Once Upon A Time is Coming!

In preparation for the new season of ABC’s Once Upon A Time, I took some time to go over some of the classics associated with the show. I re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, partially to “borrow” allusions and create symbols for my Alice Untitled story, but also in anticipation of the premiere of Once Upon A Time in Wonderland. I also went back to read up on Rumplestiltskin’s origins.

In the Grimms’  version, a miller boasts that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The greedy king of the realm locks the daughter up demanding she spin a roomful of straw into gold. The daughter cries and Rumplestiltskin, a plain-looking dwarf of a man, helps her in exchange for a necklace. The same thing happens the next day and, thanks to Rumplestiltskin, the daughter delivers. On the third day, the king promises that if she spins the gold he will make her his queen. Having nothing else to trade, the daughter promises Rumplestiltskin her first born. After the child is born and she decides she doesn’t want to give the child up, Rumplestilstkin tells her that if she guesses his name, she will be allowed to keep it. They hire someone to tail the dwarf and hear him singing his name as he gloats. The next day, the queen “guesses” his name and is allowed to keep the child.

OUAT’s version incorporates much of Rumple’s archetypal story in “The Miller’s Daughter”, and in snippets woven into other characters’ origin stories. OUAT’s Rumple starts out as the fearless trickster imp, granting favours in exchange for what each of the characters holds dear. The character is broadened by the writers to personify Belle’s Beast and Hook’s Croc. The Trickster, the Cowardly Lover and the Adversary are portrayed with most excellent skill by Robert Carlyle. The same goes for Gold, Rumple’s real-world counterpart.

In my search for an online version of Rumple’s origin story, I found “Rumpelstiltskin in Love“, a flash-fiction short story by KC Norton that tells the story of the dwarf as he raises a child. We learn Rumpel is not the child’s father. He has also raised other children, now grown and moved away. The child asks about his mother and Rumpel answers vaguely, hoping to spare the child the heartache of knowing his mother gave him up to save herself. This shows that in addition to being a trickster who is vain and greedy he is caring and lonely, someone who longs for human love, someone who cannot find a woman to love him because he is ugly, so he settles for the unconditional love of a succession of children, each of which winds up breaking his heart when they grow to maturity.

OUAT‘s Rumple embodies the characteristics of both tellings. As previously stated, he is a trickster, someone who makes deals with desperate people without compassion. But he also has a human side, one that is achingly lonely, and believes himself unlovable, in spite of–or maybe because of–his power. This Rumple has compassion, though begrudgingly so. He is a romantic who believes in his own happy ending in spite of himself.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for OUAT season 3 to unfold as the crew travels to Neverland to rescue Henry and discover new facets to the characters, especially Rumplestiltskin. In the mean time, go to the Flash Fiction website and read “Rumpelstiltskin in Love” to tide you over. Let me know what you think about this poignant addition to the mythology.

I don’t want realism. I want magic!

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I listen to CBC Radio every morning on the drive to work. This morning I heard stories about how the number of home grown Al Qaida members is growing, the persistence of nuclear testing in North Korea,  the underfunding of aboriginal education in Canada, and (my personal favourite) a woman who says she can’t marry her beau of 15 years because the owners of a Spadina Avenue bridal boutique took off in the middle of the night with the store contents, her dress included.

That’s not what this blog is about. In the words of the immortal Blanche DuBois, this morning, “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic!”

Magic. What an apropos segue.

This morning I read Meredith Woerner’s post on io9 entitled Once Upon A Time might be the most frustrating TV show I’ve ever watched”. Damn! She beat me to the punch. I vow from this day forward never to procrastinate writing and/or posting to my blog again. As Macbeth would say, from now on, “the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” As a result of her post, I must change tack on mine.

I thought I might explode waiting out the three long weeks between  OUAT episodes. On second watch, I even grew to sort of like the subplot of the last episode as it was high time Dr. Whale got his backstory, though I still don’t understand what Rumplestiltskin was doing in 1800s Europe or why he wanted Frankenstein’s experiments to succeed. And while I admit Ruby and Whale might make a cute couple, I would much rather have learned more about Mr. Mendell, as well as seeing more Rumbelle interaction.

