ABC’s Once Upon a Time is headed into its fourth season, and there’s a chill in the air. Elsa, Anna, and a few other familiar faces from Disney’s smash hit Frozen are gliding into the story, and while showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have said they aren’t veering too far off the page for this particular fairy tale, that’s not always the case. Several characters from fairy tales and fiction have appeared in the series over the years, and in many cases, their origin stories and motives aren’t what you expect. They’ve been twisted and flipped on their heads from the folklore we know, and it keeps things interesting.
I used my crystal ball (a/k/a my notes) to travel back in time and put together a list of the fairy tale characters we’ve seen so far and whether their backstories have been updated.
Warning: spoilers for seasons 1 – 4 of Once Upon a Time ahead.
The Evil Queen
One of the lead characters in Once Upon a Time, the Evil Queen becomes a villain because of Snow White, but not because Snow White was the fairest of them all. No, in this story Snow White was indirectly responsible for the death of the man the Evil Queen – then known as Regina – loved. Regina then married Snow White’s father and spent her life exacting revenge on Snow White, including casting the spell that took everyone out of the Enchanted Forest and into Storybrooke.
This Rumplestiltskin is capable of spinning straw into gold, but he’s also known as the Dark One and the Crocodile who is responsible for taking Captain Hook’s left hand. Oh, and he’s the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and the son of Peter Pan. He stays busy. In the Enchanted Realm, he was more powerful than the Evil Queen and even trained her to use magic. Becoming the Dark One twisted him from a good man into a tricksy, manipulative person.
Poor Belle hasn’t had it easy. When her father Maurice’s realm was threatened, Rumplestiltskin offered to keep it safe if Belle came to his castle and essentially became his housekeeper. She tried to save Rumple from being the Dark One with true love’s kiss, but he kicked her out. This Belle also loves books and used her knowledge to team up with Mulan and hunt a monster. Bad. Ass. When Regina brought everyone to Storybrooke, she locked Belle away for 28 years so Rumple wouldn’t find her.
This Snow White is the stepdaughter of the Evil Queen and was pursued by her, but as we’ve discussed, it wasn’t because of the Magic Mirror. Once’s Snow White is pretty awesome because she’s capable of leading the Enchanted Realm and diving into battle without hesitation. She has better shooting form than Hawkeye. Just saying. She is in love with Prince Charming.
Prince David earned the Charming nickname from Snow White. He was once a shepherd with a twin brother who was going to be King George’s heir. However, when his twin brother died, David was forced to step into his place. He almost ended up in an arranged marriage but meets Snow White and later awakens her from a sleeping curse caused by a poisoned apple with true love’s kiss. It’s much less creepy than it was in the animated film.
In Once Upon a Time, the Huntsman was raised by wolves. Like in the stories, he worked for the Evil Queen and was hired to kill Snow White. He spared her, and when the Evil Queen found out, she ripped out his heart and used it to control him like a puppet.
Bonus: The Storybrooke alias for the Huntsman is Graham Humbert and Humbert was the name of the character in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The outlaw who robs from the rich and steals from the poor stays true to his familiar origin story. He has a band of Merry Men and is in love with Maid Marian. He also has connections to the Knave of Hearts/Will Scarlet, Mulan, and Belle.
The Mad Hatter
Before the Mad Hatter went mad, he was a family man with a daughter. Then the Evil Queen came along demanding to be taken to Wonderland to rescue her father (he owns a magical hat that can travel between realms). Unfortunately, he’s beheaded and put back together by the Queen of Hearts and forced to make hats until he creates another magical one. It doesn’t work, and he goes bonkers and becomes the Mad Hatter.
Fairies can be rebellious, and when Tinker Bell tries to help the Evil Queen by stealing pixie dust, she gets kicked out of the fairy club by the Blue Fairy. She loses her wings and magic and ends up in Neverland.
Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
Princess Aurora was stuck in a sleeping curse by the witch Maleficent and was rescued by Prince Phillip and Mulan. She knew Phillip for a while before falling to the curse.
Besides cursing Aurora, Maleficent turned Phillip into a monster. He was changed back to a human by Belle and Mulan; he then saves Aurora from her sleeping curse.
Once’s Mulan is pretty freaking awesome. She served in the Emperor’s army in her native land and while she’s tracking down a beast plaguing the lands, she meets Belle. She ends up traveling with Phillip and Aurora, and it’s strongly suggested that Mulan is in love with Aurora.
Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel was transformed into a human so she could be with Prince Eric, and Once’s origin story is close. Ariel saves Eric from a shipwreck and falls in love with him. She gets legs for 12 hours a year because Ursula gives the merpeople the ability to do that when high tide rises. Also, she saves Snow White from drowning. When she wants to become a human permanently, she asks for Ursula’s help and the Evil Queen pretends to be Ursula. She tries to trick Ariel into sacrificing Snow White, but Ariel stabs Ursula/the Evil Queen in the neck with a dinglehopper. It doesn’t stop Ursula/the Evil Queen from stealing Ariel’s voice.
Maleficent is among the most popular of Disney villains, and she’s definitely rotten in this series. She’s a witch and can change her shape to become a dragon. She battles Prince Charming in this form. She temporarily possesses the Evil Queen’s Dark Curse because the Evil Queen trades it for a sleeping curse to use on Snow White (Maleficent is apparently the expert when it comes to sleeping curses).
