Monday, February 06, 2012

Once Upon a Time, enter the “writer”

Once Upon a Time image from

SPOILER ALERT: This is not about something that will definitely happen in the modern-fairy-tale show, Once Upon a Time, but it's something I think will happen. This is based on scenes from previous episodes, so if you haven't seen them yet, don't read this. If my guess is correct, I have to tip my hat to the writers. It's brilliant.

A new character, a stranger, recently appeared in the little town of Storybrooke. 

Here are the things we know so far about this stranger. 

He rides a motorcycle and carries a weird box. Regina, who is the modern-day version of the evil queen, doesn't know who he is, and she's wary of him. 

When Emma questions the stranger about the box, he says he'll show her the contents if she agrees to let him buy her a drink. She agrees. He opens the box to reveal an old typewriter. She asks him why he's carrying it, and he explains that he's a writer. Earlier he tells Henry the box contains something he needs to take care of the thing he came to Storybrooke to do. 

In the following episode, the storybook that contains all the stories of the fairy-tale characters in Storybrooke is stolen from the place where Henry--Emma's son who was adopted by Regina--had hidden it. We later see it's in the stranger's possession.  

Henry knows the rules that govern the town, and according to Henry, outsiders never come to Storybrooke. This means this stranger isn't an outsider. But he also can't be an ordinary resident of Storybrooke, because Henry also says that "bad things" happen whenever residents of the town try to leave it. 

But maybe there's a loophole. 

The fact that the stranger carries a typewriter is very suspicious.

 He says he's a writer, but he's carrying a typewriter, not a laptop or a tablet computer. He's not so old that he might be the kind of writer who refuses to use technology. The typewriter he has is one that writers haven't used in about 25-30 years. Emma is 28 years old, and we know that the day she was born is the day the storybook characters became frozen in time and were banished to our world and the little town of Storybrooke. Why then does this writer use a typewriter from the time Emma was born and the storybook characters became real world characters who are stuck in time, never aging, never changing, and never able to leave?

Henry's storybook tells all the stories of the characters in Storybrooke--which are different from the stories as we know them. In Henry's book--the one now in the stranger's hands--Rumpelstiltskin kills Cinderella's fairy godmother and then grants Cinderella her wishes for a price. Snow White is an outlaw living in the forest, who meets Prince Charming when she robs his carriage. Prince Charming is forced to marry to King Midas's daughter. Nothing is what it's supposed to be.     

Think about it. Let's say you're a storybook character in Storybrooke, and you're unhappy about the way things are. Let's say you come across this book, and you somehow figure out that you're one of the characters in it. You realize all the other people in the town are also characters in the book, and you see that all of you are somehow stuck in this one place and time. How long does it take you to realize that if you want things to chance, you're going to have to change the original fairy tale? 

So you're sitting there looking at this book, and you're thinking about what edits would serve you best. Should you make yourself rich? Handsome? Happy? Brilliant? All the people who were those things in the fairy-tale world are now under Regina's control. No, the smartest thing you could do, would be to write yourself out of the story.

Now you probably think that if I'm right, the writers are very clever, but not really brilliant. Okay, so the stranger wrote himself out of the story. So what? 

Here's the really brilliant part: if the writer did it once, he could do it again

A few edits here and there, and the entire fairy-tale back story has to fit the changes. And what changes in the back story, affects the contemporary story line as well. The last time he edited it, he freed himself from the town and from Regina. What happens the next time he edits it? Does someone else get freed? Does someone die? Does he become imprisoned again? And how will this affect everything else? 

This means that at the very moment you think you know it all, the writer can step in and change everything again.  And that means the story could continue over several seasons, each time with something else changing everything

Which is very cool.

I love stories about stories and storytellers. I suppose that's obvious considering I wrote Toren the Teller's Tale, as well a blog post about the role of the storyteller in my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. I was still on the fence about Once Upon a Time, but if this show goes in the direction I think it's going, I'm sold. 

What about you? What do you think of Once Upon a Time? Do you have any theories about where it's heading?

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