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Good stories that begin “Once Upon A Time”

There was an enchanted forest filled with all  
the classic characters we know.  
Or think we know.  
One day they found themselves trapped in a place  
where all their happy endings were stolen.  
Our world.  
This is how it happened... 
~Prologue, ABC's Once Upon A Time 

It turns out all those fairy tales are true—Geppetto’s wooden boy became Pinochio, Granny and Red Riding Hood live, and Prince Charming really did thwart the plans of the Evil Queen, kiss from death Snow White, and marry her on their way to happily ever after.

But that’s not the end.

In ABC’s Once Upon A Time, the Evil Queen has her revenge on the day of the birth of Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter, bringing upon them a curse that rips all of the inhabitants from the enchanted forest to “someplace horrible” where all their memories and happy endings will be ripped from them and they will suffer eternally: our world.

I was hooked before the last words of the prologue faded from my television—and by the end of the pilot I was sold. Not only is this story enchanting and well done, but I also love how it echoes some profound truths about stories in general and our own Story in particular.

Happy endings lost to a broken world—a powerful echo of the biblical Story. In the beginning—once upon the moments time began—we were created for a happy ending. The world and we ourselves were created good and abundant, breathed into being with love. But then something ripped through that world—a terrible curse, worse-than-a-mortal disease that infects everyone in it. Ours became a world where our happy ending was thwarted by death itself.

But, like Once Upon a Time, the Story doesn’t end there.

In Once Upon A Time, the Queen’s evil intentions are thwarted by a prophecy that the child of Snow White and Prince Charming will return and save them all when she reaches the age of 28. That child is Emma, whom the couple saves from the curse by placing her as a baby in a magic cupboard which whisks her to our world and away from the clutches of the Evil Queen. Twenty eight years later, we meet Emma in Boston, where she’s a bail bondsman and bounty hunter celebrating her birthday by herself--and with no idea where she came from or who she really is. There’s a knock at the door and it’s Henry, a 10 year-old boy from Storybrooke, Maine—and Emma’s son whom she placed up for adoption when he was born. He convinces her to come back with him to Storybrooke and along the way reveals a book of fairy tales which he claims is true—and in which, he says, she is also a character. She is destined to save them from the curse and clutches of the Evil Queen.

I can’t help but appreciate how this echoes our own Story. A child is born—Jesus—who saves us all, defeats the curse, releases us from the clutches of death itself, restores us to the relationships we were created for and carries our Story towards the happy ending we were always intended for.

But like Emma has a hard time believing Henry’s story, our own Story can be hard to believe, too. Why? One reason is, like Snow White and her fellow enchanted forest residents, we forget who we are.

After arriving in Storybrooke, Emma meets a resident who is Henry’s psychologist—and a famous character from one of the fairy tales:

Emma: He doesn’t seem cursed to me. He’s just trying to help you. 
Henry: He’s the one who needs help because he doesn’t know. 
Emma (skeptical): That he’s a fairy tale character. 
Henry: None of them do—they don’t remember who they are.
Henry wants to free the townsfolk from their curse; he wants them to remember who they are, who they were born to be and the happy endings they were destined for. We too need to be reminded of those things—and one of the best ways to remember is through stories, both the Story and those crafted by those around us.

As I’ve mentioned before, good stories explore what it means to be human and live in this world. They get at who we are and why we do the things we do. They take us down the roads those choices lead. They tell us something about ourselves, the world we live in, the people we walk with and those with whom we cross paths.

And the best stories are true—not that they actually happened but in that they reflect human nature and the way the world works in reality.

And if a story is true it ultimately reveals something about God. A good story doesn’t need to be told by someone who walks with God in order to reflect him and his truth. As Paul puts it, God has made himself known to all people: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. . ." (Romans 1:20 Message). Paul puts this concept into action "in the open spaces" of Mars Hill (Acts 17), when he talks with a group of philosophers and thinkers and uses bits and pieces of religions, literature and stories they are familiar with that reflect truth and, ultimately, God. God is all around us, he tells them: "He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" (Acts 17: 28Message) If that's true, it would make sense that our stories—especially our good ones—would reflect him and our own Story.

And stories like these do a powerful thing—something Sister Mary Margaret Blanchard (a Storybrooke school teacher who’s forgotten she is Snow White) gets at pretty distinctly when she tells Emma why she was the one to give Henry the fairy tale book:

EmmaHow’s the book supposed to help? 
Mary Margaret: What do you think stories are for? These stories, they’re classics—there’s a reason we all know them. They’re a way for us to deal with our world. It doesn’t always make sense…. Look, I gave the book to him because I wanted Henry to have the most important thing anyone can have.

She pauses and Emma looks at her questioningly.

Mary Margaret: Hope. Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.
Good stories remind us of who we are, how the world really works—and that there is a happy ending. In a sometimes dark, treacherous and painful world full of loss, loneliness and death, happy endings can seem impossible. But good stories can remind us that our Story is destined for a happy ending. And that gives us the best hope of all.