Once Upon a Time the review (aka two friends having a good old chinwag)

[Written or rather chatted about by Sharon Ring and Mark S. Deniz]


Once upon a time there was a publisher and literary agent and they sat down to ponder a recent urban fantasy series…

Some of the main characters of the show

Mark: I’d say it’s all your fault, but seeing as I am very positive about the series now, I probably need to thank you for pushing me to watch more episodes when I was watching one every now and again and was 18 episodes behind the rest of you. What was it about the show that grabbed you right off?

Sharon: It didn’t grab me right off at all. That first episode was full of schmaltz. Well-written but full of so many cliches I was tempted to give up on it. Those in the know who were already watching it persuaded me to persevere, so I did.

M: Ah, so you pretty much started the way I did then but had a head start on me? Cool! So what kept you interested?

S: It’s a combination of factors. The dialogue is wonderful, the inter-weaving of plot and sub-plot is superb, the casting is excellent (one character in particular is genius casting for the show). More on that character in a bit!

M: I think I might know who it is…;-) I only just realised that we haven’t had a proper chat about the show, so this little online chat is our first ‘real’ chat – ooh the spontaneity of it all! Well not surprisingly it seems that we agree on what makes the show great (even with its schmaltzy bits), and I actually know who a few of your favourite characters are (not that our readers do though…). I was immediately impressed with protagonist, Emma Swan, sassy, sexy, pivotal role in the whole thang. I had a couple of characters that really grabbed me later on too, was that fact that it was deliciously character-driven the biggest thing for you or would you say the plots and sub-plots did it?

S: A bit of both. There are one or two weaker characters but I think that’s more to do with my own personal preferences of stories from my childhood. Without giving away too many spoilers there is a revelation later on in the series that was a huge disappointment for me. However, the upside to that disappointment was how the writers of the show played with those expectations. The internet was buzzing for weeks over this one hook.

M: Blimey, I missed all that kerfuffle entirely. I am going to write a spoiler alert at the beginning of this post so that when it goes live those who read this without having seen the show do so at their peril. So spill the beans, Sharon, what did I miss?

S: It was the true identity of August W Booth. Man, that bugged me. I wanted him to be Mr Gold/Rumpelstiltskin’s son, Baelfire, and what did we get? Bloody Pinocchio, that’s who! Yes, it fitted the storyline as we got closer to the truth and it allowed for some wonderful soul-searching on the part of Mr Gold, but ultimately I was disappointed by the revelation. It does, of course, leave room for an appearance from Baelfire in the next series, about whom I have a potential theory.

M: Ah, yes. I actually loved the scene where August announces he is Baelfire, as both he and Robert Carlyle were excellent in the scene. It was quite heart-wrenching stuff. It felt like Pinocchio was a character that didn’t really need to be in the show, as it felt like it was always going to be wedged in (see what I did there)…

S: I felt that was as well for a while. Once he reached the point of a reunion with Gepetto, his real father, that kind of made up for things. As it’s a huge theme for the show those reunions are really something. Still, back to Rumpelstiltskin for a minute. He’s the one I mentioned as a favourite character. I could rattle on about him all evening.

Sharon’s bloke

M: We might well get some of your rattling…I immediately loved his Rumpelstilstkin entrance, with his whiny/weasly giggles…that sort of tipped him into the favourites pile.

S:  It’s one of the most genius castings I’ve seen in a long while. I had no idea he was going to be in it. Just saw him pop up on screen and I was in love from the get-go. The dual characters work perfectly, perhaps better than any of the others. And his long arc behaviour has been exceedingly well thought out by the writers. I expect he has a whale of a time getting to play this odious, mercurial monster. Although, as the show progresses it becomes apparent that his monstrosity is not what it first appears to be.

M:Yes, agreed, if I’m not mistaken, he’s one of four people that are aware of the curse from the beginning: Henry, The Wicked Queen and August being the others. That’s one thing that if it’s been mentioned then I’ve forgotten it or missed it, which is the explanation about why three others (actually four, I’ve just remembered my favourite minor character, the Mad Hatter) know about something that was only known to the Queen (as per her spell). And why is Henry her adopted son – for plot purposes?

S: The way I see it Henry is her adopted son for a very important reason. Bear with me on this. Rumpelstiltskin was the one who put the idea in the Wicked Queen’s head to cast the spell to take them all out of Story Book Land and into Storybrooke. So far so good. What’s his reasoning behind all this? It’s because he wants to find his son, Baelfire. To do that he needs to cross to our world so he gets her to cast the spell, drags them all over, then waits for Emma to grow up (because time is irrelevant in Storybrooke, he can wait). He then treks off to get Henry in order to eventually entice Emma to town to break the spell. Once the spell is broken he can then bring magic into the world with a spell of his own making, which will then allow him to find Baelfire. Whaddya think?

