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'Once Upon a Time:' When Pagans Get Real
'Once Upon a Time:' When Pagans Get Real

ABC's Once Upon a Time, now in its second season, has renewed widespread interest in fairy tales and myths—and perhaps unwittingly, even in the story of Christian faith. C. S. Lewis wrote that he recognized the truth of Christianity in part because it was something in which all the hints of pagan myths were fulfilled, but was obviously more history than myth.

While we must hesitate before associating Christianity too much with any pop-culture offering, Once Upon a Time regularly includes biblical themes and tensions that pull on the inner core of our psyches—perhaps evidence of deep longings planted by God and never forgotten. Once retells fairy tales in a modern context while addressing such themes as the fall of man and redemption and salvation.

On the show, our real world intersects with a mythological one in mysterious ways. The show's characters, all from popular fairy tales, live in a world without happy endings because they are all under a curse (echoes of Genesis 3). Hinting at a cosmic battle, the main antagonist, the evil queen of the Snow White story, has cursed the entire fairy-tale world in order to get revenge on the protagonist, Snow White, and has sent its inhabitants to our world. Snow's daughter, Emma, who came to our world as a baby, can break the curse and save everyone; characters in the show even call her "the Savior." She is awakening people to a knowledge of the battle in which they are engaged and their true identity, and weakening the power of the curse.

One episode near the end of the first season reveals that the only way to break the curse is for the savior to die. It's not a perfect parallel to the old, old story; Emma is an unwitting and unwilling savior. But in the bigger picture, ...

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'Once Upon a Time:' When Pagans Get Real
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In the Magazine

October 2012

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