And for today, it’s another question about Equestria and My Little Pony…
One more request, if I may: How would you calculate how big Equestria is, either in terms of square miles or in terms of population?
The obvious answer to this question is “there’s no way of knowing,” since the show doesn’t ever tell us anything about population that I can recall, and gives wildly differing answers with regards to even the most indirect measurement of distance (for example, look at the travel time between Ponyville and Canterlot in MMMystery on the Friendship Express compared to how long it takes Pinkie to get to Yakyakistan and back in Party Pooped).
Even trying to make some reasonable guesses based on things like the local level of technology isn’t very helpful, as places like Ponyville or Appleloosa seem to be a century or more behind cities like Manehattan (and of course, only Cloudsdale seems to have any sort of industrial manufacturing… for the weather).
Even the single “official” map that we’ve been given not only has no scale, but also has a note on it pointing out that it’s not to scale (and, you know, secondary sources and all).
Given the utter paucity of reliable data, and what little data we do have being so unreliable and contradictory, is there any way to come up with an educated guess as to Equestria’s total area and/or population?
This one is pretty awkward; as you note, what information there is on the size and shape of Equestria from the show contradicts itself quite freely – and while there are multiple secondary-source maps (from games and such) and one primary (the Cutie Map), none of them are to any kind of scale and we never get a really good look at The Cutie Map (although it too either cannot be to scale or only shows a part of Equestria at any one time judging by the size of the rock farm). The train travel times vary between episodes to suit the plot and even individual episodes often make little sense. For an obvious example, Canterlot, a city that’s been the Capital of Equestria since the fall of the Castle of the Two Sisters a thousand years ago, is clearly visible from Ponyville – but Ponyville was an unsettled frontier when Granny Smith was young while the Crystal “Empire” was a thriving city more than a thousand years ago. Even ignoring scaling, it’s hard to deny that Ponyville is pretty near the center of the various maps of Equestria – and now Appleloosa is on the frontier. So has pony civilization been slowly spreading towards the bottom of the map for several thousand years? But isn’t the Castle of the Two Sisters further towards the bottom of the map than Ponyville? Why was the wild frontier literally within sight of the capital for at least seven or eight hundred years?
There really isn’t any way to make any sense out of that. We could try “well, the site of Ponyville was near the Everfree, so ponies left it alone for a long time” – but ponies don’t really seem all that worried about simply being near the Everfree (they just stay out of it), so that tells us nothing at all. We’re just going to have to forget the maps as a source of data – and geography isn’t a topic that comes up much in the dialogue.
The various city names on the map and in the show seem to be mostly horse puns based on cities in the United States and Canada. There’s a rough correlation in the shape of the map too, but there’s really no way to fit distances that great into what the actual show gives us for travel times. The city names aren’t going to tell us a lot or help us map things and population figures – even in the most general terms – never even come up.
That doesn’t leave a lot to go on.
I think I’ll take an economic and political approach. That way we can rely more on what we’re told and shown across time, rather than on what the animators can cram into any one shot.
Ponyville is the only place we really see a lot of. It’s pretty obviously a small town, but it’s big enough to have a town hall, a library, a hospital, a mental ward, a hydroelectric (hydrothaumic?) dam, a retirement village, a theater, a farmers market, a confectionery shop, a spa, a boutique, a costume shop, a bookshop, a bowling alley, a joke shop, a café, a “quills and sofas” shop (even if that is commonly mocked), a hardware store, a fan shop, a jewelry store, a games arcade, at least one fast food place (and likely more), a train station, a beekeeper, a timekeeper (he probably takes care of the clocktower), an orthodontist, servants, waiters, and a local newspaper. Even allowing for great prosperity due to earth pony productiveness, that’s really quite a LOT of specialists for a small town to support – and there’s no reason to assume that we’ve seen all of them yet, there are a lot of fairly basic jobs without canon support.
