Traditional fairy tale narratives are not made for today’s TV. Among a steady increase of smart, narratively complex shows that utilize attributes of the televisual medium, such as seriality and reflexivity, to their fullest, the conventional fairy tale falls flat. Their structures are too linear, too episodic, their worlds too limited, and their characters too static. At the very least, fairy tales’ self-contained stories and one dimensional protagonists would have to be altered to work for TV. But savvy contemporary TV audiences that embrace, and to a certain extent, expect complicated narratives would yawn at a simple retrofitting of the tales. More significant changes on a narrative and structural level are required to entertain today’s sophisticated viewers.
Fortunately, fairy tales have an inherent quality that makes them particularly amenable to adaptation. Spun from a long tradition of oral storytelling, fairy tale narratives are naturally fluid, easily allowing the stories to morph and evolve into whatever the storyteller desires so long as key narrative hallmarks remain recognizable. In part, it’s this fluidity that has allowed TV shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time to mold the classic stories into a format fit for contemporary TV and TV audiences.
Once Upon A Time, in particular, has taken bold and interesting license with the conventional stories and structure of fairy tales. Emboldened by the fact that their parent company is Disney, ABC’s freshman hit has merged all of the fairy tales into one storyworld, opening up the new possibility of weaving them together to create new stories. The result is an intertextuality that transforms Once Upon A Time into a so-called “Easter egg hunt” with the viewer constantly searching for allusions to traditional fairy tales, Disney renditions, and occasionally other shows, such as Lost. Structurally, Once Upon A Time’s story exists in duel universes that operate on parallel narratives, each informing the events in the other. This can be seen in the accompanying clip, where Rumpelstiltskin’s words in the fairy tale world foreshadow the events in Storybrooke.
While Once Upon A Time has recently veered into incorporating non-fairy tale content (King Midas and The Mad Hatter), the show’s foundation lies in cleverly transforming the structurally simplistic stories we know and love into a complex narrative able to enchant the sophisticated viewer.
You have a number of
You have a number of compelling insights here. I agree that OUaT's dual universe offers a freh perspective of otherwise rather simple narratives. As you noted I do not think these "classic" characters and stories could hold the attention of an audience who has become accustomed to more structurally complex programs such as Lost or Fringe.
I'm actually curious on how the non-fairy tale narratives and characters are used on the show. How does the intertextual incorporation of other literary influences shape or provide new insight into familiar fairy tales or shape the show?
I agree that OUAT's new take on the fairy tales have taken the rather simple stories and made them more complex for the audience. But I wonder if perhaps it has gotten to the point where it is gotten more twisted and complicated for the sake of being twisted and complicated. I'm not sure if you've been keeping up on the episodes, but as a fan, with each of the later episodes, it just seems as if they are trying to throw as many fairy tale and story book characters in as possible and see how much they can change their stories. While it seemed interesting and unique at the start, I feel like it is nearing the point where it has become too much--no longer focusing on the few main characters that we care about but trying to add more twists and turns that just make it more confusing rather than interesting.
Fairytales For Adults
Being a sucker for anything having to do with traditional fairy tales, I really enjoyed this post. I also liked how it conceptualized why Once Upon a Time has been successful because I agree that traditional fairy tales are not fit for television, but the twists on the classic tales and the employment of dual realities makes the fairy tale thing work.
If the standard, common storylines for these traditional fairytales were used, it would be far too predictable for television audiences. The cool thing about the show is that not only have the writers created their own twists on the classic stories, but they have actually overlapped all of these tales with one another. For example, the Beast from the Beauty and the Beast turns out to be one of the program’s main antagonists, Rumpelstilskin. The program even features origin stories never before created for these classic characters. For example, the writers depict the Mad Hatter as a once normal father, and plot out his descent into madness and entrapment in Wonderland.
What makes this show work is that not only does is bring up that nostalgic feeling in anyone that is familiar with these fairytales, it makes them more adult oriented by portraying storylines that are not just black and white, but have shades of gray.
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