M: I think I’m with you there m’dear, makes a whole lotta sense that one! I still want an answer for the others knowing about the curse, oh wait Pinocchio went through with Emma. What about the Hatter though, is it because he’s a loon?

S: Actually, I’m not sure on that one. I should probably go through the season again as I know the answer’s in there somewhere. Maybe something he did or said to the Wicked Queen at some point that made her want to punish him by forcing him to stay away from his daughter? That does seem to be a bit of a thing with her – separating people from their loved ones, which, from a psychological point of view is all down to her own heartbreak when she was younger, forcing her to become the person she is.

M: *nods* There is something about her leaving him trapped in Wonderland when she takes her father back through the hat which could link to it – oh there’s a lot I want to know about the Hatter in season two! So, should we argue about one of your faves now and easily one of my least favourites, Snow White?

Not by Mark she isn’t!

S: I love her and won’t hear a bad word said about the woman! Bring your argument forth then but don’t expect any more than short shrift from me on this subject! 😉

M:Erm, was it Snow White I meant? Well there’ll be one thing you can’t stand fast on and that’s the fight scene when she and the seven dwarfs rescue Prince (the most irritating character in the show) Charming from his Dad/Not Dad Jim Robinson – how bad was that done?

S: It wasn’t the best scene in the series but I see no reason to put Snow down for that one scene. Anything else? And you’re right about Charming. What a bland, insipid specimen he is.

M: I just thought casting was a bit off, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that but wasn’t Snow supposed to be the fairest in the land, not the rough, tough fighting gal that would lose out to Red, the Witch, the dizzy fairy, etc, etc. any day of the week? “Mirror Mirror on the wall, you’ve got bad taste methinks”

S: That’s a little mean, isn’t it? Speaking on a personal level here, I find her very pretty. But I think some of the casting with this character is that they wanted a traditional look – the dark hair and porcelain skin – they certainly got that right. That said, she is certainly not as striking as many of the other female characters. Same goes for Charming and I wonder if this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the show. Standard generic casting so they don’t take over the whole show?

M: A very good point and I’m inclined to agree. They weren’t brave enough to make that decision with Emma, as she is incredibly striking, although has many flaws which make her very human. Her inability to deal with responsibility being a massive part of her arc. That leads me to one element that was very well done throughout and that was Emma’s reluctance to accept what was happening because we were being given the story in somewhat of a third person viewpoint and were aware of the curse immediately. That Emma wasn’t forced us to keep reminding herself that there was no way she should believe what was going on just because a child and a stranger told her similar things. Even when the Hatter ranted on about things you could see there was no way she was falling for it. One of my pivotal moments was when August showed her his wooden leg and it was normal for her. This concept that there is much more out there if we were open to it and not so blinded by logical was summed up at once.

S: Emma is striking? Well, there’s no accounting for taste. As you say it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, it’s interesting that you raise the subject of what’s logical and what’s not because one of the things I love about the show is the comparison between who they are in Story Book Land and who they become in our world. Traits and trades remain – such as Jiminy Cricket becoming local psychiatrist Archie Hopper or Rumplestiltskin becoming Mr Gold the local, hmm, what exactly is he? Antique shop owner, landowner, occasional lawyer. Jack of all trades that one. I digress. The comparison of the dual characters gets me and I think it might be a vital clue to Baelfire’s eventual appearance.

A very striking Emma (I’m sure you agree)!

M: Indeed! One thing I want to mention before I forget, (giving me a chance to pretend I didn’t read your comments about comely Emma) is the issue at the end of the season. Basically I’ve been reading on forums (I know, I know, me reading) that people are suspecting that the storm that came in means that we are wound back to the setting at the beginning with no one rememberiing who they are. If that was the case I would turn off the TV after about three minutes. Surely the ending was that everyone now knows who there were but are trapped in our world, some of them now having power again. What’s your thoughts?

