Television Folklore: King Midas

One of the more recent television series to utilize folk tales as a vehicle for the plotline is the ABC series Once Upon a Time that first aired in 2011. It brings in a variety of fairytale and folktale characters in an interesting story where fantasy characters are somehow transported into the real world and how the interact with normal society. Its main characters are often from more recent fairy tales, such as the ones that the Disney corporation has remade, but there are some more obscure and odd characters of folk tales that do find their way into some episodes.

What I want to enter into the collection here is the character of King Midas, who appears in episode six of season 1 of the show. Portrayed by Alex Zahara, the character represents the figure of King Midas in Greek mythology, whose touch would turn objects—and people—into gold. There are various forms of the legend that claim Midas was from different areas all over Greece, but they all have common patterns. King Midas was a greedy king who loved gold, but was still kind and hospitable. When a sick and old satyr was taken to his palace for refuge, the satyr offered to grant King Midas one gift, which Midas quickly responded with the desire to have a touch that turned things to gold. As amazing as this was at first, it soon becomes a burden, as he cannot eat or embrace his loved ones. It is meant to be a cautionary tale about the negative effects of blind greed.

The television show gives greater depth to the character of Midas and reveals just how miserable life is after he is cursed. Not only can he not eat his favorite foods the way he used to or embrace his friends and family, he is constantly the target for kidnappers and robbers who want to exploit his curse for their own profit. Still he has to govern over his kingdom and so wears a massive glove so that he can touch things without turning them into gold. The episode has King Midas throwing an engagement party for his daughter, when the evil queen makes a surprise entrance. Once it is realized that his daughter has helped Snow White escape, the queen arrests King Midas’ daughter. Interestingly, Midas does little to stop the queen, which reflects on the image of the folk character as a weak-minded king. In fact, he even bows to the queen as his daughter is led out by the queen’s guards. His portrayal as a small, weak character that does not effectively govern over his palace reaffirms the image of King Midas as a flawed character. He is weakened by the curse, not enriched by it the way that he would think. The episode thus furthers the moral of the original folk tale by demonstrating greed as a weakness.

Source: “Snow Drifts.” Once Upon A Time. ABC. 2011.