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In Search of Lake Nostos – Once Upon a Time Reference

Updated on June 25, 2013

Unless I am mistaken, Lake Nostos made its first appearance in Once Upon a Time during Season 1, Episode 13: What Happened to Frederick. In this episode, King Midas’ daughter asks Prince Charming to restore to life Frederick, her lost lover who had accidentally been turned to gold. To do this Prince Charming has to find Lake Nostos, a body of magical water that can cure any malady. Unfortunately, he also has to defeat a sexy yet evil siren, but as this is a fairy tale we all know how that ends.

Lake Nostos also plays an important role in Season 2, particularly in Episode 3: Lady of the Lake, and Episode 9: Queen of Hearts. In the former, Lake Nostos is nothing but a dry riverbed. The little water that is found is sacrificed by Charming’s dying mother to rid Snow White of the curse of being barren. In Queen of Hearts, the dry Lake Nostos is the site of the finale of the Emma and Mary Margaret vs. Cora and Captain Hook battle in fairy tale land. In this episode Cora brings the magical water back, which helped to bring all four people into Storybrooke.

Magical lakes and wells are common in myths and fairy tales. There is not specifically a Lake Nostos (not that I have come across so far, at any rate). There is, however, something similar in the King Midas legend and even more so an important significance in the fictional lake’s name.

The Word “Nostos”

Nostos is a Greek word used to describe coming home. In fact, nostoi, the plural form of the word, is the title of the lost Greek epic which describes the homeward journeys of the warriors from the Trojan War. Nostos, therefore, is an appropriate name for the lake in Once Upon a Time since in Lady of the Lake Emma and Mary Margaret/Snow White use it as a portal from fairy tale land back into the Storybrooke well. The evil siren defeated by Prince Charming very likely was inspired by one of the many sea monsters in Greek mythology, particularly in The Odyssey. To be perfectly honest, however, all I could think of was hot Angelina Jolie coming up out of the water in the 2007 version of Beowulf.

Nostos is also the basis for the word nostalgia. I don’t feel that in Once Upon a Time, however, this connection has very much to do with Emma and Mary Margaret longing to get back to Storybrooke and their family. Rather I feel it has to do with the power of Lake Nostos’ waters. Everyone who seeks out the waters is feeling nostalgic for what used to be: In Season 1, Abigail is longing to have Frederick by her side again; in Season 2, Snow White is longing for at least the hope of starting a family, and so on. This also fits with the siren tempting Prince Charming (and almost succeeding) by turning herself into Snow White.

1892 drawing by Walter Crane of King Midas washing in the river Pactolus
1892 drawing by Walter Crane of King Midas washing in the river Pactolus | Source

The King Midas Legend

There is no definitive version of the King Midas legend. However, most follow the same formula: Midas is granted a wish: that everything he touches turns to gold. At first he enjoys this and it seems like a blessing as he will always have wealth. But he soon becomes disgusted with his gift because he can no longer eat or because he accidentally turns his daughter into gold (depending on the version). Either way the only cure for his malady and the only way to restore his child to life is for him to wash both himself and his now frozen daughter in the Pactolus River (notice the Once Upon a Time similarity). This Turkish river does indeed exist and supposedly produced electrum during the Iron Age. According to legend the electrum was deposited in the Pactolus by Midas when he attempted to rid himself of his golden touch.

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