First, I want to introduce you to is quite possibly my favorite book of ALL TIME. It was the first book that I chose on my very own. I remember walking through the teacher supply store with my mother (what can I say? Education runs in the family.) and looking at the rows and rows of books. I picked one up that sounded like a fairy tale and brought it to my mom with puppy dog eyes pleading if I could please get it. She said yes, and soon I was in the car, book in hand and totally hooked.
Ella Enchanted is a middle grade Fantasy novel that is a retelling of the story everyone knows and loves: Cinderella. I’ll be the first person to admit that I have been a Disney Freak pretty much FOREVER, so if it looks like a fairy tale, acts like a fairy tale, or reads like a fairy tale, I’m in.
But Ella Enchanted goes so much further than just an average retelling. In fact, the first time I read it, I didn’t realize it was a Cinderella retelling until the end of the book. But by that time I was so invested in the life of Ella of Frell, discovering she was Cinderella was just a bonus!
The basic plot line of Ella itself is intriguing. When Ella is first born she is ‘gifted’ (more like cursed) by a fairy named Lucinda who uses ‘big magic’ to impress the people she bestows her gifts upon. Her gift is to be obedient- that means that no matter what a person says, if they issue it in the form of a
command, she has to do it. Brush your teeth, go to bed, punch yourself in the face, you get the picture.
Even though Ella’s mother asks Lucinda to take back the ‘gift’ Lucinda refuses. She then asks her fairy godmother to take it away, but is only told that ‘the magic is too big, but Ella may be able to break the curse on her own when she gets older.’
So Ella must grow up, learning to live with the curse. Besides Ella, her mother and their family cook, Mandy, are the only two who know about it- not even Sir Peter, Ella’s father, was let in on the secret. And although the curse was given to make her obedient, all it really accomplishes is to make Ella stubborn (my kinda girl).
Then the unthinkable happens. Ella’s mother dies and leaves her alone with only her father and the house servants. At this point, Mandy is really Ella’s only friend, until she meets Prince Char. However, not long after, Ella’s father remarries and brings home Dame Olga and her two daughters, conniving Hattie and simple Olive. Although Ella hopes to be friends, her new stepsisters are not kind, and when the three of them get sent to finishing school together, their rivalry only grows stronger.
At finishing school, Hattie somehow learns Ella’s secret and makes her life miserable by ordering about in every miserable way she can. Although Ella hates finishing school, it ‘finishes’ her quite nicely, as all the instructions the teachers give her, she must complete. It doesn’t take long for Ella to tire of school and Hattie and all their commands and decide to run away to find Lucinda and break the curse.
Still in love with Char, Ella can’t bear the thought of him falling for anyone else, so she goes to the ball in disguise, promising herself that she will only watch. However, she can’t keep herself away, and soon Char falls for her again under the guise of Lela.
At the final ball, Char decides to offer his hand to Lela, but Ella knows that the same fate awaits as long as she is cursed. So she abandons the ball and runs home, determined to leave Frell and never return. She is not fast enough, and Char follows her home, where she is surrounded by Hattie, Olive, and Dame Olga. All of them surround her, each of them issuing commands in their own way. It is too much for Ella to bear until finally by the strength of her sheer will and determination to keep Char, Frell, and her heart safe, she refuses them all and breaks the curse.
Once the curse is broken, Ella is free to choose to obey or disobey anyone she pleases. She happily tells Char that of course she will marry him, and promptly abandons the evil steps. The rest, as I’m sure you can imagine, is happily ever after.
Ella Enchanted is an AMAZING read. The story itself is rich, and has depth that goes way beyond the story of Cinderella. Carson Levine makes her characters so well rounded that it is impossible not to love (or hate) them. Not only is there the main plot line of the Cinderella story, but there are other conflicts and issues that must be met and dealt with as well. Whether it be ogres that chase down and try to eat our main characters, or sheer battles of will against obnoxious stepsisters, time and again Ella is faced with challenges that Ella must overcome.
And here’s the best part. Ella OVERCOMES. With a little sass and a lot of spunk Ella always rises to the occasion. She is a strong female character who embodies the idea of never giving up – even when things are hard. Even though it is a fairy tale, Ella is not a princess who just sits around waiting for the Prince to come save her. She saves herself. The fact that the prince falls in love with her isn’t because she’s beautiful, it’s because she is smart and witty and determined. And while she has her flaws (she is proud, and BEYOND stubborn), it helps to make Ella seem like a real character that anyone can relate to.
Carson Levine did an excellent job in the way that she wrote Ella Enchanted. It is a story that teaches people that they can overcome, even in the most dire of circumstances, and they can do it on their own. I can honestly say it is probably one of the reasons that I have found myself writing retellings. And while I will probably never write a version of Cinderella (I mean, honestly, I can’t compete with ELLA!), I know that I will find myself revisiting Ella and the kingdom of Frell many, many times.
Have you read Ella’s story? What is YOUR favorite Cinderella retelling?
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