Here in Australia, season one of the ABC fantasy-drama series Once Upon a Time recently came to an end. The series concept is this: in the magical world of fairy tales, the evil queen lays a curse that transports everyone to Storybrooke, Maine. The evil queen does this to punish Snow White who, as a child, did something that blighted the queen’s future. In Storybrooke, Snow is mild-mannered teacher Mary Margaret. Also in town are Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood, the woodcutter, Cinderella, Pinocchio and many more, including the Machiavellian stirrer of the piece, Rumpelstiltskin, in the guise of antique dealer Mr Gold. Then there’s the evil queen herself: Regina, mayor of Storybrooke. Everyone has a new identity, and none of them remember their former lives in the fairy tale world. Then an agent for change comes on the scene in the form of ballsy but conflicted Emma Swan, who may just have the key to undoing the curse.
I had my doubts about this series. As a lover and long-time reader of fairy tales, I wondered how they’d fare in the hands of writers who’d produced something as convoluted as Lost. I’ve become aware that many folk believe the Disney fairy tale movies are the authentic versions of these stories, and I suspected the writers would not value and respect the strong, true heart of their material. On the other hand, fairy tales have staying power. It’s in their nature to grow, develop and change, consistent with the oral storytelling traditions that gave rise to most of them. There are some wonderful novels and short stories built on fairy tale material. If a writer knows, respects and understands the original, it’s OK to play around with it. Up to a point.
So was I happy with Once Upon a Time? Did the high concept for this series produce a satisfying result? [Read more…]