Growing up, our favorite stories always began with “once upon a time” and ended with “and they lived happily ever after.” We were told of Cinderella, her evil stepmother and stepsisters, and the glass slipper that saved her from her horrid life. We know that Snow White was saved by her Prince Charming after she ate an apple poisoned by her evil stepmother. We witnessed how Prince Phillip came to rescue Aurora with a kiss that awoke her and an entire kingdom. We know that Pinocchio became a real boy and that Little Red Riding Hood escaped the evil fox.
But we were never told about what happened to them after the promised “happily ever after.”
From the makers of Lost comes Once upon a Time, a labyrinth of a fantasy television series. Now on its sixth season, ABC’s Once upon a Time is not your usual fairy tale. In fact, it’s a mishmash of probably every single one you’ve ever heard of (plus some of your other favorite stories) all tied together in an ever-tangling ball of yarn. In this blog series, we’ll take a look at one of the decade’s grandest, most dramatic, and most enthralling television shows.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Writing tag team Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis have had the idea for Once upon a Time (aka OUAT) since before they were writers on Lost. The two were inspired to write a fantasy series based on fairy tales and set on many different worlds. They presented it to networks years before it was picked up but were declined because of the sheer size of the project. For years, they continued to develop the story, and in 2010, they were finally given the chance to start working on the show’s pilot. The series premiered in 2011 and has been a success ever since.
The End Is Just the Beginning
OUAT takes place after the end of the fairy tale stories as we know them. After the Evil Queen interrupts the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming and announces a curse that will take away all of their happy endings, we find our favorite characters in the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine. For all they know, they have lived there for all of twenty-eight years under the leadership of their mayor, Regina. Things start to change when Regina’s adopted son, Henry, brings home his birth mother, Emma.
Emma, a bail bondsperson, has been living most of her years alone, having grown up in an orphanage with no knowledge of her family or her roots. It comes as a surprise to her when, on her twenty-eighth birthday, she found the least person she expected in her New York apartment: Henry, the son whom she gave up for adoption ten years ago.
Henry believes that their town is full of the characters from his book of fairy tales. According to the book, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming was born to break the spell and to bring everyone back to the Enchanted Forest. He also believes that his birth mother is the savior that the book speaks of.
Six Seasons and Counting
Since its pilot in 2011, OUAT has combined fairy tales with other childhood favorites like Aladdin, Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Knights of the Round Table. Characters from classic literature, as well as Greek mythology, have also made appearances. Episodes take fragments from the characters’ lives in Storybrooke and juxtapose them with their lives in the Enchanted Forest as their fairy-tale counterparts. At some point throughout the series, the time lines merge.
The first two seasons feature the characters and stories from familiar fairy tales, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rumpelstiltskin, Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella. The third season saw the addition of characters and stories from Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The show was also able to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen into its fourth season after the Disney movie Frozen rose to popularity. On its fifth season, it started expanding into non-fairy-tale territory, with the arcs focusing on characters and stories from Greek mythology, Knights of the Round Table, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Classic Fairy Tales for a Modern Audience
Much like fairy tales, most of the stories in OUAT deal with conflicts between the light and the dark. However, what sets it apart from the classic stories is that it constantly shows the fluidity of these two forces. Characters who started out as evil have taken actions toward redemption, and the heroes have started to expose their darker sides. Not everyone with good intentions does good actions, and not everyone who does bad actions have bad intentions.
OUAT is lauded for many things, one of which is its portrayal of its female characters. Horowitz and Kitsis decided to make it a point to flip the idea of female characters being “damsels in distress” as portrayed in fairy tales. Here, otherwise-helpless characters, such as Belle, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood, need no prince to save the day.
What Comes Next?
The story has started to explore Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in its sixth season. Horowitz and Kitsis also announced that this season will return to the original one-arc-per-season format.
Now that OUAT has welcomed more young adult literature, the possibilities are endless. It will come as no surprise if Emma, Henry, Snow White, Prince Charming, Regina, and the rest find themselves twenty thousand leagues under the sea or if they have to consult with Sherlock Holmes. OUAT has clearly expanded beyond its intentional boundaries of fairy tales and children’s stories and shows no sign of stopping.
Tune in to our blog as we backtrack on the series (so far). Get to know the characters and the literary worlds they live in as we continue to explore ABC’s Once upon a Time.
Read more Once upon a Time series recaps and reviews here:
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