Tag Archives: fairytales

Non-Violent, Social Action (Or, "why I don't watch storybook shows on network TV")

So, I am the consummate comic book nerd. I have been avidly reading since I was 11, and I can say with great confidence that the comic book medium has as much, or even greater, potential for telling really, really good stories as any other medium. This includes every use for story that you can think of. The upsides are moral learning,  life-myth building, and indoctrination of certain truths, can all be had through the medium of comic book, and often to great effect. The downsides are the medium can pander,  play into stereotypes, dumb-down great ideas, and promote the myth of redemptive violence like comics invented it. Well, all that to say, it is rare that a comic really, truly reaches out of the book and grabs me on an artistic, narrative, guttural, emotional, AND spiritual level. The last book of note that did this for me amazingly well was a comic called Fables.

Fables is a comic about Fables. It concerns storybook folk in real life situations and was written by a chap named Bill Willingham. And if I could boil down everything I would want to share with someone regarding faith, life, death, hope, and a better world, it would be in the Fables story called “The Good Prince.” It really made an impact on me. So perhaps you can imagine my utter glee when I found out in 2006 that NBC was going to make Fables into a TV show!!! Well, it didn’t last long. NBC had the script with NBC writer Craig Silverstein in production, but it fell by the wayside. No problem, though!

ABC picked up the rights to Fables and got Stu Zicherman and Raven Metzner to write the script. It went nowhere either. And I was pretty glad that the rights to the series reverted back to the creators. That was, until I found out that both of those networks (NBC and ABC) waited until just after the rights passed back to the creators to announce that they were both producing  shows based on Storybooks.

Probably a coincidence, right? Until you actually look at the plots.

Fables: A bunch of storybook folk exiled from their own lands into a modern town and no one knows they are fables.

Once Upon a Time: A bunch of storybook folk exiled from their own lands into a modern town and no one knows they are fables.

1st story arc of Fables: A reformed Big Bad Wolf solving the murder of Snow White’s sister, Rose Red, a red-clad party chick, meanwhile trying to navigate in a world where the Fables are all around us but no-one knows.

Grimm: A tough policeman he’s from a legacy of paranormal cops trying to protect regular people from the Fables that are all around us but no-one knows. In the pilot episode, the policeman is paired with a reformed Big Bad Wolf to solve the murders of red-clad young women.

Bill Willingham appears to like his relationship with the studios, likely with en eye to working with them in the future, and so like any good PR guy, he has distanced himself from the controversy. But I don’t buy it for one single second. You bastards could have done something amazing. Could have told the beautiful, moving, spiritual stories I was waiting to see come from a TV show worthy of Buffy or Firefly. But rather than pay royalties to a man that deserves every penny, you stole his ideas, nearly whole cloth (but just different enough to defend them in case of litigation) and both produced this nonsensical crap within one year of each other. I’ll call you cheap whores and I’ll do it again, in the tradition of Ezekiel. You aren’t even trying to hide it. You lust after your lovers whose… you know what? Nevermind. I have spilt enough virtual ink on this. Just know that I have not and will not ever watch a single damn episode of those shows when I can go back and read their superior source material. My protest, such as it is.

[Edit: Added relevant links, FYI]

ABC commits to ‘FABLES’ pilot FROM Comic Mix

Once Upon A Grim Fable: How Similar Are OUAT and Grimm to FABLE from Slate

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Once Upon a Shrink: The Psychology of Rumpelstiltskin

This is a guest post by Charles Hackney as part of the ongoing conversation here at Political Jesus on Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Just for the record, Chuck agrees with me 100% that #OUAT is the better show (and no that is not just because he’s married to me).


Amanda Mac’s post about Once Upon a Time and the theology of evil got me thinking. So I’ve put on my psychology cap (would that make me a mad hatter?) to take a look at the two primary villains of the series: Rumpelstiltskin and Queen Regina.

