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image by Veronica V. Jones

The Yin and Yang of a Modern Fairytale

Silas Weir Mitchell as Eddie Monroe and David Giuntoli as Nick Burkhardt. Jared Gilmore as Henry Mills and Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan.

Folk tales of supernatural creatures and powerful magic have been told for thousands of years, adapting in time to the changing hopes and fears of the cultures who told them. The older, more visceral fables that serve as inspiration for the sanitized, merchandised tales of our times were far darker and far more dangerous. Two new television productions are bringing these ancient fairy tales to the 21st century, each choosing a radically different approach.

Once Upon a Time actually tells two intertwined tales: the plight of medieval kingdom beset by an evil queen, and a modern town populated by that same kingdom’s inhabitants, cursed by the evil queen’s magic to live their lives with no memory of their former lives. Grimm documents the passing on of a family responsibility to combat the creatures described in the collected works of the Brothers Grimm.

In Once Upon a Time, nearly all of the combat is verbal, and all the major characters are women, with the exception of a young boy. Much like Smallville, a primary source of enjoyment is discovering how each well-known character will be reinterpreted for the production, and how the ensemble will interact. There are minor victories and setbacks with each episode, but the main thread is the ongoing struggle against the evil queen’s curse. There is a strong undercurrent of community and cooperation as a force for solving the town’s problems, pitted against a single, powerful adversary

Grimm offers plenty of action and combat with an ever-increasing host of hostile supernatural — if not Supernatural — creatures. All of the major characters are men and while an overarching conspiracy is an important subplot, the show is very episodic with a decidedly ‘monster of the week’ flavor. Grimm‘s namesake hero fights a legion of mysterious foes with only limited help from a few allies.

Both Grimm and Once show great promise, but other than the source material, they are as different as night and day…. literally. It seems as if it’s always dark and rainy on Grimm, and always bright and sunny on Once. While you’re certain to have a favorite, they both may work better together as a counterpoint for the other.

Written by in November of 2011. Last edited September 2014.

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