Once upon a time--of all good days in the year, on Christmas Eve--old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.
After teaching Grimm fairy tales for the last half of the semester, this little sentence from the beginning of A Christmas Carol appealed to the mythologist in me. First, the sentence places Scrooge and company squarely in the fairy tale realm. That's one of the reasons why all the supernatural stuff works so well. Upon hearing the phrase "once upon a time," the readers are predisposed to accept things like ghosts and phantoms and magical Christmas spirits. Second, the phrase calls to mind story templates most readers are very familiar with. Cinderella. Little Red Cap. The Big Bad Wolf. Rumpelstiltskin. We, as readers, know what to expect from these stories. Third, "once upon a time" guarantees the use of an equally familiar phrase at end of the tale: "happily ever after." And we do get a phrase very much in that vein as the last sentence of the A Christmas Carol: "And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"
I think we all crave the stuff of fairy tales. Magic. Familiar narratives. Happy endings. We live our lives trying to attain these things. We want magic--romance, money, vacations, perfect jobs. We want familiar structures on a daily basis--breakfast, school/work, lunch, more school/work, dinner, recreation, bed. Whether we admit it or not, we all like the familiarity of routine. And any evil witch or wizard who interferes with that routine must be dispatched so we can return to our comfortable routines and attain...happily ever after, of course. We're all searching for some sort of happiness in our lives.
Admit it. You have a fairy tale in your mind for the trajectory of your life. I do. It's called dreaming. And everybody, from Oprah Winfrey on down, tells us to live our dreams.
Here's Saint Marty's fairy tale:
Once upon a time, there lived a relatively young saint named Marty. Marty was good looking, strong of spirit, and the best writer in the world. He wrote every day--poetry, stories, novels, memoirs, blog posts. One day, Saint Marty entered a poetry contest sponsored by the king. The king loved the saint's poems so much, he gave the saint five bags of gold and the title of Poet Laureate of the Kingdom.
After a few years, a group of scholars in the far away land of Stockholm met behind closed doors and selected Saint Marty to receive the most prestigious literary award in the world. The Nobel Prize. People all over the planet rejoiced as beloved Saint Marty traveled to Stockholm to accept his honor.
When he returned home, Saint Marty continued to write his wonderful verse and prose. People from all over came to Saint Marty, seeking his wisdom and advice. Saint Marty lived 135 years.
One night, Saint Peter came to Saint Marty, took him by the hand, and escorted him to the heavenly banquet table. The Lord accepted Saint Marty with open arms, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
And Saint Marty lived happily in the ever after. God bless us, every one.