Thanks for the Magic

leaving storybrooke

“And you may think this is just a story, but that’s the thing about stories—they’re more than just words. They live inside us. They make us who we are. And as long as someone believes that, there will always be magic.” (Henry Mills) 

I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always believed in the power of stories—the stories we’re told, the stories we tell, the stories that reflect who we are, and the stories that show us who we can become. When I look at my life, I can see that I’m the sum of a million different stories that all showed up to shape me exactly when I needed them.

One of those stories ended last night, and I can’t let it go without a proper sendoff.

Once Upon a Time is a show about many things—crazy timelines, strong women, second chances, and hope. But it’s also a show about stories. One of the most prominent themes throughout the show’s seven seasons has been that you have the power to control your life’s narrative; you can write your own happy ending. You can choose whether people see you as a villain or a hero. You are the author of your story. And that’s where hope comes from—knowing that it’s never too late to change your story, to find your happily ever after.

Hope lives in the hearts of those who know that our stories aren’t written in stone; they can change as we change—and those changes can be for the better.

This kind of hope was found throughout the series finale, “Leaving Storybrooke.” As Rumplestiltskin faced down his worst enemy—his own darkness—it struck me that there was no better way for his story to end. No one has tormented Rumplestiltskin more than his inner demons, the voices in his head telling him he would always be a coward so he should always choose the coward’s path—the path that favored power over love. But at the very end, Rumplestiltskin chose to define himself on his own terms. For so long he let everyone—including himself—call him a coward, but it wasn’t too late for him to write a different ending to his story. In this story, he died a hero’s death rather than continuing to live a coward’s life. And because he made that choice, his story had the happy ending he felt he would never be worthy of—a reunion with his beloved Belle for eternity.

The same themes could be found in the final story for Regina—a woman who once believed her happy ending was destroying Snow White’s happiness. Her journey from the Evil Queen to the woman who ended the series as the elected Good Queen of all the realms shows that changing your story isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. Happy endings are earned through hard work, and there’s hope to found in that lesson, too. Everyone can have a happy ending—no matter who you once were or how lost you got along the way. It may look nothing like you once thought it would, but that’s because you’re not who you once were when you first imagined your happy ending.

Regina thought her story was over so many times—when Daniel died, when she cast the curse, when the curse broke, when Robin died… But she finally came to know the truth—those weren’t endings; those were chances to start again, to choose a new story, to find a new dream. Once Upon a Time has always preached the importance of second chances, and it turned out that the second chance Regina needed the most wasn’t a second chance at love but a second chance at being a leader. There’s a powerful message in that ending: You can find your happy ending in the work you do and the respect of people around you; it’s not always about romance.

So many of these characters ended their stories with second chances. Rumplestiltskin got a second chance to prove he wasn’t a coward, as well as a second chance at a life with Belle. Regina got a second chance at being queen. Wish Hook got a second chance to be close to Alice. Wish Henry got a second chance to be a better person surrounded by love. And Emma got a second chance to hold her baby in her arms and watch that baby grow up with a man who loves her by her side.

There will be many enduring images from this finale—Snow’s tears when placing the crown on Regina’s head, Rumplestiltskin and Belle holding each other in peace at last, the final shots of Storybrooke—but one that will stay with me forever is the last shot of Emma Swan. With her son on one side of her, her husband on the other side, and her daughter held close to her heart, it’s all I wished for this character, and it’s all Emma wished for on that blue star candle all those years ago. The woman who taught all of us to punch back and say “No, this is who I am,” did exactly that. She’s no longer a lost girl, no longer a woman who believed her chance at happiness had passed her by, no longer afraid of an uncertain future. She has a home, she has a family, and she’s finally living her happily ever after. She’s a princess in a leather jacket and a ballgown with a pirate husband and a diaper bag on her arm—she’s never going to fit the perfect princess mold, and that’s good. Because that gives us hope.

We don’t have to be perfect to have a story that matters. We don’t have to do everything right to be loved. We don’t have to have it all figured out to be happy. Throughout the years, these characters have made mistakes, taken wrong turns, and messed up so many times. But in the end, they were never beyond hope. They were never too far gone into the darkness; they always found their way back to the light.

