Skip to main content

TV Snapshot: Stories that begin “Once Upon a Time”

Emma: They're just stories. The Mad Hatter is a character in Alice in Wonderland--a book. A book I've read. 
Jefferson: Stories. Stories? What’s a story? When you were in high school, did you learn about the Civil War? 
Emma: Yeah, of course. 
Jefferson: How did you learn about it? Did you read about it, perchance, in a book? 
Emma: History books are based on history. 
Jefferson: And storybooks are based on what, imagination? Where does that come from? It has to come from somewhere. You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants a magical solution for their problem, and everyone refuses to believe in magic.

Emma: Here’s the thing, Jefferson. This is it. This is the real world. 
Jefferson: A real world. How arrogant are you to think yours is the only one? There are infinite more. You have to open your mind. They touch one another, pressing up in a long line of lands, each just as real as the last. All have their own rules. Some have magic. Some don’t. And some need magic… like this one.
I love what this exchange between Jefferson (aka, the Mad Hatter) and Emma Swan in Once Upon a Time’s “Hat Trick” says about where stories come from—and why we need to hear them.
We know the fairy tales Emma and Jefferson are referring to are true. Jefferson and all the people from those fairytales have been ripped from their own world and thrust into ours by a curse—most without any memories of their past. Jefferson has actually been to many of the worlds referred to in fairytales (and Wonderland is definitely not one of his favorites).

In Once Upon a Time, the stories of other real worlds have leaked into this one as fairytales—and that echoes one of my favorite ideas of J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson as related by C.S. Lewis:
The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened. . . . The Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’ 
The same article refers to Tolkien thoughts about mythic types of stories:
No, said Tolkien. [Myths] are not lies. . . . 
Man is not ultimately a liar. He may pervert his thought into lies, but he comes from God, and it is from God that he draws his ultimate ideals . . . Not merely the abstract thoughts of man but also his imaginative inventions must originate with God, and in consequence reflect something of eternal truth. In making a myth, in practicing ‘mythopeia’ and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller . . . is actually fulfilling God’s purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light. 
God’s Story leaks and seeps into the stories we create and tell. They reflect something of the truest and best Story, the one in which we all live and breathe. They echo eternal truth, “reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light,” telling us something about the world we live in, who we are, why we do the things we do and—if they are really good—about the One who created it all.

And that is why stories that begin Once Upon a Time keep bringing God-talk into these open spaces.