I have this theory on the Elements of Harmony in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and I’ve mentioned it before, but ever since watching Friendship is Witchcraft I’ve wanted to share that theory:
That the ponies’ Elements are not actually their strengths.
So here is a rambling essay on this thought! I KNOW IT’S LONG BUT I WANTED TO SHOW MY WORK.
This theory came about approximately how you’d imagine it would - my brother pointed out to me that Rainbow Dash is, by virtue of being exceedingly blunt, the most honest pony of the group… while Applejack’s insistence on sticking by her friends and family and the way things have always been done makes her easily the most loyal. The obvious question: WHY ARE THEIR ELEMENTS SWITCHED.
(Applejack also probably lies more than any other pony on the show, even if she’s incredibly terrible at it, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)
My first instinct as a fan is generally not to question that something may be inaccurate, but to take it at face value and try to figure it out. So, if we assume that Applejack, arguably the most loyal pony, rightly represents the Element of Honesty, then we have to assume that the ponies don’t represent the Element they’re naturally good at.
Then I got to thinking about Rarity.
Rarity was my favourite through most of Season 1 simply because she is so conflicted, and she’s a perfect example of the conclusion I eventually reached: that the Element each pony represents is not her strength, but the Element she values most.
Rarity’s Element is Generosity, and she displays this over and over again (volunteering to make dresses for everypony for the Gala being the easiest example), but the curious thing is that it’s in direct conflict with her biggest weakness - she wants to be in the spotlight. It’s most obvious in “Sonic Rainboom” - she generously volunteers to be the guinea pig (guinea pony?) for Twilight’s spell so that they can all help Rainbow Dash, but once in Cloudsdale she completely forgets Rainbow Dash and the whole reason she was being so generous in the first place as soon as other ponies start complimenting her.
In both “Suited for Success” and “Sweet and Elite,” her conflict between wanting to give her time and talents for her friends and wanting to preserve her good image provide a good bit of the conflict of the episode.
The point is, Rarity feels that what good friends do is give generously, and this is her primary way of attempting to overcome her selfish desire to outshine them all. Giving generously is hard for Rarity, but it’s a quality she values and strives for above all others. Note that in “Sweet and Elite,” just going to the party without making a dress for Twilight Sparkle was never an option for her.
Pinkie Pie is another easy one. Laughter is her Element, which seems to be a no-brainer at first; her answer to every problem she encounters seems to be a chipper song or a party of some kind, even when it is wildly inappropriate (“Griffon the Brush Off,” “Over a Barrel”). But later episodes reveal a lot more depth to a seemingly silly character: that she has not always been so happy-go-lucky (“Cutie Mark Chronicles”) and that she is actually cripplingly insecure about her friendships (“Party of One”) — for somepony whose Element is essentially joy, she is distressingly quick to assume that her friends have completely abandoned her.
It turns out that her first song said it all - in giggling at the ghostie (ghostly?), Pinkie Pie specifically and intentionally brings joy into her friends’ lives to counter her insecurities. Rather than simply being afraid of sadness, or of losing friends, she’ll take steps to make everypony around her happy and to brighten their day; it’s easily something she truly values.
This could bring us back to Applejack, but she’s sort of complicated so I’m gonna look at Rainbow Dash first, since her Element was also in question. Here’s the thing: despite her bluntness, Rainbow Dash doesn’t value or strive for Honesty. She simply has no tact! At all. She says and does the first thing that comes to her mind and then tries to patch it up afterwards. But at the same time, it could be hard to see her as the Element of Loyalty — Dash doesn’t necessarily want to be in the spotlight like Rarity, but she badly wants to be seen as cool. She is very, very concerned with preserving her self-image (“Read it and Weep,” or even her inability to lose gracefully in “Fall Weather Friends”), and like Rarity, has a self-focus that makes altruism difficult.
But when it comes down to it, in Rainbow Dash’s mind, friends look out for each other. And there’s just no other option; that is what friends do. “Sonic Rainboom” is probably the best evidence of this: when Rarity was in danger, Dash totally forgot about her last chance to not screw up the competition — which basically represented her every desire — in saving Rarity.
You could argue that Rainbow was the only pony to ever dump a friend (“Griffon the Brush Off”), and that’s pretty weird for the Element of Loyalty, but I would argue that while Twilight searched for extenuating circumstances and Pinkie was willing to throw a friendship party in hopes of a change of heart, Dash was the pony whose loyalty to her friends did not permit her to be okay with anyone bullying or badmouthing them; even another friend. She had to stick up for Pinkie. As with the others, it’s not her natural reaction — while Gilda is probably ‘cooler’ than Dash, Pinkie Pie is decidedly uncool, and RBD’s default is to separate herself from things that might make her seem less cool. But friends gotta stick up for each other; it’s clearly important to her.
