I got the first season of OUAT on DVD for Xmas and have been doing a rewatch. Simultaneously, I’ve been plotting the second draft of my novel using the hero’s journey as a rough template, so I had the concept of the Guide archetype in my head while watching.
Assuming Emma Swan is the Hero of OUAT, the first Guide she encounters, at least in season one, is her son, Henry. He has the “Once Upon A Time” book, and he is constantly interpreting events and people for Emma (also, for Mary-Margaret/Snow White, and Graham/the Huntsman) in terms of the book so that she can see herself in the larger picture of what she is supposed to accomplish as the “savior.”
A lot of television fans have a knee-jerk dislike of unusually-bright child characters. I’m not one of them (Wesley Crusher fan. No apologies.) I enjoy bright child characters (not all; this trope can be sloppily done), especially if the child is part of an emotionally complicated parent-child dynamic, which Henry is in spades.
There is a precedent to the idea of the child-as-guide. It comes from the notion of a child having “clearer sight” then adults–not being blinded or sidetracked by the assumptions that get inculcated later through education and the disappointments and joys of life. Invariably, though, in this trope, the adults around the child dismiss the child’s perceptions as imaginary or naive.
Henry is a smart kid, but he doesn’t really know much of anything that can help Emma that he didn’t read in the fairytale book. What he knows, in and of himself, is simply to trust the book, and that sort of faith is well-suited for a child character. Henry isn’t unwavering in his faith, of course, and shows lapses, especially in mid-season when (*gasp*) evil fights back. And he can still be surprised by the truth as late as the final episode of season one, when he sees Pinocchio reverting to wood.
One unanswered question is where the “Once Upon A Time” fairytale book came from before Mary Margaret/Snow White gave it to Henry. It contains, after all, a recounting of the very events the Evil Queen Regina cursed everyone in Storybrooke to forget.
The obvious answer, is of course, Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin. He alone has the means, motive, and knowledge.
(1) He created the curse for Regina, and arranged to retain his memories of the Fairly Tale world throughout its 28-year span, including in season 1.
(2) In his pawnshop/curiosity shop, we have seen a number of interesting trinkets brought over from the Fairy Tale land with personal significance to various of Storybrooke’s residents.
(3) He has his own agenda separate from Regina’s, and that includes ensuring her curse would be broken. He only went along with the curse because it would take him to the world (our world) that he lost his son Baelfire (Bae) to. He wants to break the curse so he can leave Storybrooke and seek his son out. To ensure the curse would be broken, he performed a spell that enchanted Emma to be the savior.
(4) But before the end of season 1, even Mr. Gold could not leave Storybrooke. So he had to manipulate events to ensure that Emma–the “Savior” arrived when she was supposed to. Among the things he did that we know of was arrange Henry’s adoption, allowing Mr. Gold to ensure that child Regina adopted was Emma’s son. So it’s not a stretch to imagine that when 28 years had passed and Emma didn’t show up, Mr. Gold arranged for Mary-Marget to obtain the fairytale book, which she in turn gave to Henry.
(5) At that point, just prior to the events of season 1, Henry alone has the power to leave Storybrooke because only people connected to/with origins in the Fairy Tale Land but not in it at the time of the curse (e.g., Emma, August, Bae, and Henry) have been able to enter and exit when they want to. Henry was born outside Storybrooke (specifically, in a “prison outside Phoenix”) so he isn’t effected by the curse.
(6) As a result, it’s probable that he might have noticed, when he was old enough, that none of the children around him aged like he did, and everyone seemed to be (a) in a trance, or (b) periodically have memory resets, or whatever has been happening for 28 years. He would have thought something was seriously weird about Storybrooke, especially if he had TV and saw the way others live. So he would have been receptive to the Book, which offered a theory about why Storybrooke is the way it is.
If he knew he was adopted, and did the internet search to find his mother, and discovered she had the right gender, age, and first name to be baby mentioned in the book, that would have set him on his journey. Not implausible as well to think Mr. Gold even suggested the journey to the kid, because he had to get someone who could leave Storybrooke go fetch Emma.