S: Not sure yet. I’d be disappointed if that were the case but I think it might be something different. It’s something of Rumpelstiltskin’s, I’m sure of that. It’s a reversal of the curse, but I believe he may have added a clause to the reversal. A straightforward reversal would mean everyone’s memory restored and a return to their own land. I don’t think that’s going to happen because I don’t think that’s what Rumpelstiltskin wants. Remember I said I think this is all about him getting back his son? Why would he yank them out of our world and whisk them back to their own? I think they’ll stay where they are and I think some characters will continue to remember what has happened. Perhaps characters who are in a position to help him find his son. I do think that we will see many more characters coming in from the outside world, Baelfire being one of them.

M: That would be cool, as characters who know who they are in our world would open up all kinds of plot-goodness! And I agree with this thing about the characters coming in from the outside as they know who they are now and that makes a difference to their lives/motivations. Maybe the Hatter made a deal with Gold, because this would also benefit him, yes?

S: Perhaps, although don’t rule out the possibility of him having made a deal with the Queen of Hearts. Remember he was locked in her world, had his removed and replaced, then set to work to make another magic hat. She was quite an intriguing character. We didn’t hear her actual voice or see her, which was a bit of a thing with everyone in her Court. Lots of covered faces, did you notice? I think she may well be around more in the next season and there’s a fair chance we might discover she’s behind Jefferson/Mad Hatter being one of those aware of the spell.

M: I may well have got that one way off then, as I thought she was the one who the Wicked Queen had a fight with who then became the Sleeping Beauty Queen/Dragon…oh, I’m all confused now…I do remember the covered faces though, which was a tad creepy.

Oh and that apple, genius way of getting Snow to take a bite. Not sure how Gold had planned to deal with the whole thing about Emma eating the pie (if she had) either…

S: Okay, well the Sleeping Beauty Queen was Maleficent so she couldn’t have been the Queen of Hearts. Did you spot who was playing Maleficent? Pam from True Blood. I love that woman, she’s bloody great. Yes, the covered faces were very creepy and I’d like to know more about that. There’s a second series sub-plot right there. Hmm, how would Gold have dealt with Emma eating the apple pie? That’s a tricky one. It’s easy to think, because he’s been manipulating events from before the curse was cast, that he’s capable of stopping and causing all that happens but I guess that’s not the case, unless he has more up his sleeve than we’re aware of at this point. Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

M: I noticed our Pam (I can call her that, yes?) and the lovely Amy Acker too (who I have such a thing for, and incidentally is in Grimm as well). Of the main characters in the show there are three I think we need to look at here (we can ignore Prince Charming) and they are: the Wicked Queen, Henry and Red (oh, OK Red is not a main character but she is lovely!).

S: Where do we start? How do we solve a problem like Regina? She is fantastic. One of the things I’m most impressed with in her character development is allowing her to have a reason for her behaviour. It certainly doesn’t justify it but it serves to help the viewer understand that she was once a lovely young woman in love. It’s well-played. The show’s writers could have gone for a cardboard cut-out evil queen but they’ve chosen to humanise her. I think, though this is a massive speculative leap on my part, that we may just begin to see more of this side of her in the next season.

We love Regina here!

M: Yes, she starts off very cardboard but gets all those human traits as the season goes on. She’s a complex character who has had to adapt to a world in which she doesn’t belong but one which she forced herself (and all the characters) to. She’s also rather striking too…

And Red is just an interesting character through and through, there we have this little throwback to Twin Peaks and all of a sudden she comes into her own in one episode. I loved the whole thing with the cloak too, the fact that the cloak was her protection from the wolf inside her.

Henry is a little love, thankfully not one of these hugely irritating child actors that we are overwhelmed with in other programs (Terra Nova anyone?). I like the way he maintains his faith in his mum and is so determined to see ‘justice’ done that he’ll break any rule to do it.

S: You’re going to have to explain your Twin Peaks comment at some point. The cloak device was very clever and I wonder how soon it will be in the next season before we see its reappearance. If their powers are returned but in our world, that could make for an interesting moment or two. Henry’s initial determination to find his mum and then to make her believe what he knows to be real is a wonderful side of the show. It taps into something many children feel at some point in their lives – a feeling that mum or dad is not really their parent, that somewhere out there is the real parent who will truly love them, not like the wicked ‘other’ with whom they are forced to live.

M: Good point – I realise we have chatted a good long while now, you think any of our readers are still reading? Any conclusions on the show/last thoughts?

S: Yes, one. The thing that keeps drawing me back time and again, beyond the things I’ve already mentioned, is the delight the show takes in booting the viewer’s cynicism out the window. It is unashamedly fun and funny, and it also demonstrates that no matter how evil or bad to the bone a person may appear, there’s always a story beneath the surface and we should perhaps remember that next time we decide to judge another person.