The only pony that seems to break this is actually Fluttershy. Fluttershy is incapable of being cruel, so much so that Discord basically had to OUTRIGHT FORCE HER instead of tempting her with a weakness like he did for everypony else. He could not convince Fluttershy that kindness was without value. She is always forgiving and believes everypony needs to be shown kindness. I don’t even need to explain this! How is kindness hard for Fluttershy?
Because Kindness requires reaching out, which she is often too shy to do.
I personally think “DragonShy” is an example of this — Fluttershy possessed the single most humane way to get rid of the dragon, and she was unwilling to even try — but “Luna Eclipsed” has probably the clearest instance. Luna truly needed to be “shown a little kindness” on Nightmare Night, and Fluttershy was so frightened of her that she wouldn’t help Luna without Twilight practically forcing her. Her shyness, fear, and lack of confidence directly oppose her greatest gift - and she must work hard to overcome them.
First off, it’s been said before by others who love Applejack more than I do, but Applejack’s Element has very little to do with telling the truth. (Liar!jack from “The Return of Harmony” episodes has always bothered me, but that’s mostly because of Twilight’s ludicrous statement of “Applejack wouldn’t lie!” WHAT? YES SHE WOULD. SHE HAS, LIKE THREE OR FOUR TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF THE FIRST SEASON ALONE)
Rather, the thing that Applejack actually seems to value is dependability, which is PRETTY OBVIOUS in the “Applebuck Season” episode, and gets even more obvious as we move into Season 2 episodes like “The Last Roundup” — it’s less of a desire for forthrightness and more a desire to be true to herself and her word. The “Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” episode also introduced the ideas of integrity in one’s work, a refusal to cheat, and holding to a bargain fairly struck - Applejack genuinely intended to follow through on the ludicrous bet that her family made and did not even attempt to weasel out of it, when she could easily have called the FlimFlam brothers’ methods into question.
When I was discussing this with my friend Rachel, she pointed out that this has been true from the beginning, in the very instance that made Twilight believe that Applejack represented the Element of Honesty — it was not the fact that Applejack told her the truth. Actually, a far more forthright answer would have been “Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy are right underneath you and they’re going to catch you so you’re cool to let go.” But she didn’t say that, and that wasn’t the point — the point was that Twilight realised she could count on Applejack to be true to her promise of “you’ll be safe.” THAT’S what Applejack’s Element is actually about.
Interestingly, her flaws don’t directly oppose this value so much as cloud it; a proud and stubborn streak twists her admirable dedication to being true to her word into an inability to back down or ask for help if she’s in over her head. It’s interesting that Applejack claims to have learned nothing in “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000,” since that seems to be, in my opinion, the first episode where she’s finally learned to overcome this hang-up and let the positive sides of her Element shine.
I saved Twilight Sparkle for last because I was really, really excited when I finally figured out what her Element of Magic even is. Maybe you guys already figured it out, but at first I thought she had been sort of shafted with the “you are a pretty crappy friend but at least you’re good at magic” Element.
Then I realised that the answer is right there in the title: Friendship is Magic.
Twilight’s Element is literally the Magic of friendship; that is, her faith in her friends. I am so sure of this because it explains both season premiers perfectly:
In “Friendship is Magic Pt 2” the mysterious sixth Element (Magic) is described as being a spark that will only appear when the other Elements are present. Twilight becomes that spark at the moment that she realises that not only do the ponies she’s just met represent the various Elements of Harmony, but that she already counts them as friends.
In “The Return of Harmony” (pretty sure it’s part 2), the moment when Twilight finally loses her Element is the moment when she completely loses hope and gives up on her friends.
And lest you think she does not also fit the pattern we’ve been examining… Twilight Sparkle is a kind of terrible, awkward friend. She does not understand how friendship works and is constantly afraid of threatening it, and constantly trying to “fix” it, and constantly doubting her friends. ”Boast Busters” is the first example that comes to mind, in which she is terrified her new friends will suddenly judge her, but there’s also the entirety of “Green Isn’t Your Color,” which she spends running around trying to nose in and fix other ponies’ problems, while Pinkie Pie has to continuously remind her that friends shouldn’t share things told to them in confidence. But at the same time, while she is so new to being part of a group of friends, she greatly cherishes it. She takes advice to heart, she strives to balance all her friends equally (“TicketMaster”) and have faith in them (“DragonShy,” “Feeling Pinkie Keen”), and she really tries to take a lesson in friendship whenever she can find one. She is awkward and behind in all things social, but working hard to learn to be the best friend she can.
So there you have it! That’s my take on the Elements of Harmony.
Obviously I spend way too much time analysing children’s cartoons.
(I hope I got all those episode titles right; most of them were from memory)