Red Riding Hood
Look out for the big bad wolf because it’s actually Red Riding Hood. She can transform into a wolf and will if she doesn’t wear a magical red cloak obtained by her grandmother. Red eventually learns to control her wolf side and teams up with Snow White for adventures. I’d kill for a Red Riding Hood and Snow White spinoff.
Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother
Speaking of Granny, she’s a protective and kick-butt lady. She knows about the wolf curse that plagues Red’s family, and she acquired the enchanted cloak to keep her granddaughter safe. And yes, she wields a crossbow.
The Blue Fairy
The Blue Fairy seemed like the epitome of kindness in Pinocchio, and she is helpful but also a little mean – at least when it comes to her students. We haven’t seen her origin, but we do see her try to help Rumplestiltskin’s son, turn a man named Jiminy into a cricket by his request, make Pinocchio become a real boy, and save Emma and Pinocchio from the curse by coming up with the idea of making the wardrobe from an enchanted tree.
Pinocchio is a puppet who became a real boy after he saves Geppetto from drowning. The Blue Fairy tells him the spell will last as long as he is selfless, brave, and truthful. Not crazy different from the animated film.
Geppetto carved Pinocchio just like in the movie, and they went on adventures – including being chased by a whale. One difference: Geppetto was an orphan because Jiminy accidentally turned his parents into puppets. Jiminy became a cricket so he could watch over Geppetto.
Jiminy Cricket is the son of con artists but when he accepts a potion from Rumplestiltskin to try to change his fate (hey, when will Merida appear in Once Upon a Time?), he accidentally turns Geppetto’s parents into puppets. Oops.
Gif via Gif Storybrooke
This Captain Hook does have a hook instead of a hand (thanks to Rumplestiltskin), but he wasn’t always a pirate and was known as Killian Jones. He used to work for a King, but when he went to Neverland to retrieve a plant, he encountered the villainous and powerful Peter Pan. Events on Neverland led to Killian renaming his ship the Jolly Roger and becoming Captain. Hook encounters Rumplestiltskin’s son Baelfire on Neverland and has a sort of father-son relationship with him.
You thought Hook’s story was weird? Peter Pan’s is more odd. Peter Pan is actually a guy named Malcolm who is Rumplestiltskin’s father. He wanted to be young forever and so becomes the boy who never grows up. Pan recruits Lost Boys by pretending to be the Pied Piper in the Enchanted Forest. The Shadow that convinced Malcolm to become Peter Pan is also what brought the Darlings to Neverland.
Wendy Darling goes to Neverland in order to save Baelfire – he ended up in London and sacrificed himself to the Shadow in order to protect the Darlings. Wendy unfortunately ends up trapped in Neverland, and her brothers John and Michael Darling spend their lives trying to bring her home.
Wicked Witch of the West
Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West, is the Evil Queen Regina’s half sister. She’s sent away to Oz, but she returns to the Enchanted Forest to learn magic from Rumplestiltskin. When Zelena goes back to Oz, she gets jealousy-induced green skin and becomes the Wicked Witch of the West.
The story of Rapunzel is twisted in a weird way. She gets trapped in a tower while searching for night root, a plant that takes away fear. Because she’s stuck, her hair has grown extremely long. Note: I have no idea how she’s eating or staying alive while stuck in this tower. Because of the night root, Rapunzel thinks she’s trapped by a witch but it’s only a hallucination. The night root reveals your fears so you can face them, and Rapunzel is scared of herself and of being Queen. No, really. Once she realizes this with the help of Prince Charming, she leaves the tower and goes home.
I won’t go into details about all of the Seven Dwarfs, but Grumpy’s story is sweet because he used to be known as Dreamy. Dreamy the Dwarf. He fell in love with a fairy named Nova, but when their plans to run away together were thwarted, he became Grumpy the Dwarf. Awww.
The Genie/Magic Mirror
The Genie and the Magic Mirror is the same person. What. The Genie falls in love with the Evil Queen, and when the King finds out, he locks the Queen away. The Genie then kills the King, learns that the Queen didn’t really love him and only used him to get rid of the King, and the Genie uses his last wish to become the Magic Mirror so that he can always remain with the Evil Queen. How screwed up is that?
Queen of Hearts
Wonderland is in a different realm than the Enchanted Forest, and the Evil Queen/Regina traps her mother Cora there. Cora becomes the Queen of Hearts because she’s way too ambitious for her own good. Also, she likes being evil. PS: The Evil Queen sends Captain Hook to kill Cora, but Cora and Hook end up working together.
We met Cinderella back in season one. Her story is similar: she’s a house maid in her stepmother’s home and is mistreated. However, when the Fairy Godmother arrives to get her to the ball, Rumplestiltskin destroys her because he wants the Fairy Godmother’s wand. He then agrees to help Cinderella for an unnamed price which ends being her first child. Note to self: never make deals when you don’t know the price.
Other appearances of note include: Dr. Frankenstein, King Midas, Hansel and Gretel, the Woodcutter, Gaston, the Caterpillar, the Knave of Hearts, Sir Lancelot, the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, the Dragon, Medusa, Lumiere, Blackbeard, Glinda the Good Witch, and Dorothy Gale.
Watch the season four premiere of Once Upon a Time on Sunday, September 28th, at 8:00pm ET/PT on ABC.
Don’t forget to head to the comments and let me know which origin story change you liked the most or least. And because it’s inevitable, go ahead and let me know who I missed.