As a fairy tale fan, I recently decided I should try watching Once Upon a Time. Most of the episodes aren’t available, but I did see the pilot and the most recent ones, which were On Demand. It’s made by the creators of Lost, a show I never watched and am unsure whether I’d like. I’ve heard both intriguing and not-so-intriguing things about it. Anyway, though, Once Upon a Time has the premise of fairy tale characters living in modern-day Maine due to a curse by the Evil Queen from Snow White, who is now the town mayor. The curse can only be broken by Snow White’s daughter, Emma Swan, who becomes Sheriff of Storybrooke but doesn’t believe in the fairy tales until the season finalé. Really, I can’t say I blame her, as there’s very little magic in this place. The stubborn skeptic archetype is a bit annoying to me for personal reasons, but I’ll get into that in another post. Each episode switches between the present and the fairy tale past, demonstrating the connections between the two. I was a little surprised at first by how many Disney references there were, but this IS broadcast by ABC, a Disney-owned network. Jiminy Cricket shows up (the Talking Cricket in the original novel didn’t have a name), as do Disney’s Seven Dwarfs (Doc delivers the baby Emma) and Maleficent. As you can tell from the inclusion of Pinocchio characters, there are modern fairy tales (yes, the nineteenth century counts as “modern” in this sense) as well as traditional ones. Characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland play a part, as does King Midas from Greek mythology. I’ve found the episodes I’ve seen to be enjoyable, and I understand the show has been picked up for another season.
Another aspect of the show that I find worth mentioning is that of the characters’ names. Some of them contain obvious links to their fairy tale equivalents, like the Evil Queen being named Regina and Rumpelstiltskin Mr. Gold. Others are a little less so, however. Could Jiminy Cricket’s human persona bearing the name Archibald be a reference to archy the newspaper cockroach? Yeah, I know a cockroach isn’t a cricket, but I’m sure you can see the connection. The Mad Hatter is Jefferson and his daughter Grace, probably after Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick, due to their song “White Rabbit.” I’m not sure how the Hatter would have a daughter, but that will probably be explained later. I sort of think as him and the March Hare as essentially a married couple, albeit a non-sexual one, because who wants bestiality in a children’s story? I’ve come across Hatter/Alice shippers, however, especially after the Tim Burton film, so who knows?
The idea of fairy tale characters living in the real world appears to be a quite popular one these days. A few months ago, I read a volume containing the first two story arcs of Bill Willingham’s comic Fables, which has much the same premise. These characters realize who they are, though, and their back story is that they abandoned their own lands after a devastating war with a being called the Adversary. The humans and some others who can pass for human have their own community in New York City, and the animals another one in upstate New York. As with Once Upon a Time, characters are not limited to traditional fairy tales. Of particular interest to me is that Oz is mentioned as early on as the first story arc, and I understand its characters play larger roles later on. I’ve heard that the cynicism and meanness that the characters have taken on in the mundane world is especially noticeable with Ozma. Anyway, I’d definitely like to read more of this series, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series also utilizes a similar idea, with characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes living in England. In this series, however, they weren’t driven there by some catastrophe (at least as far as we know), and their stories are more or less ongoing. There are only two books as of yet, and while The Big Over Easy focuses pretty much entirely on the traditional tales and rhymes, The Fourth Bear brings in some Shakespeare and Edward Lear. The rules for the series aren’t as well-established as those for Fforde’s Thursday Next books, but they’re good reads and I hope there are more in the works.
The idea of fairy tale characters living in our world reminds me of a dream I had once, in which Jack Pumpkinhead was a human with a large head who was riding around in a car. I think that’s all there was to it, but there could be a story there, no?