The Marriage Of The Fairest Of Them All And Her Charming
by Teresa Martin (@Teresa__Martin)
I start On-Demand because I missed the first two episodes and want to catch up. As the show begins, a prince, in the most awesome prince-clothes ever, rides up to a glass coffin and kisses his bride—dead to all appearances, but wearing what looks like her wedding dress. A blast of air like a nuclear explosion bursts throughout the land when he kisses her. She gasps and opens her eyes. The Prince touches her face, and declares with conviction, “I will always find you.” Then the scene dissolves into a glorious wedding. These lovers, Snow White and Prince Charming, are dressed in their wedding clothes. He looks into her eyes and says, “I do.” The show hasn’t even been on for five minutes and I am already sighing, thinking about how all is well in the world. Marriage, after all, is the artistic symbol for eternal happiness and peace. This is confirmed by the joy of the wedding guests who clap enthusiastically. They are married! Time for the Happily Ever After. The newly-married pair leans in to seal the marriage with a kiss--the replacement for a consummation scene in family shows--when the momentum is halted. An evil queen interrupts and declares before the astonished congregation that she will take their happiness away, not caring who she hurts. The Prince throws a sword at her, but she disappears into black smoke. Then I am transported unceremoniously into a story about a sad woman in modern times who is alone on her birthday. Someone knocks. The melancholy woman opens the door and a boy announces that he is her son.
I pause. Not bad. Decent show. I get up to refill my drink, but something is just not right. It’s not the boy who is out alone at night. Not the lonely blond woman. What is it? I thought for a moment, and then abruptly realize it is the marriage scene. Was it the evil Queen? No, it was not her interruption. I'd seen that in more than one fairy tale. I take more ice out of the freezer, refill my soda, and then I get it.
The indelible nuptial kiss between Prince Charming and Snow White never happened.
Welcome to Season One of Once Upon A Time.
The opening scenes of the Pilot begin with all that is familiar in the fairy-tale,” Snow White.” The glass coffin is present, Snow is dressed all in white, and the Prince is ready with a kiss. All of these are symbols which exist in art to evoke the familiar and comfortable. Therefore, when the next scene presents an interrupted ceremony, one is jolted and restless. A wedding traditionally signifies completion. Stories end with a wedding. They should not begin with one, let alone present a fractured ritual. The audience is thrown off balance, and is deprived of a cathartic satisfaction. This disquiet continues throughout the entire season as the story of Snow White and Prince Charming, along with their Storybrooke counterparts, unfolds. An arduous journey toward completion is begun in a quest to fulfill the promise given in the opening scenes. While their conclusion is always just a little out of reach due to Regina’s curse, the eternal power of symbols reorients the audience and the characters toward the climax of the season.
The heroine of the story, Snow White, and her Storybrooke persona, Mary Margaret Blanchard, drip with symbols. One of them is presented the first time Mary Margaret appears in a Storybrooke scene. She is a teacher. Famous teachers in history range from Plato, to Confucius, and the Buddha. Jews call their spiritual guides Rabbi, or Teacher, as Jesus is often called in Christian tradition. Teachers are imparters of wisdom and become guides to those in their charge. When called to this profession, a person is able to do so because of being infused with knowledge. For this reason, teachers are associated with apples, hearkening back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, they are cursed with toil, pain, and death. As a result of Regina’s curse, Mary Margaret is herself a figure of knowledge, but not protected from the pain which will result from her actions.
Snow White also has a journey fraught with grief. After her father’s murder, she is cast from her home. However, her new image is that of the warrior maiden. Myth is rife with this figure. Hua Mulan from China dresses as a man, as does Snow, to fight for survival. The Hopi people have the tradition of the Kachina, a maiden who defends her people. Joan of Arc also plays this role as she leads her people to victory, only to be betrayed and burned to death. Snow demonstrates that she has the necessary characteristics of this symbol when she holds her own in hand-to-hand combat against the fully-grown prince, despite his superior strength.
After this unusual meeting, it is telling that Snow refuses to call the Prince by his name, James. Rather she insists on calling him “Charming.” Here she is playing upon the expression “Prince Charming,” a name defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a suitor who fulfills the dreams of his beloved.” It is as though Snow is unwittingly making a prophecy. Charming will fulfill her dreams, but in the last way she could have imagined. When she helps him retrieve his lost jewels, she does not realize that she is rescuing her own engagement ring.
Likewise, having her real memories replaced by the curse, Mary Margaret is unaware that she is wearing the ring Charming gave her. A ring is given to a person traditionally as an outward sign of a promise to marry, a “symbol of continuity and wholeness (Cirlot, 273).” It is made of gold, the most precious of minerals. A ring is also a circle, the universal sign of infinity. Snow’s ring has an emerald in the shape of a heart, the symbol of love, but also that without which a person cannot live. Green signifies fertility and nature, most notably the reliable repeating cycle of the seasons. Every aspect of this ring signifies life and eternity: the ultimate sign of stability. This is the ring that Charming gives to Snow when he proposes in the season finale. He will be her Charming, and together they will rule their kingdom.
In Storybrooke, Snow’s name Mary Margaret itself contains meaning. Mary evokes the image of purity and the Virgin Mary. Yet the name also means “bitter” from the Hebrew Miriam, foreshadowing the pain which is to come for the character. The second part of her name, Margaret, means “pearl,” which is also a symbol of purity, but additionally signifies humility. In the Pilot, Mary Margaret has those qualities. One could argue that the moment Mary Margaret sheds this purity after her disappointment in love that her character spirals into chaos, losing not just possibly her virginity, but also her wisdom as she continues to make ill-advised decisions. Her one-night stand with a man she holds in contempt is shocking because it is so out of character to the woman presented before. Soon after this, she consents to an affair with David, who is the antonym of Charming. David is far removed from the brave man in the Enchanted Forest. The latter many times proves that he is willing to give his very life for the woman he loves. Rather, David cannot even bring himself to have a difficult conversation to end his presumed marriage to Kathryn. The entire affair between David and Mary Margaret has the shadow of foreboding since adultery, the image of faithlessness and broken promises, cannot bring harmony. This instinct is compounded when their first kiss in Storybrooke does not break the curse, proving that their relationship is tainted by betrayal and not infused with pure, selfless love.
May 13, 2011
Yet, just when I am ready to despair of ever acquiring satisfaction with this couple, events are presented in the Enchanted Forest which foreshadow closure. I am transported back to the scene of Snow White’s awakening, but instead of cutting to the wedding at its conclusion, I see Charming, back in his grand clothing, falling on one knee. My breath stops. We all know what that means! He does not disappoint, and proposes to her. I let out the breath, and despite myself, I smile. A heart-shaped ring of gold and green is slipped onto Snow White’s finger. Did I really just sigh? At this point I don’t care as I watch entranced as we return to Storybrooke. Emma, the fruit of Snow and Charming’s union, breaks the curse. Thank goodness! All that has been out of order is set aright. I almost clap as the memories flood back into David and Mary Margaret. I see with glee that her coat is white. She is Snow again! And then there he is. I hold my breath again. The groom stops for he has found his beloved, and summons her by her true name. She rightly responds “Charming,” and runs to him. As they kiss, the camera spins in a wide, eternal circle.
I breathe out in relief.
The marriage is consummated.
Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols, Second Edition. Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2001.
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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.