M: A cracking point to end on, thank you ever so much for joining me on this and I can honestly say I can’t wait for our next banter!

The Fae are back in town!

It’s here, once more it’s time for Fae Awareness Month! The other awareness months have admittedly faded a little over the last couple of years but not the fae, the tricksy little (or not so little) mites…

I’m half inclined to put it down to them, the others, those in the limbo lands, the inbetween but I guess it comes down to the person at the helm, none other than author of the extremely dark fae novel, ‘Scripped‘, KV Taylor, who has made sure that this year is as fun-packed, nay, even more fun-packed than last, with the regular: movies, reviews, articles and giveaways, written by a whole host of talented writers, bloggers, fans, etc.

We start today with The Wizard of Oz, and what better way to open than with one of the best films of its or any other genre in fact, a true masterpiece of cinema, pretty much the only musical I will watch, based on the idea that apart from the seminal ‘Over the Rainbow’, sung by Dorothy at the farm, all the musical numbers are in a dream/fairytale world and not actually real…(rather than other musicals where my suspension of disbelief is tested to the full when car mechanics suddenly burst into a song and dance routine in the middle of a working day!)

The films and first episodes of our chosen TV series are available on Dropbox. If you’ve got it, let us know and we’ll add you to the folder, if not then create yourself an account and find yourself the proud owner of 2GB of free storage!

What more is there to say for now, except to get ready for an excellent month of film, literature and blogging goodness that will give you new insights into the world of the fae and might even lead you to realize that they are actually amongst us…


Beware the Fae (or at least the Quickling)

You nasty little beast!

“O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone; the lash of film;
Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the 
elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the 
hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—”

Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene IV

In light of KV Taylor’s desire to dismiss the myth that the Fae (fairies) are Tinkerbell type characters, dispensing goodness the world over (even though Tinkerbell herself was not too friendly to mortals upon their arrival in Neverland – but that’s for another post), I decided to discuss the darkest of the Fae in the gaming world – the Quicklings.

The Quickling has been a favourite of the D20 canon of monsters, featuring in all but one of the versions of the various game systems available. The ideas behind the Fae have changed during the versions but the overall concept remains the same.

The original Quickling

In saying this, however, I have yet to meet one in my 26 years of playing various RPGs (on and off this is, and very seldom of late) so regardless of whether they are a favourite of the D&D creators, nobody running games that I have been involved in thought them as interesting as I do.

In truth in the gaming world of D20 or Dungeons and Dragons or even D&D (as it is affectionately known) the fairies are generally a goodly bunch, albeit a little mischievous and occasionally wicked (too many to name and describe here), it is the Quicklings that are the epitomy of that which casts a deep dark shadow over the D20 fae.

My inclusion of the above speech from Romeo and Juliet, is in regards to the opinion that Quicklings are Brownies that have been corrupted by The Queen of Air and Darkness, also known as Queen Mab. Brownies have various names in folklore but are seen as a helpful fae in D&D, cleaning homes while the owners are away or sleeping (perfect!). This doesn’t mean that the Quicklings are responsible for messing the homes back up – if only that were the case. No, Quicklings involve themselves in much more sinister deeds and ally themselves with all sorts of nefarious characters.

Not wanting to get into the technical details of the Quickling (as in game mechanics), they are rather weak and an easy kill, that is if you can catch them. It is here where the Quickling’s strength lies, as they are incredibly small and incredibly fast and their speed pretty much makes them invisible to the human eye.

I only used a Quickling in a game once, although he appeared to the characters much later than expected, as he had made sure to keep himself at a distance and out of sight (see above) whilst helping his chosen master, a black paladin. The characters when eventually put into a situation where they had to deal with the Quickling found him impossible to catch, deal with or subsequently kill. He was a menace for two or three sessions before he finally made a blunder, falling prey to his own ego and being caught by the party’s sorcerer. The sorcerer was not aware of what the Quickling was, however, (being as my groups were used to the not using of out-of-game knowledge) and was tricked into believing he was a Pixie, thus enabling him to go free. However, he plagued them no more, as after being caught by the heroes once he was aware that there was a risk of this happening again. Ignoring his pledge to the black paladin, he left the campaign and returned to the Sylvan lands to tend his bruised ego, before his return to the realm, some two hundred years later.