This week’s episode makes the third (to quote Ms. Woerner) of the most frustrating episodes I’ve ever watched.  I liked George Garcia, both in Lost and Alcatraz, but his role as “Tiny” the Giant seems forced.  Why grow “magic” beans if you have no use for them? If the purpose of the story is to introduce the stalk cutting to grow more beans so a portal back to Fairytaleland may be opened, isn’t there a better way? Secreted away in Mr. Gold’s safe, for example? And why return to Fairytaleland when it’s already been established that the kingdom and much of its surroundings is no more than wasteland?

Then there’s the matter of Regina. What happened to living a better life to prove to Henry she’s worthy of his affection? The whole time I watched the scene I thought, “this can’t be Regina; it’s Cora in disguise again.” I liked watching her struggle with her former self in an effort to change, though I realize now she can’t ever change, seeing as she’s a fairy tale character, drawn to power and…well…evil by design. The beauty of fairytales is the clear distinction between good and evil, the battle between the two, and that good always triumphs in the end. So while Regina had gained some headway into the gray, she must ultimately lose her battle as she is inherently evil.

On a brighter note, Hook, though still quite one dimensional, provided quite a bit of comic relief, coming on to everyone without a penis. Charming’s reaction to Hook’s advances on Snow were funny but exaggerated—when will the men of Storybrooke learn that if there’s one thing the women of Storybrooke don’t need it’s protection by Storybooke’s men?

Last on the discussion agenda is the story of Rumple’s search for Bae. In an earlier post I wrote that Gold had adopted his limp as an affectation to deceive people into believing he is weaker than he appears. Going by the way he limped through the metal detector, I’m guessing I was off base with that theory. I’m still holding tight to the theory that Bae is Neal—how else might the look of recognition on Emma’s face in the preview be explained?

I like the fish-out-of-water vibe of Rumple at the airport and on the plane. In her post, Woerner asks, “Why not a road trip?” given that New York is probably no more than eight hours’ drive from Maine. When you consider that a plane ride might cut their travel time by half at least, they would save eight hours on a round-trip. That’s almost a day. A day less for Rumple to be away from Belle. A day less for Henry to be out of Storybrooke (though I don’t understand why he needed to go along on their quest). A day less for Emma to leave her parents (still naïve to the ways of the outside world) to deal with Mr. Mandell and Hook and Cora in her absence. 

Time to put on my English Teacher’s Hat now. The one thing this episode does is to seal the deal regarding Rumple as a tragic hero. In a previous post I explained how Rumple was an example of a tragic hero. He had everything in Fairytaleland—wealth, power, respect (disguised fear, really). In Storybrooke, his insistence that nothing has changed with respect to his power has slowly led to his downfall. He lost Belle (again). Power has shifted to Sheriff Emma and her parents. And now, he’s lost his magic, non-existent outside of Storybrooke, and his control. Sitting on the plane, we are reminded of Rumplestiltskin the coward, with one difference—this time, Robert Carlyle allows Rumple’s nobility to show through.

Next week should prove interesting. According to online spoilers, the flashbacks take us to early in Rumple and Milha’s relationship. In one picture, Rumple sits on a bed cradling baby Bae in his arms. One can only imagine the thoughts racing through the man’s head, his hopes for the child, but mostly his fears. Losing Bae’s mother to a pirate, nearly losing him to the Ogre Wars and then finally losing him to another dimension, his fear of the perils of Fairytaleland, mistaken for cowardice, prove warranted.

Works Cited

Woerner, Meredith. Once Upon A Time might be the most frustrating TV show I’ve ever watched. io9 TV Recap. 11 Feb 2013. <http://io9.com/5983580/once-upon-a-time-might-be-the-most-frustrating-tv-show-ive-ever-watched&gt;.13 Feb 2013.

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A Tale of Two Villains

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The Once Upon a Time showdown we’ve all been waiting for unfolded last night, and it did not disappoint.

