Ever since August Wayne Booth (aka The Mysterious Stranger) rolled into Storybrooke, we’ve been wondering just who in FTL he is.
One of our early speculations landed on the notion he’s the narrator of Henry’s book, given his awfully keen interest its mythical pages. In light of the clues presented in recently aired 13th episode, could actually be the case?
We’ll look at the latest curious actions of August in our Observations article for “What Happened To Frederick,” but, for now, let’s focus on his name: August Wayne Booth.
Many OUATies, ourselves included, have been wondering who he could be in the fairytale land that was. Popular guesses from our readers include:
- One of the Brothers Grimm (HT Marisa)
- Pinocchio (HT Sylvia)
- John Wilkes Booth (president Lincoln’s assassin, HT David B.)
- William Booth (forger, HT ButtercupKitteh)
All good shouts, one of which could well turn out to be correct. However, we’re starting to think that August is a reference to American literary critic Wayne C. Booth, who’s work aligns with our narrator theory.
For instance, Wayne Booth argued that all narrative is a form of rhetoric and that trying to distinguish between the narrative form of ‘show’ and ‘tell’ is overly simplistic, since authors usually both show and tell. Also, in the Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth coined the term “unreliable narrator“.
Given these connections, and the fact that Regina doesn’t seem to know who August is, it seems to lend weight to the possibility that Once Upon A Time‘s August is indeed THE narrator of the book. One who has inserted himself into the fray as a character, perhaps serving as a reliable, or unreliable, figure who distorts/expands our interpretation and the characters backstories.
Perhaps we’re reaching a bit too far there, but its such an exciting possibility that it’s surely worth reaching for, lest our own narrator frowns upon it.
There’s further intrigue, though, as it seems the August/Wayne Booth connection also serves as a reference to Jane Austen‘s Emma — who shares the name of the supposed curse-breaker, Emma Swan in the OUAT narrative.
This connection was made by Arnie over at the Sharp Elves Society blog. In short, Wayne Booth made references to fairy tales in his opinion on the ‘doubleness’ of the constructed worlds within Emma:
“….G. B. Stern once wrote that the marriage of Emma and George Knightley is not a happy ending. “Oh, Miss Austen, it was not a good solution; it was a bad solution, an unhappy ending, could we see beyond the last pages of the book.” Edmund Wilson predicted that Emma would find a new protegé like Harriet, since she has not been cured of her inclination to “infatuations with women.” Marvin Mudrick emphatically rejected Jane Austen’s final sentence, claiming that Emma is still a “confirmed exploiter.” For him, the ending must be read as ironic. When I first reported views of this kind, more than two decades ago, I rejected them. Though I still see them as at best half of what should be said, I think my response was too simple. My point here is that unless we can somehow incorporate something like an ironic vision of the ending, even while pretending not to, even while enjoying the fairy tale to the full, we are indeed confirming its capacity to implant a harmful vision of the sexes. In other words the ending is indeed a happy ending, not the least ironic, given the world of the conventional plot, a world that we are to enter with absolute whole-heartedness. And yet, simultaneously, we are taught by this work the standards by which the ending must be experienced as we experience fairy-tales or fantasies; the implied author has been teaching us all along what it means to keep our wits about us, and how we must maintain a steady vision about the follies and meannesses in our world. Though all is well for Emma and George Knightley, in their fairy-tale world, we have been taught that all is far from well in the real world implied by the book, either for their kind (if any such exist) or for those less fortunate men and women who surround them. Every perceptive reader will have learned, by the end, that in the realer world portrayed so perceptively by Jane Austen, the lot of women is considerably more chancy, considerably more threatening, than the lot of men. Emma, with her rich fortune, could build some sort of decent life without a Knightley, just as she earlier claimed. But where would a Jane Fairfax be if Mrs. Churchill had not died to fulfil the needs of the conventional plot?…..”
As we know, the central conceit of Once Upon A Time is that the fairytale characters have been exiled into the real world by an evil curse, with no memory of their true identities.
So, there you have it. The Wayne Booth connection supports the notion that August is the narrator and makes reference to the show’s ‘protagonist’, Emma Swan.
Of course, there’s the possibility August is not the narrator and that he’s another character from the fabled tales. We have to have an opinion mind, but for me this would potentially be a less exciting road for the show to travel, having flirted with such high-concept potential. We’ll see as the story continues..