t. Especially considering Twilight is technically the main character and giving your main character conflict is kind of important. She spends the next couple of seasons making mistakes, seeing others make mistakes, trying to be the rational one in the group to keep her friends together, or learning something new about friendship herself. The importance of friendship being solidified in my opinion, by the Season 2 premiere.

    It’s fairly common knowledge that Return of Harmony was meant to be the Season 1 finale. Which makes sense to me since I feel like it’s where Twilight’s journey of realizing how essential friendship is comes full circle. When she loses it for a while and is ready to give up on it. But when Twilight realizes that friendship is not only something worth having, but fighting for, is when that lesson really cements itself. From that point on, Twilight never looks back. Only discovering and spreading friendship and it’s merits, until she eventually becomes the Princess of Friendship.

    Like many characters that would follow, you could say that Twilight changed her direction in life based on a single experience, but that it took time to properly adjust to. In the end though, she is better for it. Accomplishing much more then she likely would have before, and spreading that ideology to better the lives of many others.

    Moondancer and Starlight:
    The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

    I could go on for, a while about the parallels between Twilight’s journey and the many reformed villains that would follow, but to keep this focused we’re gonna hone in on two major examples, that reflect what could have happened to Twilight more than any of the others, and the reformations she had the biggest hand in. Or, hoof I guess. Moondancer, and Starlight Glimmer.

    Moondancer’s parallels are probably obvious to most of you, but I still think it’s worth discussing. Due to some bad past experience, Moondncer rejected friendship in favor of focusing solely on her studies. Now of course there’s nothing wrong with pursuing something you love, but in Moondancer’s case, it feels like she went too far in one direction. She learns and studies and buries herself in books, because those are what she can rely on. But in the process she became bitter and reclusive and seemed to stop taking care of things. Her house is practically in shambles. 

    This is what could have happened to Twilight if she hadn’t taken the opportunity to grow. To learn more than she ever would have from a book. And while Moondancer had an understandable and sympathetic reason for not wanting to make friends again, that shouldn’t stop her from trying, Which, thanks to Twilight, is what she learns in the highly praised episode Amending Fences. That friendship can be fulfilling and enrich your life, rather than be a vehicle to be hurt by rejection. There’s a reason this is still one of the most beloved episodes in the series.

    The reformation that might not be as obvious a parallel to Twilight though, is Starlight. As we learn more about her we see some familiar areas. Someone set on accomplishing a single goal. Again due to bad past experience, Starlight sets out to gain friendship on her terms. Using her power and knowledge to mold her own personal goals, without any room for change or being open to another way of life. Believing that her way of achieving her goals is the best, and only way. Until it eventually spirals into petty revenge. 

    A powerful unicorn who was so blinded by her own ambition and goals, that she got too caught up in her own way of shaping and viewing the world. .Really, I could imagine that this is the kind of path Twilight could have gone down if she had continued with the mindset she had in the very first episode. After all the inspiration for this editorial was when a friend of mine pointed out that the episode A Hearth's Warming Tail, could have very easily have had Twilight playing Snowfall Frost if it was in Season 1 or 2. Of a pony who believes that she knows what’s best and everyone else is wrong. That path is pretty much what happened with Sunset Shimmer too, and this other academic Equestria Girl who sought to learn everything about magic, whose name escapes me at the moment.

    Unlike Starlight and Moondancer, Twilight doesn’t have an emotional reason for rejecting friendship as long as she did. She just took it for granted, and Twilight acknowledges that when she admits to Starlight that she can’t really understand how she feels. What she can understand is the ability to change your path in life even when you are so set in one direction. Offering her the opportunity to try living her life another way. A more gratifying way. 

    Twilight’s been at the head of reformations before with the likes of Luna and Sunset Shimmer, but this is the first villain she helps reform that didn’t involve taking their powers away with rainbow lasers. Instead she listens to Starlight’s story, tries to reason and convince her that what she’s doing will only hurt ponies, including Starlight herself, and then offers an open hoof, and the chance to change her direction in life into something more meaningful.

    Much like an academic unicorn in the middle of the woods, Starlight was changed by somepony reaching out and showing her a new way of life. To guide her down a new path that would lead to more growth, acceptance, and accomplishment. 

    Twilight's own experiences in being alone and too caught up in her own mindset, allows her to sympathize with other creatures like her. Which led to her becoming  a better and more compassionate leader. She recognizes others potential, and through meeting and understanding others, she develops even more perspective. By being willing to give others a chance on the vague hope that they’ll take it, and set out to accomplish something greater that will benefit the majority. Because, that’s what she did when given the chance.

    This is partly why I take issue with the whole “villains are forgiven too easily” argument when it comes to this show. You don’t have to like it, but to say it started with Discord or Starlight and the show was way better when they just blasted their problems away, is, frankly, shortsighted. Because the idea of accepting others even when they don’t feel the need to be accepted is a mindset that’s been baked into the heart of the show from the very beginning. With the star of the show herself.

    A single adventure with a group of like minded brave ponies started a domino effect that was felt throughout the course of the 9 seasons that would make up Friendship is Magic. Being taught and integrated into every area of Equestria and beyond. By the time Twilight was ruling herself, the relationships of the land had changed completely. And none of that would have happened, if Twilight hadn’t been reformed by 5 determined ponies, who would go on to help her rule the entirety of Equestria.