Last night’s episode, “The Outsider”, might have been subtitled “A Tale of Two Villains”, as it pitted Hook against Rumple in a battle, both of wit and strength. Hook, who puts Belle in danger to get Gold out of his shop so he can steal a shawl, Rumple’s prized possession, thinks with his head. Ordinarily, I would argue Hook is no match for The Dark One who pens iron-clad contracts, tricking those with which he bargains into thinking wish fulfillment is within their grasps. But this is not the old, lonely, bitter Rumple. Forging a relationship with Belle whilst believing a reunion with his son is within reach, Rumple is vulnerable. When he saves Belle on The Jolly Roger, he turns his anger on Hook, playing into his trap. The beating he inflicts on the pirate is both disturbing and comic; Belle’s reaction both touching and foolish.

Colin O’Donoghue plays Hook with slimy, sexy, smarminess. His proximity to Belle while threatening her on The Jolly Roger is both scary and (for lack of a better term) hot. But the real showstopper is Robert Carlyle in the role of Rumple/Gold. I melted when, after Belle is trapped in the elevator by Hook, the doors open to reveal Rumple and he and Belle hug. I cringed throughout Hook’s beating, reminiscent of a similar assault perpetrated by Gold on Moe French in season one. I grew excited at the prospect of Rumple in the real world after he crosses the town line and my brain began forming scenarios as to how the search for his son, Baelfire, might play out.

The last minutes of the episode are demonstrative of how a true cliff-hanger should play out. Belle shot. Rumple’s hand covered in her blood. A speeding car. Rumple dropping and rolling he and Belle from harm’s way. Hook hit. Brilliant. The one thing with the ability to top this: next week’s trailer. In the clips, an unconscious Belle lies in her hospital bed. Thinking, no doubt, she will awaken after sharing true love’s kiss, Rumple kisses her. Belle opens her eyes, sees Rumple, and screams, recoiling as she does. The implications are gut-wrenching and exhilarating at once. Oh, and let’s not forget the backstory clip that shows Rumple kissing Cora, which raises the obvious question: could Rumplestiltskin be Regina’s birth father? Is that why he took her under his magical wing?

On the deck of The Jolly Roger, Hook sums it up best when he tells Gold he looks more like the coward he remembers. Rumple, the man, is at his most vulnerable when he has something to lose. Branding him as The Village Coward was unfair. He ran from battle during The Ogre Wars because he had something to live for (his wife and child) and didn’t want to die. He gave fealty to the soldier in front of his son because he wanted to escape and get Bae to safety. He didn’t fight Hook in Storybrooke because he knew they were no match, so he appealed to his sense of decency (which, unfortunately, Hook failed to cultivate) instead. As The Dark One, he had nothing to fear. Finally, he had the means to protect his son. When Bae was lost, he was free to pedal his deals, searching for a way to be reunited with his son all the while.

Belle represents Rumple’s vulnerability personified. When he thought she was dead, he was strong. Since she’s returned, it’s been amusing to watch Rumple embrace his reluctant weakness, sparring with his inner-coward as it threatens to bleed through his hardened exterior. With Belle removed from the equation, will Rumple lose himself in The Dark One once more? Will Rumple be cashing in Emma’s favour IOU? Was Neal the driver of the car? Was it Bae? Are the two one and the same?

Next week’s episode is entitled “In the Name of the Brother”. Speculation has been this episode will focus largely on Dr. Whale/Frankenstein and his family. While I think this is an interesting tangent, much like last night’s Yaoguai tale, I hope they don’t lose sight of the Hook/Belle/Rumple triangle, which in my humble opinion, is much more interesting than the Snow/Charming saga.  

I wait with you and bated breath ‘til next Sunday.   

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Graphic from http://www.wetpaint.com/once-upon-a-time/gallery/once-upon-a-time-behind-the-scenes-pics-season-2-episode-11-the-outsider-photos#5

A Fan is an Enthusiastic Devotee…

Xmas Rumpy and BelleWhen I was younger I was, admittedly, a fan girl. I can remember having more than 200 pictures of Gregory Harrison posted on my bedroom walls when I was twelve. As a teenager, it was Simon LeBon of Duran Duran. I’ve seen them in concert a total of four times and own every album they’ve ever recorded. Ditto The Human League. But those were the days before the advent of The Internet, when the only fans you connected with were your friends or the people in the audience. Though we argued over whether Simon was hotter than Roger or Nick, there was no debating our love for the music.