Part One: Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin serves as a Faustian devil in the show. A being of seemingly-unlimited power, people make deals with Rumpel, but the deals invariably end up disadvantaging the “customer.” In the second episode of the first season, “The Thing You Love Most,” Rumpel is revealed to be the one who provided the curse that Regina used to bring the characters into Storybrooke, but he requires her to sacrifice the only person she truly loves, and includes the provisos that he will be powerful in their new world, and that she will be bound to obey him (as long as he asks “please”). In the fourth episode, “The Price of Gold,” Rumpel kills Cinderella’s fairy godmother and makes a deal with Cinderella: her perfect evening at the ball in exchange for “something precious,” which turns out to be her firstborn. “All magic,” he says, “comes with a price.” In Storybrooke, Rumpel becomes the wealthy Mr. Gold, and continues to be the one who can make things happen… for a price.

In the episode “Desperate Souls,” Rumpelstiltskin’s backstory is revealed, and that backstory sheds considerable light on his actions throughout the show. Rumpel was originally powerless. He was weak, crippled, cowardly, and impoverished. He had been conscripted to fight in the Ogre Wars, but ran away. Other characters treat him with contempt. His wife couldn’t stand to live with a coward, and so left him. A soldier mocks his weakness and humiliates him when he tries to bargain for his son’s freedom (“What do I want? You have no money, no influence, no land, no title, no power. The truth is, all you really have is fealty… kiss my boot.”). Later in the episode, Rumpel gains immense magical power by killing The Dark One (becoming the new Dark One in the process), and exacts revenge on the soldier. He becomes a figure of terror, later killing a man for accidentally scratching his son.

Many of his further actions involve an insatiable drive to increase his power, and prevent its loss. He kills Cinderella’s fairy godmother in order to steal her wand. He manipulates the relationship between Snow White and Prince Charming in order to produce the ultimate in magic: true love in a bottle. When his son tells him that everyone is afraid of him, Rumpel insists that he needs “more power” to protect what is his, and when the Blue Fairy shows him a way to abandon his power and keep his son’s love, he is so afraid of losing it that he lets his son be dragged into an alternate world, apparently losing him forever. When Belle falls in love with him, and her kiss begins to make him human again, he believes it to be a plot by the queen to “make me weak,” and flies into a rage. In the final episode of the first season, Rumpel manages to open a magic portal, and it appears that he is trying to retrieve his son, but instead he releases magic into Storybrooke. Rumpel’s long-term strategy remains unclear, but it is certain that somehow it will involve bringing him even more power.

When discussing the psychology of power and weakness, nobody does it better than Alfred Adler. Adlerian psychology (also called Individual Psychology) holds that the underlying force that motivates our behavior is a striving to compensate for helplessness and inferiority. We are all born weak and powerless, surrounded by giants and subject to their whims. Over time, if we handle these childhood feelings of inferiority in a healthy manner, our personality develops so that we strive for superiority in a way that benefits everyone (for example, if I strive to be an outstanding psychology professor, not only do I gain a sense of “mastery,” thus overcoming inferiority feelings, but my students also benefit from superior teaching, the college benefits from superior service, the field of psychology benefits from superior research, and so on). If these feelings of inferiority are not handled well, however, our personality becomes pathological.

We do not have any indicators of Rumpelstiltskin’s childhood. All we have to go on is our one look at his adult life. However, many of his actions fit Adler’s description of an inferiority complex. The core of the inferiority complex is an unshakeable sense of “smallness,” manifesting itself in behavior patterns such as timidity, indecision, shyness, cowardliness, and submissive obedience. An unresolved inferiority complex can produce a neurotic personality, obsessed with safeguarding self-esteem and personal security. In Adler’s words, “All neurotic symptoms are safeguards of persons who do not feel adequately equipped or prepared for the problems of life” (“The Structure of Neurosis,” 1932).
There are a number of pathological personalities that can be produced, but the one that best fits Rumpel is a destructive “Ruling-Dominant Type” (“The Fundamental Views of Individual Psychology,” 1935), characterized by an active and aggressive attempt to master their lives and the people in them. This type of personality undermines our ability to form what Adler called “social interest,” the sense of connection to and sympathy for one’s fellow humans. Rumpelstiltskin’s life of powerlessness left him with deep-seated anxiety, and he is so afraid of returning to a position of weakness that he would rather lose everything than accept anything less than utter supremacy.

