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Once Upon A Time is a television series on the ABC network about well-known fairy tale characters intermingling in a troubled world, earth. Some of the characters include: Snow White, The Seven Dwarfs, The Evil Queen, Prince Charming, Cinderella, The Fairy Godmother, Rumpelstiltskin, Pinocchio, Jiminiy Cricket, and Geppetto. The series is a modern, human take on fairytales that focuses on filling in gaps that readers may have had when reading the corresponding original literary pieces. Although the series is only five episodes into the season, it provides new perspectives on familiar story lines that audiences of all ages are able to enjoy and critique. This wiki page utilizes Once Upon A Time as a tool to provide information on how to find out if a show or a film really is an adaptation.

Tip #1: Do not let familiar characters fool you

The main characters of the series are fairytale characters that have roots in literature. However, this should not be equated to classifying the series as an adaptation. The directors might have just wanted to pay homage to the original story or author by placing a certain character in the show. What one should do in trying to figure out if it is an adaptation, though, is to try and find if there is some sort of similitude between the literary text and the show. This similitude, whether it be through having the same theme, sticking to the major story-line of the text, or whatever it may be that gives clues for one to believe there is a relation to the original piece, is a major determining factor in deeming the show as an adaptation.

The Pilot episode of Once Upon a Time opens up with Prince Charming racing on his horse to find Snow White. Prince Charming spots her in a glass coffin, surrounded by seven dwarves. He then kisses Snow White, causing her to come out of her poison induced coma.

From this scene, one can tell that there is a resemblance with the original Brothers Grimm's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. After being saved bythe Prince, they then marry each other. Essentially, these aspects of the show are similar to the scenes in the text. Additionally, the theme of "love conquers all" had also been used. As a result of these similarities or acts of faithfulness in regards to the original text, the label of adaptation becomes viable and justifiable.

Tip #2: Check for intertextuality

Intertextuality is the concept that a film or piece of literature has many literary origins in which it's content borrows from. Furthermore, dealing with adaptations, intertextuality is a sort of connection with the movie to multiple stories. Linda Hutcheon, author of A Theory of Adaptation, describes the concept as as "mosaics of citations that are visible and invisible, heard and silent; they are always already written and read. So, too, are adaptations, but with the added proviso that they are also acknowledged as adaptations of specific texts" (21). What this means is that in order for something to be intertextual, it has to be recognized by the makers of the show or film as an aspect that is, in fact, borrowed. Otherwise, the similarity could possibly be just an idea that is somewhat similar to another's. Although Once Upon A Time does not name any particular fairy tale in the title and description, acknowledgement is brought out by the character names. For example, Snow White and Cinderella are names in the series that are both symbols for the fairy tale characters and the actual fairy tales. Although, having the same name might not always equal to being the same character or, moreover, being an adapted character. Nevertheless, there are other ways in which intertextuality is acknowledged without being too blatant. What the producers of the series have done is input additional information that readers of the fairy tales they have adapted. Essentially, they create a story without having to change the major composition of the literary characters. When they build upon a character and provide more depth to him or her, they are borrowing and enhancing what has been already created. In the process of doing so, the producers acknowledge the adapted works. Thus, lending the work to be deemed as an adaptation.

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An example of intertextuality in the series is the presence of The Evil Queen. Because she is known as the deadly and vain antagonist in Grimm Brothers' Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, audiences whom are familiar with the tale, when they see The Evil Queen's interaction with Snow White, automatically associate this aspect of the show as a portion that has been borrowed from the original.

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Pinocchio and Geppetto are two characters from Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Piniccho that have made an appearance in the television series. In the show, they help out the people of Fairy Tale Land by building equipment to use against the evils that are bound to happen as the story goes on. All of the characters interact with each other, but they still all act the same as how their original author had created them to behave.

Tip #3: Ask yourself, "If I did not know that this television show is an adaptation, do I think that it is coherent and able to stand alone as an independent show?"

Without judging whether the show is a good one or a bad one, or whether you like it or not, keep in mind that the show still has to make sense to the viewers that are not aware that the series has many intertextual components. These viewers are also called the unknowing audience. For example, these are the same people that might not know that She's The Man, the 2006 film starring Amanda Bynes, is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. As a result of not being aware of an adaptations literary origins, the unknowing audience enjoys the adaptation as a totally original creation, not based on a story. Therefore, from their perception, the show or film is not an adaptation. However, this is not the case for the knowing audience. Through their perception, they are watching an adaptation. Being aware of the borrowed aspects of the series, try to view the television show as if you were a member of the unknowing audience.

In Once Upon A Time, the show revolves around a new character, Emma, who is Snow White and Prince Charming's first born baby. Grown up, and in the real world, Emma has to help the people of Story Brooke, a town that is occupied by humans whom used to be fairy tale characters in Fairy Tale Land but were all cursed to live on Earth and have no past memories. As a result of its overall story-line, the television series is an example of an adaptation that contains several literary fairy tale characters while also having an original premise throughout.

For more information about the show and an a more detailed explanation on what goes on each episode visit the recap section of the show's ABC website by clicking on the following link: Episode Recap Guide


Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.