I’m also a Star Trek fan. I collect memorabilia, everything from action figures to decorative plates. I’ve watched every television episode and movie multiple times and connected with actors and other “Trekkers” at conventions. We disagree over which Trek is best, which captain is most commanding and whether Romulans or Klingons have the ability to kick the most Federation butt, but the atmosphere at these gatherings is congenial.

My first foray into online fandom occured nearly ten years ago now I joined Nick Mancuso’s Yahoo group, which ultimately led to my meeting the actor, an experience which I will never forget. While I was active in the group, I was surprised at the vehemence many of the fans brought to it. Though we knew the actor tuned in from time to time, some of the members felt no compunctions posting unfavourable criticisms of his work, critiquing his choice of scripts and his acting ability in a voice that could be described as anything but constructive. Other members used the group as a forum to spew racist remarks at which some of the fans (including myself) took umbrage to the point of bowing out of the group. At times I was surprised Mr. Mancuso didn’t do the same.

The idea for this blog post came after a similar experience regarding fans of ABC’s Once Upon a Time in which people who are so passionate about the show they are willing to post artwork, fan fiction, critiques and predictions about it online for the whole world to see, only for some to be shot down for their admiration in the most horrific way.

In planning for this blog, I returned to the dictionary definition of “fan”, which is: “an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity”. Dictionary.com pinpoints the origin of the word to 1885-1890 as an “Americanism; short for fanatic”. Synonyms include “supporter, enthusiast [and] addict”. Another definition it gives is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal” (emphasis added).

What strikes me as most interesting about this definition is the synonym “addict” and the fact that a fan typically has an “uncritical” zeal. Many people who blog about OUaT are anything but uncritical, both of the show and of their fellow “fans”. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and as an opinion is made with insufficient grounds to produce complete certainty (dictionary.com), an opinion can never be wrong. An opinion can be formulated based on ignorance or misinterpretation of fact, but it can never be wrong because, by definition, it is based on uncertain grounds. What this means is that if I thing Belle and Hook would make a better ship than Belle and Gold, that’s my opinion. You can disagree, but I am not wrong because this is my personal view. (I don’t by the way. I so love seeing Gold thrown off kilter as he tries to figure out how to win and keep Belle’s favour.)

As a mature adult, I may think that someone is off his rocker for even suggesting Belle be shipped with anyone other than Gold, but I must voice my opinion in a way that expounds my personal view without personally attacking anyone whose opinion differs from mine. This all goes back to my previous post which discussed online personas. I can make a name for myself as a diplomat who is willing to engage in an adult discussion of fact without devolving into schoolyard name calling, or I can make a name for myself as a foul-mouthed, narrow-minded dictator who is unwilling to allow for any opinion other than the one I’ve formed for myself. As I told the student who used Twitter as a sounding board which included a lot of unkind epithets directed at my teaching ability, there are ways to express your frustration without resorting to swearing and personal attacks.

I love the online debate that ensues as a result of the twists and turns Kitsis and his staff throw at OUaT’s fan base, but I could do without the swearing, name-calling and personal attacks. And while I’m sure those who see themselves in this blog will no doubt take umbrage in its posting and wind up throwing a few of those epithets my way, I am, like so many of you out there, sticking my neck out to post this nevertheless.

I leave you with the following two quotes, which I think sum this post up nicely:

Can we all get along?” (Rodney King, I believe) 

If you can’t say something nice, shh, say nothing.” (Thumper)

Flat and Round Characters

Colin O’Donoghue who plays Killian Jones aka Captain Hook in ABC’s Once Upon A Time is handsome, I’ll give him that. The blogosphere was abuzz with how Hook will give Rumple a run for his money, how he will be the biggest and baddest villain on the show. The problem with these theories is that Hook is flat whilst Rumple is rounded. Hook will be no match for Rumple due to Rumple’s multifoliate interior.

