Ella Enchanted


Gail Carson Levine


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

July 19, 2020

hat an enchanting story Ella Enchanted is! It won a Newbury Award, and the honor is well deserved. The intended reading audience is grade school children, but it is such a delightful story that even readers well past their elementary school years - such as myself - can still enjoy it. It is only 232 pages in the hard cover edition, I read it in just a couple of sittings. Thanks to my friend Frank who recommended this to me. Next, I will be checking the library catalog to see what else Gail Carson Levine has written.

Ella Enchanted is a retelling of the story of Cinderella, though it took me awhile to realize that - the first two thirds of the novel bear very little resemblance to the story of Cinderella, although she does fall in love with a certain charming Prince Charmont. The bulk of the tale is Ella wrestling with a curse that was put upon her at birth by a well meaning fairy named Lucinda. Because the infant Ella was crying, Lucinda told her to her stop her wailing. "You must always be obedient" commanded Lucinda, and thus Ella is cursed with having to obey any direct order that someone gives her. If someone tells Ella to do something, she is compelled to fulfill their instructions. Ella has a rebellious nature, and so tries to find ways to counteract the commands of others, but ultimately she is forced into obedience. If instructed to pickup someone's slippers, Ella must do so - but then she can throw the slippers out the window because she wasn't commanded to not do so.

Ella's parents are Sir Peter and Lady Eleanor. Lady Eleanor is wise and kind - and unfortunately, she is dead by chapter two. This leave Sir Peter a widower, and he is quite a prize, because he is a wealthy trader. The avaricious Dame Olga has her eye on the wealthy Sir Peter, and hopes to catch him in matrimony. Dame Olga has two monstrous daughters of her own - Hattie and Olive, and if Dame Olga was successful in her quest to marry Sir Peter, those two wretched offspring would beome Ella's own stepsisters. Olive is stupid and greedy, but Hattie is full of malice and jealousy. To make things worse, Hattie discovers that Ella must always obey direct commands, so Hattie cruelly uses that ability to make Ella miserable. Sir Peter sends the three of them off to finishing school, where they will be taught to be fine young ladies who can be wed in advantageous unions. Ella is miserable at finishing school, and so she decides to run away.

Because this is a magical land, Ella encounters a diverse cast of characters - fairies, elves, ogres, giants, centaurs. Levine does a nice job creating a land of adventure. Ella's curse is a novel idea.

It seems to me that there has been an deluge of retellings of fairy tales ever since Wicked was written by Gregory Maguire in 1995, and in too many of them, the fairy tale retelling seems forced (for example, The Girl in Red tries to "respin" the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but fails in the attempt, it would have been better off as an original story without any fairy-tale roots). I don't know if Levine was inspired by Maguire, but Ella Enchanted, which came out in 1997, is a worthy novel on its own. It has original ideas, and it is carried along by the character of Ella and her indomitable personality. The obediance curse is a clever idea, and I like how Ella handles the challenges that arise. I have already looked at my library catalog and decided to try Levine's A Tale of Two Castles next.