After all, there need to be thatchers, stonecutters, miners, bricklayers, carters, railroad workers, lumberjacks, a sawmill, carpenters, smiths, potters, weavers, barrel-makers, bakers, clerks, a few guards (even if the local militia handled monsters from the Everfree before Twilight and company came along, SOMEBODY professional ought to be training them; otherwise it’s just monster-fodder duty), millers, apothecaries, merchants, glassmakers, barbers (although, to be fair, it’s possible that ponies have natural hairdos), cheesemakers, egg-carters, rope-makers, wheelwrights, landscapers, bridge- and road-builders, people importing and selling spices (for all that baking), artists, musicians (there are a LOT of music-related cutie marks), and more. The place seems to have running water, so now you need plumbers and some sort of waterworks (thus the water main under repair in Princess Spike, even if that was Canterlot, it shows that the technology is in use). Unless ponies dissolve into sparkly light when they die you’ll need some sort of undertakers too – and it goes on and on. If there are enough ponies around for someone to run a shop specializing in fans, then there really ought to be enough around to fill the more basic positions needed.
There are some fairly elaborate statistical discussions of Ponyville out there based on crowd counts and attendance at various events, with one of the best concluding that there are between 3100 and 4300 ponies. Of course, the author fails to account for the likelihood that ponies do not mix freely (and that some may not like cider). For example, the residents of the Retirement Village (that’s enough elderly retired ponies who live in Ponyville but not with relatives to make a “village”) are unlikely to be out and about as much as younger ponies are – and quite a few others may tend to stick to their own immediate neighborhoods. Given that so many background ponies are repeated, and the total lack of visits to the Equestrian equivalents of bars, apartments, housing developments, caravan parks (I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a fairly common lifestyle actually, equines do tend to wander about), bed-and-breakfasts, and so on, it would be really hard to say that we’ve had a complete view of Ponyville or a full sampling of it’s residents.
My economic estimate is slightly larger; it takes quite a few people to support a joke shop or a boutique in a world where ponies only wear clothing for special occasions, even assuming great prosperity and an accompanying lack of homeless, destitute, or slum-dwelling ponies. I’d peg it as about 6000 in Ponyville, although that would include a fair number of little clusters (such as the Retirement Village mentioned in Luna Eclipsed – the pony equivalent of suburbs) and farms like (if presumably often smaller than) Sweet Apple Acres around the edges. If it matters any, that would peg the population of “central” Ponyville (the part shown on the aerial shots) at around two thousand. Given the previous material on lifespans and aging patterns, that might be about a thousand youngsters, four thousand adults, and a thousand elders. Most of them, of course, we never see except as anonymous, indistinguishable, background ponies with stock designs and cutie marks.
Canterlot is supposed to be significantly bigger. It has back alleys, creepy little stores with dark magical artifacts for sale, and quite a few noble households – and it IS the capital. Five times bigger than Ponyville is pretty minimal – giving us about 30,000 ponies in the city.
According to “Princess Spike” more than fifty cities sent delegates to the Grand Equestria Pony Summit. Whether Ponyville would normally be big enough to send delegates is an open question; after all, Twilight and anyone she brought along would be included because she’s a Princess in any case. More importantly… Ponyville is described as a town, not as a city.
Canterlot has a rather awkward position, and will be hard to bring food and supplies into (even if it is well situated for defense) and building space there will be expensive (since it cannot easily spread out) – so even being the Capital, it probably isn’t much above average for an Equestarian city.
So… the average “City” in Equestria may have about 25,000 ponies in it. Maybe twice as many for Manehattan, and – of course – fewer for Seaddle and Whinneapolis. Those aren’t very big cities by modern standards – Manhattan has more than 1.6 million people, which is thirty-two times more than I’m giving Manehattan – but ponies don’t seem to jam together quite as much.
That gives me at least 50 cities x 25,000 ponies per city = 1,250,000 ponies in cities.
Small towns normally outnumber cities by at least ten to one. Ponyville is fairly big compared to Appleloosa though – so we’ll set the average population at about 4000 (two-thirds the average population of small towns in the United States). That’s 500 Towns x 4000 ponies per town = 2,000,000 ponies in small towns.
