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Once upon a TV screen

I just watched the pilot episode of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, a dark-ish fairy-tale show from Lost’s executive producers. In the first scene, Snow White (played by Ginnifer Goodwin, Margene from Big Love) lays lies in a glass coffin, apparently dead. A kiss from her prince wakes Snow, as we know it will, and the two seem to be on a path toward Happily Ever After.

Cut to their wedding: the wicked queen (Lana Parrilla, from 24 and a bunch of other TV shows) storms in, Sleeping Beauty-style, and puts a curse on the newlyweds and the entire fairy-tale land.

Meanwhile, in present-day Boston, a boy seeks out his birth mother, a beautiful but prickly bail bondsman—“bail bondsperson,” as she reminds a perp—named Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison from House). The kid is convinced that Emma’s the key to breaking the wicked queen’s curse. Spoiler alert: he appears to be right.

There’s a lot going on here—I haven’t even mentioned that Snow is Emma’s mother—with many fairy-tale cameos (e.g., super-creepy Rumplestiltskin played by Robert Carlyle) and in-the-know winks. Speaking of winks, what is it with those Lost people and eyeball close-ups?

As a fairy-tale nut, I enjoyed the pilot episode, but I can see how it all might get tangled in its own cleverness. Have you been watching Once Upon a Time? Thoughts?

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. She LIES in a glass coffin. Not lays. LIES. Thank you. Sorry. Thank you!

  2. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    Once Upon a Time sounds a bit like the comics series FABLES (, which is definitely worth checking out.

    I’ll have to give this a try — I love reimagined fairy tales.

  3. Katie — It was just good enough for me to be curious about the series. I haven’t yet found time for episode 2, but Cindy has good things to say about it!

  4. Cindy Ritter says:

    As a big LOST fan, I’m hopefully optimistic about this new show after watching the first two episodes (the second episode got even better!). I’ve definitely got a lot of questions about the show’s storyline, but I’m willing to wait for some answers since I have faith that the LOST executive producers will dole them out a little each week in the present world and in the flashback scenes. I’ve been enjoying seeing what jobs the fairy tale characters have in the real world to match their FT world personas and what new FT characters they introduce each week (week two, for example, brought us Malificent). I also agree with you about Robert Carlyle’s super-creepy Rumplestiltskin – he reminded me a lot of Michael Emerson’s character on LOST. I am wondering about the shelf-life of the show, but as the second episode shows, the creators may be able to play around with the FT stories enough to add new twists to the show’s plot to keep them in episodes for at least a few seasons. *Fingers crossed!* And overall I’m just happy to have a new show to watch on Sunday nights that’s worth discussing at the water cooler the next day.

    Has anyone watched NBC’s Grimm yet? Does the fairy tale premise work with that show?

    My recommendation: OOTB starts a weekly episode recap of Once Upon a Time. 🙂

  5. Kitty Flynn says:

    Good idea. Your first recap is due next week.

  6. Kitty Flynn says:

    Thank YOU, Nancy!

  7. Is there any books like this tv show.

  8. In terms of fairy-tale reimaginings that are on the dark side, I think of Donna Jo Napoli, Jessica Day George, and Gregory Maguire as authors that delve into that territory (I know there are others; oddly, there have been lots of “Twelve Dancing Princesses” retellings lately). There’s also the mesmerizing (and decidedly un-primetime-TV-appropriate) “Tender Morsels” by Margo Lanagan. “A Tale Dark and Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz has fun with fairy-tale conventions. Alex Flinn (“Beastly,” “Cloaked,” “A Kiss in Time”) keeps things even lighter while moving fairy-tale characters into the present day. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of books that are both present-day and dark, like the “Once Upon a Time” TV show. Anyone else?

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