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Fantasy Meets Reality on ABC's Once Upon a Time

Updated on March 26, 2013

Once Upon a Time trailer.

There is a fine line between make-believe and reality, but wouldn't it be interesting to blend them together?

Life can be mundane. In fact, it usually is. Day to day living, for most of us, revolves around repetition. The hope of a poignant moment or two makes the routine somewhat bearable. We justify monotony by considering it to be one of the inescapable duties of adult life. We reluctantly dismiss the dreams of our youth for more realistic expectations. Dreaming of traveling to distant worlds and slaying dragons are abandoned in favor of making our mortgage payments on time. We beguile ourselves with delusions of complacency while dreaming of a grand escape from the daily grind. There is a common schism in our minds. We live and dream on two different plains of possibility. There is the life we accept and the life we want. We play an adult game of make believe in our heads. When we stop believing in fairy tales we start believing in the possibility of winning the lottery, even though the likelihood of slaying a dragon while riding a unicorn is probably more likely than winning a million dollars on a scratch off ticket. There must be something far grander on the horizon than paying the bills and going to work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to believe in destiny? Wouldn’t it be something to retain childhood beliefs without the risk of being called “a dreamer” or labeled “immature”?

Deep down, some of us still embrace our inner child. Beneath our obligatory adult exterior some of us still cling to notions of happy endings, knights in shining armor, and magic. We entertain the idea of destiny. Wouldn’t it be something if our daily lives were mirages and fairy tales were a reality? What if the humdrum and depressing aspects of adult life were the result of a malicious curse placed on us by an evil queen? What if we were transported here from a realm of magic and enchantment? What if a dark magician designed this curse in a way that would force us to forget our true selves? What if our salvation rested with an unassuming hero who could break the curse with a display of true love? That is the premise of the television series Once Upon a Time. This particular show tugs at our heart strings and awakens our inner child. It lets viewers indulge in a realm of imagination that directly contrasts, what we consider to be, real life.

Once Upon a Time takes place in a fictional town in Maine called “Storybrooke”. All of the town’s residents are fairy tale characters that have been the victims of a curse for twenty eight years. Throughout the first season, the overwhelming majority of the residents have no idea that they are cursed and don’t remember who they were or where they are from. They live normal lives. They date. They go to work and they deal with everyday issues such as money problems and social interaction. It is the essence of normal, or what we consider normal. Only the Queen and the devious Rumpelstiltskin seem to remember their past lives. However, in Storybrooke, The Queen and Rumpelstiltskin act as the mayor and the town’s influential wealthiest resident respectively. In Storybrooke, Rumpelstiltskin and The Queen are called Regina and Mr. Gold. Regina is the originally the only character to retain her fairy tale name until the introduction of Jefferson, The Mad Hatter, who also remembers his past life as part of his curse (There is also Granny, but the Granny moniker might just be coincidental). Many of the other character’s names resemble their fairy tale names as plays on words. For example; Red Riding Hood is Ruby and Jiminy Cricket is Mr. Hopper. The viewer learns that Regina devised this curse as a way to punish Snow White for destroying her happiness. She wanted to rob Snow White and Prince Charming of their happy ending. The curse survives for twenty eight years unchanged until Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter Emma(who was transported to this world as a newborn through a magical wardrobe before she can be cursed) is brought to Storybrooke by the son she gave up for adoption ten years earlier. Emma is the apparent savior, but first she must believe in the curse, which takes a lot of work on the part of her biological son, Henry, who strongly believes that the curse is real despite the insistence on the part of other characters that he simply has an active imagination. He was given a book of fairy tales by his teacher Mrs. Blanchard (Snow White) that tells the story of each character in Storybrooke before the curse. Only Henry believes in the book’s authenticity. Henry, as luck would have it, was adopted by Regina (who genuinely loves him) and is the only resident of Storybrooke who isn’t magically prevented from leaving. Only the characters that were cursed cannot cross the town line. Oddly enough, none of them realize that they are imprisoned there or that they never age.

The storylines of each of the characters are brought to light through narrative flashbacks. The narration switches back and forth from real time to the time before the curse went into effect. There are a lot of characters, and each of their personal stories somehow plays into the Queens vendetta with Snow White. The Storybrooke conflict is mainly between Emma and Regina throughout the first season. Regina and Emma (who decides to stay in town to be a part of Henry’s life) butt heads over Henry’s well- being, not the curse. Emma is initially skeptical of the curse, but plays along for Henry’s sake.

I must be mindful not to give away too much information beyond basic setting and plot points. Once Upon a Time is very rich in storylines and character development. Divulging too much information could be construed as providing spoilers to pivotal aspects of the series. Each episode further reveals the origin of main and side characters and their cursed selves. The plot is enriched with each passing scene and ought to be enjoyed without foresight into future developments within the series. There are unforeseen plot twists and character redemptions that breathe new life into the fairy tales in the traditional sense. The fairy tale names of the characters should be familiar to almost everyone, but their back stories deviate from the stories we grew up with. Some stories only vaguely follow the traditional tales thematically. The character development is very in depth. Traditional fairy tale characters sometimes only existed to teach a lesson or moral. They served a purpose that fulfilled their place in a story. Villains, especially, are only traditionally role players in a hero’s story. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to fully develop the character. A villain can be equally compelling or sympathetic to their heroic counterparts.

The magic of Once Upon a Time is the way it resonates with the viewer on multiple levels. The fairy tale descriptions in the series awaken the inner child in us. The life in Storybrooke is easy to relate to. It isn’t pleasant or unpleasant. It just is. But it is an alternate reality. The Storybrooke reality is pervasive. The characters accept it as their reality the same way that real people don’t question whether or not their lives might some sort of a spin-off form of reality. Lastly, when the two realms are combined, it picks at the viewer’s curiosity. Is this life the only one? Are there other realms in a metaphysical multi universe? Do some of those realms contain magic, ogres, evil queens, and dragons? And maybe, just maybe, is it possible that separate realms could be intertwined? The idea of destiny is approached from an interesting angle. In the case of the cursed residents of Storybrooke, fate and destiny are unbeknownst to them even though they are all part of a grand cross dimensional scheme. Their quests are derailed. It isn’t as though they’ve failed to pursue greatness, it’s that they they’ve forgotten that they already have. The breaking of the curse would reveal who they really are to them. Imagine that your current life is merely an interlude to your quest for a proverbial “happily ever after.”

Wouldn’t that be something if you could one day wake up to the realization that you have a destiny? That there is something magnificent about your story, and the doldrums are the result of a dark curses that may someday be broken? What if your boss was an actual evil queen, or your landlord a deceptively cunning magician? Watch Once upon a Time and immerse yourself in the blurred line between actual and fantastic. If you haven’t yet, watch the first season and catch up on the gripping stories and characters. Find out if the curse will be broken. New episodes air Sunday nights, enjoy!


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