Revisionist literature TV
Preface: I like tradition. I like my literature. I like stories that I can recall from childhood and pull up over myself like a warm blanket against the cold, harsh realities of adulthood. That being said, the plot twists and gutting of some of my favorite childhood stories this week by ONCE UPON A TIME and SLEEPY HOLLOW has me doing the Numfar dance of joy. Seriously, it might end up on YouTube.
FAIR WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD for the ONCE UPON A TIME episode "Think Lovely Thoughts" (11/17) and SLEEPY HOLLOW "Necromancer" (11/18). Serious huge SPOILERS, I'm not kidding.
I'm talking about origin stories for major characters in these shows, the kinds of origin stories that you want to experience in the episodes, not on my blog.
Okay, so you've seen them both (or you don't care). Let the SPOILERS commence.
It's a good thing I'm into the revisions that these shows are taking on. I hope everyone is. It's creative and exciting and mind blowing (in those figurative ways in which we love having our mind blown). I didn't think anyone this week was going to top ONCE UPON A TIME telling me that Peter's evil shadow is not his, it's the original inhabitant of Neverland and that Peter Pan is Rumple's dad. How do you top that? When that green smoke swirled away, I expected a kid to be standing there --- but not Peter "Rumple, I am your Father" Pan. Seriously. Mind. Blown. Beautiful twist. And honestly, for anyone who saw that coming and feels wildly superior to me right now, I hope that when Henry took his perfect little gold-lined heart and shoved it into Peter's chest and promptly dropped dead --- I hope, at least, that got you.
So here I am thinking "Well, nothing's topping that this week."
And then Sleepy Hollow raised a hand and said, "I'd like to test that theory." I actually feel wildly brain dead over Sleepy Hollow's story this week. HOW, HOW, HOW, did I not see this coming? They made Ichabod a British defector. They made Katrina Van Tassel his wife --- and a witch. They made the Headless Horseman the personification of Death itself, a horseman of the Biblical apocalypse. So HOW IN THE NAME OF ALL THINGS TOM MISON did I not figure out the moment they said the words "Abraham Van Brunt" that Brom Bones would turn out to be the headless horseman. HOW? It's so good. It makes me smile in my soul. No, seriously. I loved that twist. I love that they made Ichabod's biggest rival from literature his biggest rival for the end of days. Because why the hell not?
I love that ONCE UPON A TIME has made Peter Pan --- the immortal youth who, while puckish and always done as the lonely hero whose only crime is not wanting to grow up --- into a heart stealing monster who would kill a child to hold onto that immortality and youth. Brilliant.
Why I love these two origin updates so much is that they complement the re-imaginings that these two shows have already established. They feel natural to their world orders. They seem right at home in their respective worlds. Washington Irving and J.M. Barrie might be rolling in their graves, but I hope they're sitting up in literary heaven with a plasma TV enjoying the hell out of these fresh interpretations.
The other reason I love the twists is because they both ask "WHY?"---they both step back and analyze a situation and draw on their source materials. In Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it's Brom who tells Ichabod of the horseman. It's intimated that it's Brom who takes on the guise of the midnight rider and chases Ichabod's schoolteacher into oblivion. So to say that the horseman in TV's new Sleepy Hollow IS Brom Bones---Irving already laid that groundwork. It makes great sense and it's elegant in its simplicity. And much like the new Ichabod, we're getting a whole new Peter Pan that is the villain of ONCE UPON A TIME, that is ruthless, and the writers there are flat-out questioning the rules of Neverland and questioning what keeps Peter young. Why would we ask that? Because it's a brilliant question and it pains me that I didn't think to ever ask before now. All magic comes with a price --- how I never figured out that the base rule of magic on that show would play so fully into this storyarc about Peter and Neverland blows... yep, my mind.
On one hand, these TV show writers are pulling from source material and manipulating it to their hearts' content. On the other hand, they're pulling from source material and finding ways to surprise and shock us while still holding to some underlying theme or story point (like a rivalry over Katrina or the want to never grow up). Taking a work of literature and putting it on television takes adaptation---that is a given---but these two shows, especially this week (thank you November sweeps), took it up a notch and showed us that it's not simply about adapting, but about re-envisioning.
I can't wait to see what they re-envision next.
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Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.