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Story and Study: Ponies by Kij Johnson

Another flash piece, “Ponies” earned Kij Johnson the Nebula Award for 2010 (one of several).  You can find it here, on Tor’s website.  With character names like TopGirl and TheOtherGirls, it reads like a simple allegory, but it’s an allegory that delivers a gut-punch.

It would be easy to write this one off as another run at mean-girl peer pressure, but I think its power is in the various activities (mental or psychological) that can be assigned to the idea of “killing one’s pony”.  In my early twenties, whenever I found myself giving up part of my identity to make someone else (usually a love interest) happy, I referred to it as “losing my dragons”.  Fortunately, I managed to find most of them again, or at least surrounded myself with new ones.  Were there times when I might have slain a few? Perhaps—and that is why “Ponies” pierced me.  No matter how strong a face I muster, no matter what bold actions affirm my courage, I know there’s a smidgeon of seeking-approval-at-all-costs Barbara and Sunny lurking in my heart.

After basic comprehension, this discussion focuses on self-reflection, identifying the ponies and TheOtherGirls in our individual lives.

“Ponies” by Kij Johnson

Study Guide

Comprehension:

1. What is a cutting-out party?

2. Why are Barbara and Sunny happy to get an invitation for one?

3. Ponies are made to give up two of three things—what are the three things?

4. What does Sunny opt to give up? Why?

5. Why does Sunny have to give up the third thing?

6. In the end, what happens to Sunny?

7. What happens to Barbara?

Discussion

1. What was your reaction to the story? Did it evoke any childhood memories for you? Like what?

2. Despite the sanitized candy-floss death, many readers find Sunny’s death disturbing. Did you? Why or why not?

3. The story is an obvious allegory.  Discuss the allegory.

4. Though the story could be about the cruelty of little girls, it could reflect other social relationships as well.  If that is the case, what dynamic is being explored? What is some evidence in the text for these different interpretations?

5. The tale could also represent something completely internal.  If that is the case, what part of the psyche is TopGirl? Barbara? Sunny?

6. Regarding the story as an internal allegory, what would you consider your “Pony” to be?  Have you sacrificed any part of it—or even killed it?

7. The story also touches upon materialism.  How does the attitude toward materialism fit in with the overall story?

8. There’s an indirect indictment of parenting, here.  What criticism of the parents can be gleaned from the story?

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