How will this pathology play out in the second season? Now that magic has been introduced to the “real world” of Storybrooke, how will Rumpelstiltskin use it? How does this play into his ongoing contest with Regina? What is his real goal, and why was he willing to accept temporary disempowerment to achieve it? Will Belle stay with him, knowing that she could never be as important to him as his own power?

Next Time: Queen Regina and the Psychology of Evil

#OUAT: A Great Examination of Evil; #Grimm Just Plain Awful

“We choose evil; but evil also ‘chooses’ us and exerts its terrible power over us.” ~ Miroslav Volf

Okay, so I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Once Upon a Time is a better show than Grimm. I’ve said that #OUAT has better acting, better storylines, better character development, and now I want to explore how it also has a better theology of evil.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, or have taken some kind of weird principled stand against watching #OUAT, here’s the skinny:
The evil queen, because she is angry at Snow White and Prince Charming’s happiness, enlists the help of Rumplestiltskin to put all of the Magic Kingdom under a curse. This curse transports all the citizens to the “real world” town of Storybrook. Here, they not only don’t know who they are, but their personalities are also altered so that they become weak, submissive, and easily manipulated by Regina, the evil queen – turned mayor.

Of course, through the season we get the back story and character development of many of the characters, including the evil queen and Rumple. And yet, while they both had tragic pasts – Regina with a manipulative mother who kills her lover, and Rumple who was the ‘coward of the county’ – there is still abundant evidence that they specifically chose to do what they do. They have chosen evil. They have chosen to put their pursuit of power above love, compassion and even family.

And that is what makes them truly evil. Even when they have the opportunity to make the choice, to choose sacrifice over power, they without hesitation choose the power. This is seen particularly in the season finale. Even though Rumple’s love, Belle has been found, and through the sacrifice of Henry and the love of his real mother, hers and everybody else’s memories restored, Rumple is not content to let things be. He uses the last of his “true love” potion to bring magic into the world. At first, it appears that he is using the potion to find what he had lost, namely is son, but quickly it becomes apparent that more important than his son, or Belle, is reclaiming the power of magic. Even Regina, who seems to cry over having Henry learn the truth about her (which he knew all along) is actually crying over her loss of control. And as the dark purple cloud of magic pours across the town, she smiles evilly. The magic is coming back and she will once again have the power to control and to manipulate.

So, the season ends, with the viewer asking questions and wanting more:
The fairy tale characters have their true identities back but they’re stuck in the real world, what is that going to mean?
Magic is entering the real world, how is that going to work? Is it going to affect all of the world or just Storybrook?
What do the evil queen and Rumple have up their sleeves?
Will there will a power struggle between them to control this brave new world that is a mix of reality and magic?

There are so many writings I go could to in exploring the theology of evil in #OUAT, but in the end, Mirsoslav Volf has the most poignant reflection on evil and it fits so well with the evil that is presented in the show.

It has been often pointed out that the power of evil rests on the power of ‘imperial speaking,’ the power by which evildoers seek to create an illusion that ‘all is well’ when in fact all is anything but well; and ruin is about to take place. But why do people believe the evildoers, we may wonder? …Because they have been blinded an ‘evil spirit?’ This is part of the answer. The other, more important part is that evil is capable not only of creating an illusion of wellbeing, but of shaping reality in such a way that the lie about ‘wellbeing’ appears as plain verity. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 89.

And as for #Grimm? Well, save for the last two episodes, it was not and should not be considered to be like anything from the Whedonverse (Sorry Rod. Oh wait, I’m not sorry because I’m right). Poor writing. Poor acting. Poor character development. Inconsistent presentation of what the ‘Wesen’ nature means (is it something like sin nature that must always be fought against and harnessed? Is it just the way it is, and should be embraced? Is it a source of power and strength? And should the new Grimm be actively fighting them, or are they just okay to be left alone? The show doesn’t ask or answer these questions well or consistently, rather it seems to be up to each individual episode). We’ll have to see how the second season shapes up, and if it can keep the suspense of the last two episodes. If it does, I’ll keep watching, if not, #Grimm will suffer the fate of so many vampires: staked through the heart by a butt-kicking female superhero, in this case, the entire female cast of #OUAT.