The story of Once Upon a Time is the story of a bunch of people of varying degrees of imperfection finding their way toward their best selves. And that story will never truly end.

Because that’s the thing about a good story—it’s always there when you need it. We may have left Storybrooke, but we all carry its magic with us now. Storybrooke is a part of all who spent time there over the last seven seasons. And it will live on as long as there are people who believe in the power of love, second chances, and hope. This place gave so many of us a home, and we’ll take a part of that home with us everywhere we go.

Nothing we love ever truly leaves us, so I won’t say goodbye to this little town in Maine. Instead, I’ll say I’m so grateful to have so much of my story shaped by my years visiting Storybrooke. And I’m so grateful to all of you who shared its magic with me.

 

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5 thoughts on “Thanks for the Magic

  1. I love this series! I fell in love after the first episode of the first season, I mean how could you not? I liked the way it ended too, I was very happy with it. Great post!

  2. “We don’t have to have it all figured out to be happy.”

    We certainly don’t. It had been a while since my little one (who’s not so little anymore) and I curled up on a coach to watch Once Upon a Time. It was a nostalgic night in our house and felt very much like an evening reminiscing through photo albums. We talked stories over the seven seasons. How characters had changed, how our investments and alliances to them had shifted and grown. We talked about the friends discovered by the love of a show. And in the end the joy of simply being connected.

    For me to see Regina stand in the power of the person she’d become. The parent she never had truly had — brave, unwavering, steadfast and supportive. Becoming the person she wanted to be as a parent led her to the 2nd chance she deserved as a leader. And Rumple, ever flawed, ever tortured Rumple, never so much seeking power as he was desperately trying to escape cowardice. To watch his final set of reconciliation between understanding that his happy ending didn’t lie in Belle or her love, but in finally forgiving himself for his past, reconciling the truth that acts of cowardice are what drove his choices, not the seeking of power. He learned that in facing and understanding he cowardice, he didn’t need to re-write the past. He simply needed to chose to learn from it and chose differently. By doing so, by being willing to forgive himself, he was finally able to love the man he had become. By not continuing his pursuit of Belle he literally freed his heart, the best part of himself, to live on.

    As the person who spent many Mondays on this blog digesting and marveling in peoples connections to various characters and stories I thrived in my defense and understanding of Rumple and Regina. Probably not simply because I watched the show through a prism of parenthood, but because this blog, the wonderful people I discovered here, and the time I spent understanding these characters was at a time when darkness was brighter than light for me personally. When I was intimate with the fears and understanding of not feeling worthy of the good choices and fortune you happened upon and caught by the choices and decisions that left you clinging to shame.

    The power of Storybrooke, this show, and this blog was that it gave voice to stories that broke convention, that held willing listeners and that ultimately allowed for us to all create, see, and absorb stories as every evolving chapters. The failure of the last evil act — everyone trapped in a single story, alone speaks volumes to what the show was about — that while we are all the authors of our own stories, they are also intertwined with others. Our stories influence and inform one another. Our ability to listen to understand is the basis for our ability to believe. And while this may be just another TV show, with a lovely storybooke ending it — and the NGN bonding over the last seven years reminds me that the power of sharing our stories, our willingness to be vulnerable enough to let others see and our support of that bravery is what allows us all to step forward into our best selves.

    Every Monday that I shared here, I hit send feeling like my best and truest self. That’s the magic Once Upon a Time facilitated. That’s the platform you provided here.

    I am forever grateful.

  3. Im so glad you decided to do one more post for old times sake!

    After the finale, I went back to read the letter I wrote in honor of the show’s 100 episode. These were my feelings then:

    “As we have seen over the course of 99 episodes, these characters aren’t perfect, and I don’t want them to be. We all have our unique flaws and demons that we are trying to overcome. There exists an infinite number of ways this story can unfold; we are simply along for the ride the writers have chosen for us. But no matter the details of the challenges these characters face, at its very core, Once Upon a Time has been a show about hope. The hope that good will win—that all is not lost. The hope that even if you are lonely or sad or hurting or afraid or upset or not the person you want to be today, tomorrow can be different. All you have to do is believe—in yourself, in those around you, in the idea that happy endings are possible and you are worthy of them. As we pass the 100-episode mark, my only wish is that, no matter how long this show is on the air, it does not lose that basic element of optimism and hope.”