                Characters are of two types, flat and rounded. Flat characters are doomed to live their lives out in Flatland, the one-dimensional world created by Edwin A. Abbott and popularized by Sheldon Cooper in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory. That is to say, when looked at head on, they have shape and dimension, an appearance, names, a purpose, but when they turn sideways, they devolve into nothing more than flat lines, indistinguishable from one character to the next. Flat characters function as “phaser bait”, they serve a purpose, nothing more. They are the innocents Palmer and Michael (my characters) interview in their investigation that give up their information and then vanish, never to be seen or heard from again. They are Molly’s students who find an important artifact and then get about with their studying. They are the pirates who cheer on Hook in his bid to belittle Rumple and then fade into the background. They are the Milhas, the women who spur a duel between two characters, never to be heard from again. Last night’s Hook seems to have no motivation other than to kidnap women for the pleasure of he and his crew and then, later, to avenge Milha’s death. Or maybe it’s to get back at “The Crocodile” (a brilliant turn of events, nicknaming Rumple this) for taking his hand. OUAT’s Hook is narcissistic, and single-minded. Girls and wealth are his only motivator.

                Ever the round character, Rumple continues to amaze. All this time, the viewer was led to believe his sole motivation was to bring magic to Storybrooke so he could wield power over Regina, The Evil Queen. Now we learn his sole purpose is to overcome his cowardly past, to be reunited with those he loves and prove to them he is worthy. In a stroke of genius, the writers send Rumple to Belle to humble himself and apologize for his transgressions where she is concerned. He is a man who knows he is imperfect, someone who is capable of vengeful murder (Milha’s) and sweet gestures (giving Belle the key to the library), but at his core, he is a man whose sole desire is to be loved, and to love, but he doesn’t know how. Rumple looks upon people as possessions. He became The Dark One to keep Bae with him. He killed Milha (his wife) because he could not possess her. He imprisoned Belle in his dungeon because he feared she, like all those before her, would leave. Rumple’s motivation to bring back magic so he can leave Storybrooke and find his son is heart-achingly poignant and gives the character depth.

                Granted, Hook is a new character and we’ve only seen him in a single episode designed to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke, and he will be fleshed out in the weeks to come. But so far, the simple fact that Hook was introduced to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke supports my theory that he is a flat character. He has a purpose; he has no self-motivation to speak of thus far. Contrastingly, when we are first introduced to Rumple, he is already The Dark One, his origins a mystery cloaked in an impish exterior. He is jailed, he grants wishes, he is hated and revered by virtually everyone in Storybrooke. We know there is an age-old rivalry between he and Regina and we ache to find out what that is. Juxtapose that with Storybrooke’s Gold who may or may not remember his life before the curse, and Rumplegold is multi-dimensional from the start.

                Last night’s OUAT opened a multitude of possibilities for the season(s) to come. I like that, unlike while watching so much formulaic prime time tripe, I never know what to expect. And even when I intuit the formula, I am still satisfied with what I see. Kudos to OUATs writers and actors, but especially to Mr. Robert Carlyle who brings justice to the character of Rumplestiltskin, a tragic hero if ever one there was. 

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Graphic credit to http://hollywoodlife.com/2012/10/21/once-upon-a-time-captain-hook-rumpelstiltskin-kills-milah/

Archetypes

An archetype in literature is like a prototype, a version after which other versions are patterned. This is, I think, what makes me a fan of Once Upon a Time. In television’s Storybrooke, archetypal characters are brought to life, both as archetypes and as modern versions of themselves. In season one, it was the dichotomy of their personalities that drew me in, the difference between Storybrooke’s David and Fairytaleland’s Charming. The self-assured Snow versus the meek and unconfident Mary-Margaret. What made it especially fun were the peeks into the archetype that I imagine to be bubbling just beneath the surface in Regina and Gold, the only two characters with intact memories, and the repartee between them. I named my blog “My Own Little Storybrooke”, because I understand that all imagined characters and storylines are based on archetypal ones, new spins on old ideas. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s the deviation between the traditional and the new that makes these stories so exciting.