As mentioned earlier, the idea with Fae Awareness Month was to remind us that the Fae aren’t really the loveable, helpful creatures that some would have you believe but usually have a hidden agenda, one which as well as benefitting the giver, almost certainly has unwanted side effects for the recipient. The Quickling is a step beyond the Fae in that the Quickling is very rarely in a mood to help and will only do so for its own gain and to the detriment of goodly beings (rather than helping for a price). They have a deep hatred for their Brownie kin and will generally attack their cousins on sight.

The modern Quickling (aka a bit naff)

Taken at face value the Quickling is one of the less interesting Fae, as its role falls into a classic fantasy trope of pure evil. In reading the descriptions in the various monster manuals, it has no redeeming qualities and is utterly without morals or remorse…that is if you want to read that way. I see the Quicklings as the black sheep of the Fae family, misunderstood and mistrusted, leading to deep seated resentment for their failure to be accepted as true Fae but rather described as deformed and twisted Brownies.

If you’re worried about the Fae and their tricky deals and offers of help then you best hope to god you don’t come face to face with the Quickling.

Nostalgia gets a talking to–The Dark Crystal review

(written by Fae Awareness Month team member, Mark S. Deniz)


Coming back to a loved childhood film always leads to an interesting dilemma in terms of reviewing. This is due to a question of comparing quality versus nostalgia. However, this is not an issue if the film itself holds the standard we remember from our youth, which we can only tell if we take that step back from our emotional attachment to it.

The Dark Crystal is a film that demands the step back from nostalgia…

The film itself is standard epic fantasy fare, in that there is a prophecy that an unwilling hero must achieve to save the world from destruction, there are clear examples of good and evil and there are impossible obstacles to overcome on the road. The Dark Crystal also has several little interesting elements that keep it interesting enough for those tired of the same old, same old.

An element that cannot be escaped is the fact that all the characters we are watching are muppets, lacking in facial expressions and unable to allow us to empathise with them, in fact the worst of these are the two Geflings, the ones that really need us to feel for them, which makes it hard for us to fully engage with the story.

I mean, we are watching muppets here.

In fact Henson gets carried away on more than one occasion, concerning himself with his creativity, giving us several scenes where there is absolutely no plot at all, just masses of strange creatures wandering around in the land. It can be argued that this is to give us a sense of just how alien the world is but I disagree. The whole speech (read info dump) in the beginning tells us enough so that we don’t really need to see creatures aplenty.

There are several aspects of the film that make me wish there was actually a dreaded remake on the cards, as I think The Dark Crystal has an interesting enough promise and with ‘live’ actors could be made that much more than it proves to be.[1]

Take Jen for example and imagine his character being played by a budding young star (much as Haley Joel Osment was in The Sixth Sense) and then realize how much we would be able to feel for his strife, his doubts, his quest.

Granted the Skeksis and the Mystics would need to be CGI but give them commanding voices and you could be looking at a whole other monster/creature. In truth the Skeksis and the Mystics were actually passable in the film, it was the characters around them that made the suspension of disbelief a hard hard task. I mean Aughra, the Podlings and the Landstriders, as well as the aforementioned Gelflings are so obviously muppets and muppets do not a serious film make.

Going back to those tropes,I found them a little hard to swallow in terms of the clarity of good and evil, the absolute black and white of it – the Mystic leader dies whilst imparting knowledge to Jen, a peaceful talk followed by a peaceful slumber. The Skeksis leader dies in a typical snarling rebuke to those wishing to take his place, snatching his staff from those ready to take over before he has taken his last breath. This is followed by the rest of the Skeksis (who are dwindling in number) fighting it out for the right to be the next emperor. Again there is an argument that due to the Skeksis and the Mystics being two halves of a same being, that it is easier to see the Mystics as absolute good and the Skeksis as absolute evil. This is somewhat contradicted when the two beings come together as one again and they seem almost as benign and righteous as the Mystics were on their own, thus eradicating the Skeksis from existence.

I want to like The Dark Crystal much more than I do, I want to like it more because I loved it when I saw it at the cinema all those years ago, because I liked the idea of every time one of the Mystics died its corresponding Skeksis died (and vice versa, for the reasons already mentioned), because I like my epic fantasy – I mean who is not in love with George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series at present? There is much nostalgia in the film but I have many more films from my youth that hold that nostalgia and quality balance better. Fantasy was always a tough ask for those in the film industry and it has pretty much suffered and limped along until Peter Jackson decided to film Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic, thus showing what a fantasy film could actually look like.

So forget your Ladyhawke, forget your Hawk the Slayer, forget your Krull and ultimately forget your The Dark Crystal, as nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is a tough ask.

[1] (My editor informed me that a sequel, rather than a remake is to be made)