A Gathering Voices Post by Lara Blackwood Pickrel
Over the past few weeks I’ve been sucked in to the ABC television show Once Upon a Time. (Don’t judge me - I know it’s a bit fluffy, but it’s also fun!)
In the show, a child named Henry has lured his biological mother, Emma Swan, to the quiet town of Storybrooke so that she can help him wake the residents from a spell cast by his adoptive mother, who is simultaneously the mayor and a wicked sorceress queen. (Again, don’t judge me!)
All the fairy tale characters we know and love are there: Snow White, Prince Charming, Jiminy Cricket, the dwarves, Hansel & Gretel... but they don’t know who they really are. With the arrival of Swan, things begin to change: the clock in the town’s central tower starts ticking again, residents begin to dream dreams and find themselves drawn towards the people they loved in their past fairytale lives. They begin to have eyes to see things for what they are.
But the queen is quick, stealthy, and cruel. And she’s willing to kill in order to keep the town in thrall.
In episode 8, after a character is killed, young Henry decides it is time to stop working towards the town’s liberation. He tells Swan:
“Good loses. Good always loses, because good has to play fair. Evil doesn’t.”
In this moment, Henry kicks up a question the fantasy genre is so adept at asking and answering: Surrounded by so much that is worthy of despair, can goodness win the day if it “plays fair”?
But this is not merely a query for fairy tales and Tolkien adventures. Can good really win? Really? Is an ethical life worth the trouble? Is standing for what is good and true simply postponing the inevitable? These are central questions of our life together.
Some days it certainly appears that those who are greediest hold the best cards. Some days it is clear that those who are most willing to abuse their power through violence, manipulation and coercion are the ones with the most power. Some days the systems and mechanisms of inequity seem unstoppable. Some days the world really does look hopeless.
As it turns out, this question of fantasy is also a Gospel question. It names the pain, evil and despair of the world, holding them in sharp contrast to the goodness, compassion and joy we know are possible. It questions the possibility and potency of the Kin-dom of God - that other reality that Christ calls us to simultaneously live in and create, day after day.
Like Henry, we have moments of despair, where hope seems pointless. We have moments where violence, war, greed, corruption, hatred, injustice, systemic poverty and oppression seem so powerful that surely they will have the final word. If Good (or if God) must play by the rules, then hope holds no sway here...
But, then again, as people of “fantasy” - as Gospel people - we know how the story ends. Light shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it. Death is real, yet resurrection has the final word.
As Gospel people, we come to the same conclusion as most fantasy tales: the road is rough, the choices are sometimes difficult, there's many a struggle... yet here and there on to the end, good wins.