Take Smallville for example, the last spin on the Superman archetype. The Superman legend enamours me for its romanticism, in which the archetypal story is the boy next door who turns out to be the strongest, most virtuous and handsome person on the planet. Or maybe it’s about the nerdy guy that has a crush on you who is just as worthy as the captain of the football team, but you’ll never know because you can’t get past his nerdy exterior. Revenge of the Nerds just popped into my head, a group of nerds who are shunned until their superpower (great sex) is discovered. They get the girl, but continue to battle the jocks in the sequel. Read: Superman/Clark Kent hooks up with Lois Lane but continues to battle Lex Luthor and other villains in the sequels.

It is The Beauty and the Beast archetype that spurred this blog entry. When read as even the lowest creature is worthy of love, the archetype has merit. But this archetype could be seen to have a darker meaning, one with undertones of Battered Wife Syndrome and/or Stockholm Syndrome, in which the victim begins to identify with her attacker/captor, using love as an excuse to stay. In The Beauty and the Beast legend (and I’m going with popular culture’s version and not the original archetype which I haven’t read), a brave girl (Belle in the Disney and ABC versions) breaks the damsel in distress mould and decides to save her family rather than having them protect her. She volunteers to go with the Beast who mistreats her and locks her in the dungeon. Eventually, he releases her so she can take care of his castle. Because he shows her sporadic kindness, she falls in love with him. Once he wins her love the spell is broken and he is no longer a beast.

While I love the OUaT version, Rumple is really rough with Belle, to the point where one might ask how she could possibly fall in love with him. Perhaps Gold’s confession that he is a difficult man to love tugs at her heart strings. Belle, ever the martyr, sacrifices her own happiness to save the man she loves. I have to admit I was looking forward to the new Beauty and the Beast television show, premiering on Showcase last night. This version closer parallels the eighties show starring Linda Hamilton than the Disney one. In it, Kristen Kruek plays Catherine, a police officer (Linda Hamilton’s Catherine was a reporter) who meets up with Vincent, a genetically engineered super soldier turned vigilante who once saved her life. If this series is anything like the eighties one, the two team up to fight crime. While I love Linda Hamilton from The Terminator (and more recently Chuck) days, I remember watching BatB sporadically.  I never quite understood why Vincent looked the way he did or why she was so attracted to him. This iteration of BatB takes place in a New York which looks a lot like a dressed up downtown Toronto (the only information I could find online was that it was filmed in Canada). Catherine meets Vincent in the first minutes of the show in 2004 when he saves her life and then we flash forward to 2012 where they meet again. Once more, he saves her from certain death and she is intrigued by him, especially when she learns he’s supposed to be dead. Long story short, they meet up, he spills the beans about his history and she agrees to keep the fact that he’s still alive a secret. So much for the slow build. Truth be told, I won’t be watching again. If I want a police procedural with a built-in love story, I’ll watch Castle instead. Speaking of Beauty and the Beast and police procedurals, Rookie Blue’s Sam and Andy kind of fit the bill—loner Sam is reluctant to succumb to Andy’s charms but eventually does. After a fellow cop is killed on his watch, Sam blames Andy and is horrible to her, playing beast to her beauty. True to archetype, even when Sam emotionally abuses Andy, the residual, reciprocal attraction remains.

Rumbelle still intrigues me, though I don’t understand Belle’s interest in staying, other than that she can’t leave Storybrooke or she’ll lose all memory of who she was. Being Beauty is much better than being a basket case locked up in the mental ward in the equivalent of Storybrooke’s dungeon. I love the new Rumplegold, a little bit Gold, a little bit Rumplestiltskin, and Robert Carlyle plays the part with slimy precision. Emilie De Ravin’s Belle is a young woman with a maturity beyond her years. She treats Gold as an impetuous child who, once he realizes he is indeed loved unconditionally, will stop playing manipulative games, grow up and be a man. Sounds a little like the relationship between Wendy and Peter Pan, doesn’t it?

Darn those archetypes.

Image from http://www.fanpop.com/spots/once-upon-a-time/images/29123371/title/rumpelstiltskin-mr-gold-belle-wallpaper