Once Upon a Time and Pancakes

Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White

Science fiction and fantasy feed my mind and soul the way that pancakes feed my belly. And, I crave them just as much if not more.

When something in these genres comes about that especially moves me (or, I believe will move me), I live tweet on Mythic Scribes about it. I knew Once Upon a Time would be my spiritual version of cinnistack pancakes from IHOP when I first saw the commercials for it with “from the writers of Lost” appended to the end.

Once Upon a Time was a very risky move. Fantasy and Science Fiction is a genre that rarely makes it on prime time television. For every series that makes it, there are many that don’t. For this reason, it’s hard to get a series in those genres even green lit. Add to that the fact that it’s an adult series about fairy tale characters, and things get even more challenging.

The Premise

The premise of the series is that there are more worlds than just ours. Some of these worlds have magic, and some do not. The fairy tales that you heard as a child were stories of a world that truly exists and has magic. Even though these stores were seemingly unrelated, they were in fact inter-related.

After the ending of the classic Snow White story that we grew up with, the queen decides to get revenge with the help of Rumpelstiltskin, and deny them (and everyone else) their happy ending. A curse is then created to transport everyone to a world without magic… ours.

But there are rules, such as the following:

  • All of the characters are confined to a small town called Storybrooke.
  • None of the characters remember anything about their own world.
  • All of these characters have false identities and memories.
  • None of the characters can leave Storybrooke.
  • Within Storybrooke time stands still.

If you loved Lost (even if you didn’t love ALL of Lost), you will love Once Upon a Time. It shares all of the elements that made Lost great, including how the story is told.

Each episode concentrates on a few specific characters. Flashbacks are heavily used to show their lives before the curse and how there are parallels with their lives after the curse. Take that last sentence, change “curse” to “crash”, and you have Lost. That’s not a bad thing.

So, what makes Once Upon a Time so delicious to my fantasy palette?

Mythology and World Building

The land that the fairy tale characters share is fleshed out. It has humans, fairies, dwarfs, witches, werewolves, and just about anything else you would see in a fantasy book or video game. There is a magic system with potions, curses and spells. There are political structures, and political intrigue similar to what one would find from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (the books behind the HBO series Game of Thrones).

These things are so well done that, when the characters are in our world, you really feel how much they are out of place. What this means is that the creators did something amazing. They made the fantasy world so realistic that it feels more real than the so-called real world. This was a major accomplishment.

Character Development

Once Upon a Time could have been written without the fairy tale characters from our childhood. They could have been original characters that we are just meeting for the first time. However, what this achieved was instant emotional investment. We cared about these characters before they were even mentioned. They already had carved out a hole in our hearts. So, was this cheating? Perhaps. However, it was also a risk because the creators needed to pay special attention to how they treated these characters. They had to give them the respect that we knew they deserved.

Each character has an original story and plays a part in other characters’ stories. These stories do differ somewhat from the ones we know, because we are seeing what REALLY happened instead of just what was recorded in storybooks.

In our world, the character’s have the same personality traits, but different identities. Their relationships with each other are naturally similar as well, even though they don’t realize why.

Message

A lot goes into making a story great. However, in my opinion, a story need not even exist if it doesn’t have a message.

The message of Once Upon a Time is Hope and Faith. The characters don’t remember the world they once called home. They forgot the curse that has ripped away their “happily ever after”. Now the few who know the secret must act on faith to recapture it.

Shortcomings

There are two shortcomings worth mentioning:

The first is that these fairy tales have strong elements of the Disney movies that weren’t in the original books. Disney is ABC’s parent company, so this isn’t surprising. But it is a little disappointing.

The second thing is that, when we first see Storybrooke, the characters have been banished there for over 20 years, time has stopped, and they can’t leave. No one seems to question this, and this hasn’t influenced society in Storybrooke in the ways that you would expect.

For instance, they have a school. How does that work? Have the students been in the same grades for over 20 years? This may get explained, but it hasn’t yet. My wife and I have a theory that Storybrooke is on a time loop that got disrupted at the beginning of the series when Emma, Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter, entered the town. There’s really very little to back that up other than our imaginations, though.

Your Perspective

I would like to hear what you think of the series if you watched it, and also whether you plan on watching it. Also, I’ll be happy to clarify things I mentioned above. I kept to generalities in order to stay away from spoilers.

And, most importantly, if there is something I’m incorrect about, please let me know.  There are disadvantages to tweeting during a TV show.

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Marsha A. Moore
8 years ago

As a total Lost junkie, Once Upon a Time has lived up and surpassed the wonderful story-telling. I’m enthralled with how they are balancing good, evil, and the in-between (as seen in the anti-hero of Rumplestiltskin). Great article, Nathan!

Mingus
Mingus
8 years ago

“My wife and I have a theory that Storybrooke is on a time loop that got
disrupted at the beginning of the series when Emma, Snow White and
Prince Charming’s daughter, entered the town. There’s really very little
to back that up other than our imaginations, though.”

i would point to the starting of the clock as the moment the loop was broken…

coolstoneman
coolstoneman
8 years ago

Great article, Nathan.  I have not seen that show yet, but it sounds like it might be something I’d like.   I like shows that have some type of new twist or a new idea, rather than copycat shows that are so prevalent these days. 

Kristiana
Kristiana
8 years ago

Beida is right. Your article alone makes me want to watch this series. I’m one who grew up reading, Tolkein, didn’t watch the movies because I’m a purist when it comes to literature and don’t watch much science fiction although I have read some of the classics.

Beida
Beida
8 years ago

I haven’t seen it yet, but after reading your article I am definitely going to, and soon. I’m not normally a television watcher and it’s pretty hard to pin me down to follow a series; however, I am now intrigued with Once Upon a Time.

SeanDavid
SeanDavid
8 years ago

Hmmmmm.  I’ve watched it but not the whole series. I do have to say, you have brought up some very good points that I hadn’t thought of. Now that you mention it, the 20 year issue is quite disturbing and unless they are in a loop, the whole story line is improbable. But then, that’s fantasy. 🙂
 

Polgara
Polgara
8 years ago

Reading your post makes me want to watch ‘Once Upon a Time’ because you make it sound like an excellent work.  Then I stop and remember that I have seen it and I didn’t like it at all.  Guess it goes to show you that they can do the elements right and still not hit the right note.

julidrevezzo
8 years ago

I didn’t really discover Lost until it was far along in the series, but when I finally got into it, I enjoyed it. I must say it was a bit weird though. I think Once Upon A Time is one of my favorites, for that oddness. I do wish, however , that it was more *cough* original, like Lost was. But then, I’ve never been a huge fan of “rewriting” someone else’s story–or a faery tale. It smacks of laziness to me, and there is where it took me a *long* time to settle into Once Upon a Time. Where they deviate from the already known tales, however, is where the series sucked me in. 🙂

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