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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

About "Once Upon A Time"

 I'd like to write about what is currently one of my favorite TV programs, “Once Upon a Time.” If you know nothing about the show and it's fractured and delightful spin on multiple fairytales, I realize it's not immediately apparent why this story is appropriate for the usual content of this blog. So please allow me to explain.

Until now, we seem to have had only two versions of fairytale story telling. Either you went back to the original Brothers Grimm et al – dark yarns with sinister and gory events that give us pause about how they were ever considered appropriate for children - or there's the sanitized PG Disney spin with passive and often rather vapid princess heroines. So unless your taste runs to the macabre, I'm not sure either extreme is really appealing.

So why do I think “Once Upon a Time” is true Crone Henge material? First and foremost, we get true heroines – strong, intelligent, beautiful and feminine women who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves – and kicking butt – and are not afraid to do so.
Second, it's so great to watch storylines where the men and the women are true partners – both sexes are equally comfortable supporting and helping each other. No “helpless little woman” banter between the sexes or fainting damsels in distress here. And finally, all the characters in this story are fully developed. They are all three-dimensional, flawed and sympathetic humans, regardless of whether or not they are heroes or villains.

A little bit about the premise behind this tale. There are two worlds in this version. We have fairytale land and then there's a little town in our present day called “Storybrooke, Maine.”


Once upon a time, Snow White got her potential stepmother really pissed. We won't go into details about the unintentional betrayal (because I'd be here all night writing if I revealed everyone's backstory). But suffice it to say that Regina (get it? Latin for Queen) was once a nice young woman who lost her true love in spite of Snow's best attempts otherwise. So on one level we can sympathize with the now Evil Queen and understand why she turned against Snow White. And there are times when you actually like and root for her.

So Snow has to flee into the forest and turn outlaw to survive. Yes, she meets up with seven little men who would otherwise be miners but she doesn't spend her time keeping house and cooking for them. While she's out in the woods, acting like a female Robin Hood and waiting to ambush the Queen, she runs into the man who is, of course, her true love. But he, through his own misadventures, is really a lowly shepherd and not a true prince – who was recruited to kill a dragon and has been blackmailed into agreeing to marry the local princess to save a neighboring kingdom.

Still with me? It's complicated, but it's delightful! Anyway, back to the dual storylines.
The present day comes into the picture because when the story begins, Snow and Charming (Snow's sarcastic nickname for James, her prince) have married and Snow White is pregnant. Queen Regina is in revenge mode and carries out her curse – she transports almost everyone in Fairytale land to a world far away. That world is ours – where Regina is the mayor of Storybrooke and no one who lives there remembers who they once were or who they loved.

How to break the curse? At the last possible moment, Snow and Charming put their newborn daughter into a magic tree that transports her to our world. And while Storybrooke is suspended in time for twenty eight years, Snow and Charming's daughter, Emma, grows up in foster care, and has a rough and tumble life. On the night of her twenty eighth birthday, Emma comes home to her lonely Boston apartment, lights a single candle on a cupcake and wishes she didn't have to be alone. The doorbell rings, and a ten year old boy stands on her doorstep. He informs her he's Henry, the baby she put up for adoption years ago.

Henry will explain that he was adopted by Regina, the mayor of Storybrooke, and eventually he will convince Emma that Regina's curse is real and that Emma is the woman to break the spell and reunite with her (still youthful under enchantment) parents. And yes, Emma will have to single-handedly fight a dragon and go on a quest with her mother to get back home and defeat yet another Evil Queen. All a very Crone Henge appropriate tale and one my daughter and I are enjoying every minute watching. We can't wait for the second half of season two to start this month.

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