An awful lot of ponies are going to be rural though. Given the apparent time-period and culture, it’s likely to be at least eighty and more probably ninety percent. Throw in a small allowance for wanderers and such, and we can reasonably wind up with about 32,000,000 ponies.
That’s about the population of the United Kingdom in the 1870’s. That’s the Victorian Era. At that time…
Britain was the worlds leading nation under the rule of a widely-respected and rather long-lived queen (with her mostly-ceremonial guard), its railways were expanding and undergoing rapid improvement, the early stages of industrialization were underway, and Florence Nightingale had established the foundations of modern nursing and hospital care. A few old and respected colleges dominated higher education. The “mad scientist” and gentlewoman adventurer” were more or less respectable ideas, English superiority over most other peoples was more or less assumed (along with a moral obligation to help straighten out the benighted foreigners) and Britain dominated the seas.
Hm… Equestria is the worlds leading nation, ruled by Celestia, it’s railways are expanding and developing (from pony-drawn early on to steam the next season), we see some industrial (or technomagical) products but little industry – at least in a small town. Steam-powered farm equipment is on it’s way. Medicine is fairly good, Twilight has a bunch of weird “electrical” equipment in her basement (and does the “Mad Scientist” routine fairly often), no one sees anything odd about relatively young females going adventuring, sheep and cows and several other species may talk, but they’re subordinate to ponies, the Pegasi dominate the skies, and you can’t get much more into the “white man’s burden” or Noblesse Oblige than Fluttershy. There are only a few major institutions of “higher learning”. Traveling around Equestria may take a day or so by train, but rarely much more unless an area is particularly hard to reach – and it’s ruled from Canterlot.
Admittedly this is extrapolation from fairly thin data – but the list of known Ponyville businesses comes from a lot of episodes, we have a definite statement giving us a minimum number of cities in Equestria, and the town and city population estimates have at least some support. The apparent distances on the show fit in reasonably well, and so does the culture and general environment. Even the thatched cottages, Rarity’s references to France/Prance, Zecora’s assorted African references, Saddle/Saudi Arabia, ponies with German accents, Italian references, Toledo/Foaledo, and most of the other bits we’re given on “foreign” matters fit in well enough with “Europe” and the “Middle East” being relatively nearby.
And that’s probably the best approximation that I’m going to be able to give you. Based on rather thin evidence and deductive guesswork, I’d assign Equestria a population of about thirty-two million (not counting cows, sheep, and similar “domesticated” sapients) and make it about the size of Great Britain with a basically Victorian technology – although it’s a lot more idyllic than the Victorian era was thanks to friendship, harmony, a wise immortal leader, a lack of desire for taking over the world, and ponies having a lot fewer requirements to get along than humans do.
Really… that’s not surprising. A great deal of classical children’s literature shares that same lush countryside, grazing sheep, thatched cottage, slightly stuffy and very proper adults, carefree adventure, mostly small-town-and-rural, out-of-sight industry, puffing railroad, horse-drawn carriage, clever-fairytale-animal, cool and slightly rainy climate, and even dangerous undertone, English Fantasy Zone setting. Thus Beatrice Potter, Harry Potter, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Dark is Rising, the Weathermonger, David Copperfield, Sherlock Holmes, the Invisible Man, all kinds of classical English children’s tales, and a mixture of adventure and family tales fit right into Equestria.
It’s not too surprising that the fanfiction authors often look at the darker side of Victorian fiction as well; don’t quite a lot of the fan-stories remind you of Oliver Twist or some of Dickens other works? Or of Robert Louis Stevenson? Those are darker themes than the show usually implies – but it’s hard to escape the feeling that they fit in nicely when creatures like Tirek pop up. Older children’s literature might celebrate adventure, but it generally didn’t gloss over how dangerous it was either.
It’s no wonder Doctor Whooves is so at home there.