Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughts from a Hopeful Romantic: An Upside Down Fairy Tale, Part I: Welcome to Storybrooke

Like most romance writers, I grew up adoring fairy tales.  Watching the glamorous princess and handsome prince fall in love despite a fury of obstacles was somehow inspiring and hopeful to the little girl in me.  It was the first time I witnessed the power and joy of love.

Now, it has been quite a long time since I have watched a fairy tale movie.  I have replaced those stories with the romance novels I read and write.  The obstacles have changed, with more realistic conflicts separating the lovers than an Evil Queen or Ursula the sea witch.  Still, many of the elements of fairy tales arise in modern storytelling.  The heroes and heroines may no longer be princes and princesses, instead taking on the roles of powerful CEOs, lawyers, and professors, yet they still face conflicts in getting their happy ending.  Modernizing these stories reconnects us to the nostalgia of our childhoods and depicts the longevity of great storytelling.

As many who follow me on social media know, the last year has introduced me to the brilliance that is ABC's Once Upon a Time.  For those unfamiliar with it, the series follows the fairy tale characters we all know and love in their journeys through the modern world.  It features most of the heroes and villains we have come to love (or hate) as more realistic individuals with backstories, and it allows families to bond over the struggles of these characters and rediscover them as people rather than caricatures.

From left to right: Lana Parilla (Regina Mills/ the Evil Queen), Emilie De Ravin (Belle), Colin O'Donoghue (Captain Hook/ Killian Jones), Jennnifer Morrison (Emma Swan), Josh Dallas (David Nolan/ Prince Charming)
Front: Jared Gilmore (Henry Mills)
The core of the story is the family of Snow White and Prince Charming (played by real-life couple Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), the most traditional pairing on the show.  Their love story is sweet and sappy, yet it evokes the elements of traditional romances and is the most stable romantic relationship.  Their daughter, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), is the Savior of Storybrooke, Maine, a town all of the characters were cursed to.  Because time was frozen, Emma, who grew up in our world, is the same age as her parents and has a teenage son, Henry, who she was reunited with in Storybrooke when he was ten.  Until that point, Henry was raised by his adoptive mother, Regina, who was the Evil Queen in the Enchanted Forest.

That's the short version.  And it gets more confusing than that.

While Snow and Charming have the most stable relationship, all of the other romances have been rather bumpy.  Rumpelstiltskin (former Dark One and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast) and Belle have had a complex relationship since the episode "Skin Deep" in the first season.  Until the middle of the fourth season, Belle was unconditional in her love, blind to Rumple's manipulative ways.  Since then, however, Belle has been enlightened and is currently trying to resolve her feelings for a man who has spent the majority of his life obsessed by power and revenge.  Regina, the former Evil Queen, has spent the last couple of seasons trying to become a better person.  In that journey, she's found love with Robin Hood, despite a couple of soap opera-esque plot twists that continue to loom over them.  Both of these relationships have been developed and built, to the the delight (and sadly, anger) of many fangirls.

 So, if love is a core trope of Once, where does that leave the main character, Emma?

Emma (whose role as a romantic character will be discussed in the third part of the series) is a strong female.  Finding a romantic partner who allows her to be who she is but also breaks down her emotional walls had to be a tough task for the show's creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz.  Despite that, they created the perfect romantic complement, an equally strong man whose past mirrored hers, who challenged her in his relentless pursuit, and who ultimately proved that he would do anything for her, even die.

No one expected him to be Killian Jones.  He is more commonly known as Captain Hook.

The relationship between Killian and Emma will be the focus of my next piece, but first, let me say how opposite this is of Snow and Charming.  These were the characters who were always meant to be together, at least according to every other telling.  To my knowledge, Captain Hook never had a romantic pairing in any of the literature about him.  Emma is an original character.  Turning stories upside down on their heads and illustrating both Killian and Emma as individuals who were kindred souls, despite what seem to be glaring differences.  It's one of the many things that Once Upon a Time does well, despite the fact that I can no longer watch Peter Pan.  Besides taking me back to my childhood for an hour a week, it reminds me that great stories never go out of style.  They may change, but the roots always stay the same.  I can only hope that some of that luck rubs off on the words I write and that those themes can be immortalized centuries from now.

Be sure to look out next week for "An Upside Down Fairy Tale, Part II: Kindred Spirits: The Love Story of Captain Swan."

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