Once Upon a Time is one of my favorite shows. It’s a show about fairy tale characters come to life, but it is also a show about more than this. Every episode is just so rich, so deep. Themes of good versus evil, and hope versus despair. The classic fairy tale characters we all know have intricate complicating layers, and I resonate with them on many eerie levels.
I am Snow White, the good person with a good heart who cannot catch a break sometimes.
I am Grumpy, formerly “Dreamy,” a dwarf with a sunny disposition turned sour by the cold realities of this fallen world.
I am Emma Swan, the hero who doesn’t believe in herself.
I connect with the “good guys,” sure. But when I watch Once Upon a Time, I find myself soberly resonating with the bad guys even more.
I am the Evil Queen, angry over all the people and things taken from her, cynical toward a world of people finding their love and happiness, often lured by dark thoughts and ill will toward them.
I am Rumpelstiltskin, the degraded coward, bullied by all, his own wife included, beckoned by darkness, poisoned by power, desperate for the conquest of everyone.
I am good, and I am not-so-good. “We are both,” Prince Charming declares in the second season.
Fairy tales are the first stories we learn, and fairy tales stay with us. Fairy tales give us the most basic, most gripping story structure: a hero, a villain, a battle of good versus evil, and ultimately, a resolution. A happy ending.
A happy ending for the heroes. But what about the villains? What about the characters who neglect the good in them and embrace the evil?
“Villains don’t get happy endings,” Rumpelstiltskin confesses. Villains may get happy middles. They do get happy middles. They enjoy the overwhelming pleasures of power and lust. Their villainous middles extend for months or even many years, but every character’s middle always turns into an ending, and the ending is never good for villains. It is never happy.
Heroes have harder middles than villains. Heroes fall. Heroes weep. Heroes struggle and strive and strain for one more step, one more step, one more step. Heroes hope that their arduous struggle will one day turn to blessed redemption.
And yet it’s that altogether devastating middle that will produce the most perfect of happy endings.
My younger brother has become a wise man. He said something quite profound in a recent sermon. It’s one of those special quotes that makes me proud to be related to him:
“Embrace your middle season,” he says, “because the middle is what makes the story worth telling.”
We often hate the middle, we despise the middle, but we need the middle. Without the middle, there is no story. We need the middle to prepare us and train us and mold us for what’s to come.
Indeed, my own story is squarely in the middle right now. It is a most miry meddlesome middle, and I just want to reach the end. Though tempted by darkness, I want to remain a hero and find my happy ending. I am trying, but I am struggling.
Despite my cries for the end, in the middle I remain. A fairy tale character with faults and failures like everyone else, the easier paths beckoning me from my left and right. And yet the steep hill before me beckons me all the more. Makes me want to climb for the light when falling for the darkness is so much easier.
I never read Pilgrim’s Progress growing up, but I’m glad to be journeying with Christian now. I resonate with this hero.
“The hill, though high, I covet to ascend; the difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the way to life lies here.”
Christian will reach the end of his hard journey. I have not finished reading this book, and yet I know he will have his happy ending. He is a hero. And heroes have happy endings, after all.
What if I started looking at my life more through this lens? The lens of a hero, the villain defeated, the victory won, the happy ending secure? What if you did, too?
I am a hero, and so are you.
We are a fairy tale, and we are holding onto the hope of our happy ending.