    I think its safe to say that the show stayed true to that ethos right up to the very end. All the details and logistics got pretty murky at the end (just how many versions of Henry are there in Storybrooke now?!) but the morals and emotions were always what was most important.

    Up until the very end, this show always managed to surprise me. It very rarely gave me what I wanted or expected, but that doesnt mean I didnt enjoy what it did give me (most of the time). Most of this finale was unexpected. I never thought I would see Regina crowned queen of all the realms. Or for Rumple to sacrifice himself for Hook, but they were both lovely ways to wrap up their stories. At the same time, these are endings (or maybe we should call them beginnings?) that wouldnt quite have felt right at the end of last season. I think this season did a good job at showing the passage of time (another lifetime in Rumples case) and both of these character’s growth from where they ended last season.

    I know a lot of Emma Swan fans (myself included) always hoped this show would end with Emma’s birthday. Once again blowing out that star candle surrounded by the ones she loved. And while the setting may have been different, I think we still got our wish. Emma is happy and surrounded by people she loves. A former lost girl that doesn’t care about being a princess or ruling a kingdom, she just wants to enjoy the home she has found. And heaven help anybody who tries to tell her that she cant wear her red leather jacket with her ballgown.

    “Sometimes, you have to leave home. And you’ve been there for so long, you don’t know who or what you’ll be outside of it. But then you realize every experience, every trial, every moment has shaped you. And you take that place with you no matter where you go next.” It’s now time for all of us to see where we go next.

    Thank you ‘Once Upon a Time’, Katie, and the entire NGN family for a journey I will remember and treasure forever.

  4. “but one that will stay with me forever is the last shot of Emma Swan. With her son on one side of her, her husband on the other side, and her daughter held close to her heart, it’s all I wished for this character, and it’s all Emma wished for on that blue star candle all those years ago. The woman who taught all of us to punch back and say “No, this is who I am,” did exactly that. She’s no longer a lost girl, no longer a woman who believed her chance at happiness had passed her by, no longer afraid of an uncertain future. She has a home, she has a family, and she’s finally living her happily ever after. She’s a princess in a leather jacket and a ballgown with a pirate husband and a diaper bag on her arm—she’s never going to fit the perfect princess mold, and that’s good. Because that gives us hope”

    WELL SAID!!

  5. Lovely wrap-up, sweetie.

    I doubt it’s any secret that I, too, love stories and their power. That’s one of the reasons I have glommed onto Katie and this community the way that I have. I thought this was a lovely epilogue to the series. (It felt more epilogue-ish to me.) We get to see Rumple’s moment of understanding that you do the right thing because it’s the right thing . . . something Regina had struggled with earlier in the series when she couldn’t understand why her bad past kept coming back to bite her now that she was good. Doing the right thing is hard. As you say, Katie, changing your story takes work. I love seeing those characters embrace that. Rumple sacrificing himself for Hook? Awesome.

    For me a good ending allows for the possibility of more. In other words, I can see these characters continuing on their adventures. I can see that here with this ending or happy beginning or second chance or whatever we choose to call it. I love the idea of all the story realms together. (David and Emma will have their hands full with the sheriff-ing. Will Granny’s have competition in one of the other realms? Zorro is Lily’s father? Love it. Elsa and Emma can have coffee together! Soooo many possibilities.)

    I love, too, that these stories gave us a chance to consider own stories of who we are. That we could share our stories (and their stories) here in this space. As in Storybrook, we found family here. (Seriously, Katie and Shauna are my soul-sisters. Try and fight me on that. I will also willingly adopt other posters, too.) We got to share laughter, tears, excitement, and frustration . . . and random references to Doctoberfest mugs.

    Thanks, friends and family. I look forward to our adventures.

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