FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA
Ships as an Essential Narrative Tool in Once Upon A Time
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
Ships are quite a popular topic among the Once Community, partly no doubt because many fan-favorite moments involve ships, and everyone loves romance and melodrama. But there is also another function that they serve. Ships on Once Upon a Time are an indispensable narrative tool by which the writers present their story. Thus in many ways they serve as the soul of the show, for the essence of the characters are entwined with their soul-mates. The outside forces beyond their control shape the characters, maybe even change them, but it is the uniting of souls through love that keeps the journey to Happily Ever After compelling.
Consider that the series began with Snowing.
We are all familiar with the dramatic, sigh-inducing opening scenes with Prince Charming riding out to kiss Snow White and wake her from the sleeping curse. Their love is asserted through their dialogue and the famous “I Will Always Find You” (try listening to the dubbing actor say that in French!). Then it’s to a wedding. You couldn’t have more shipping in these scenes if you visited a Fed Ex store.
Above: The Little Mermaid: Dissolving into Foam, Edmund Dulac, 1911
By Chris Fitzner
Glorious red hair, green tail, an amazing singing voice; when you say ‘mermaid’ that is the mental image the average person would draw. When Disney’s Ariel makes her splash debut in season three of Once Upon A Time, there’s a good chance that will be what she looks like. But Ariel is only the tip of the iceberg as far as mermaids go. Mermaids have been a part of folklore traditions throughout the world for thousands of years.
“Mermaid” is a compound of the Old English mere (sea) and maid (girl or young woman). The Old English equivalent being merewif. But the first stories of mermaids (or mere type creatures) make their appearance in ancient Assyria circa 1000 B.C.E. in the form of the goddess, Atargatis, who loved a human shepherd and after accidentally killing him, Atargatis leaped into the water in shame, transforming herself into a fish. The water was unable to hide her divine beauty and she took the form of a mermaid, human above the waist and a fish below the waist (similar to the Babylonian god, Ea). The ancient Greeks recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo.
Though mermaids have long been associated with music, their voices having the ability to enthrall and lure sailors to their deaths, Andersen’s tale contains no singing crabs, annoying sea gulls or cowardly flounders. I certainly can’t blame the Walt Disney Company for wanting to jazz it up a bit; or a lot.
In mermaid fandom, ‘mermaiding’ has grown in popularity alongside fantasy cosplay. Mermaiding is the practice of performing dolphin kicks and other movements underwater while bound in a costume mermaid tail. Mermaid performances, most famously done by the Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Show in Florida, began as roadside attractions and reached the height of their popularity in the mid-twentieth century. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, you can even hire a mermaid for your event. Raina the Halifax Mermaid entertains and educates on local ocean ecology issues. (http://rainamermaid.blogspot.ca/)
The most famous story and the origins (if you will) to Ariel is “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1837. It has always struck me as a sad tale, especially after the happier Disney version, as the little mermaid doesn’t get her happily ever after with the prince and even her life on land was a torment.
Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow.
“The Little Mermaid”, Hans Christian Andersen
In the end, her beloved prince marries another and in order to return to her sisters in the sea, the mermaid must stab the prince through the heart. In the end, the little mermaid cannot kill the prince, for love of him and his bride and she flings herself overboard, appearing to become sea foam and turning into a daughter of the air. Mermaids do not have immortal souls and can only obtain one by marrying a human; by becoming a daughter of the air, the little mermaid could earn her way to a soul after three centuries.
From ancient myth and folklore, mermaids have glided through the centuries, most often as unlucky omens, foretelling disaster and provoking it. Though they could occasionally be beneficent and benevolent, they were often dreaded signs to sailors and those in coastal cities. Sailors reported seeing mermaids, sometimes swimming alongside their vessels. In January 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids swimming ahead of his ship off the coast of present day Dominican Republic. Traditionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair, Columbus said they weren’t half as beautiful as they were painted. In this case as with the others, it is believed that it was misidentification. Mermaid sightings (when not made up) were likely manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (extinct in the 1760s).
Manatees and dugongs belong to the order Sirenia; fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters and swamps. They look clumsy but are fusiform, hydrodynamic and highly muscular. They were often taken for mermaids and if I were at sea for as long as mariners before the twentieth century, anything might seem attractive after a while! Sadly, for those of us longing for real mermaids and despite sightings even in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, the U.S. National Ocean Service stated in 2012 that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found.
That doesn’t stop the wild and fertile human imagination though and mermaids are firmly entrenched in it. From Melusine in Western Europe, rusalkas in Eastern Europe (though the rusalkas lacked a fish-like tail), mermaids and their water spirit counterparts haunt the waters of our past and present pop culture.
With Ariel scant months away from our television screens, the directions that the writers of Once could go are as endless as the deep blue sea. Might we see an Ariel with some of the darker, more mischievous traits of old folklore or will she be more the bubbly red head of our childhood memories? We’ll have to wait until season three airs to find out.
By Zachery Van Norman - @TheZachVan
Snow White is easily one of the most famous fairy tale characters in existence and a tale in which color plays a central role. The common variant of the story, brought to us by the Brothers Grimm, begins with a queen sewing by a windowsill during winter. She pricks her finger and blood falls on the snow upon the wood frame; admiring the colors, the queen wishes for a child with skin white as snow, hair black as ebony, and lips red as blood. The queen's desire is the first indication that the color red is of vital importance to the story, and she later gives birth to a daughter of desired description before dying shortly thereafter. The king marries another but also dies, and the new queen becomes jealous of Snow White's emerging beauty and plots for her huntsman to kill the princess. She demands Snow's red heart as proof of her death; the girl escapes to a cottage of seven dwarfs and is eventually poisoned by the queen's red apple, dooming her to a cursed sleep before a princely escort awakens her. As my friend Woodrow Martin explains in her article “Mix & Match,” this version of the tale changes the role of the queen, for she was originally Snow White's mother and not the stepmother.
The Snow White story has other alterations in different versions throughout the world: another Grimm telling has a count and countess riding past mounds of white snow, ditches full of red blood and a flock of black ravens before finding a girl of matching hue description. The Italian version changes the queen's proof of Snow's death from her heart to her blood-soaked shirt, while the Spanish adaptation has the queen demanding a bottle of Snow's blood corked with the girl's own toe. While the story varies from region to region, the common vein of blood runs throughout.
Of course no discussion of Snow White is complete without mentioning the famous 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This Snow White begins as a scullery maid, but her clothes later include a nod to the three colors in the common version of the fairy tale: her hair is black and tied with a red ribbon, she has “lips red as the rose,” and while her skin is not the color of snow, she wears a white collar around her neck. Her sleeves also have red accents, as if to emphasize her physical strength while toiling as a scullery maid; the ribbon in her hair could be interpreted as a simple crown for a simple princess, a subtle symbol for the color red's meaning of power. The metaphors continue as the film progresses: mirroring the queen of Grimm notoriety, Disney's Evil Queen is set on obtaining Snow's heart as her victory trophy, and uses a red apple to bring the princess under sleeping death.
Explore the Arthurian legend surrounding Lancelot, take a trip into the woods to discover the mythology behind Red Riding Hood or learn more about a modern day hero called Snow White. Origins provides unique insights and perspectives from talented writers into the characters we know and love, going far beyond the boundaries of Storybrooke.