Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

Today I'm looking at a book which I actually read years and years ago, Ella Enchanted. Some of you might even remember a movie adaptation from ages and ages ago which received mixed reviews. Now I haven't actually seen the movie but I remember the book itself being pretty interesting. (Although I remember at the time not knowing it was a re-telling of Cinderella and being unreasonably angry when I finally put two and two together.) But going back and listening to it again I have to conclusively say that this is a really good book and I highly recommend it.

In this re-telling of Cinderella, our heroine Ella is cursed by the fairy Lucinda at birth with the ''gift'' of total obedience. Anything which somebody orders Ella to do, she is magically compelled to obey. With concentration Ella can resist momentarily, and anything phrased as a request she can choose to ignore, but ultimately she finds herself unable to resist a direct command. Although annoying if she's told to do something simple like get almonds from the pantry, if someone tells her to do something dangerous like walk off a cliff Ella would actually have to do it.

As a re-telling of Cinderella I really appreciate the work that Levine does in developing the characters beyond the basic archetypes in the original story. There isn't as much development in the book as I'd like with some of the characters, such as Ella's father Sir Peter, but it's an improvement I appreciate. Levine does a very good job of making Ella's step-sisters an odious and greedy pair, and her father a somewhat unethical and rather avaricious merchant. Even if the book is written for kids, there are a lot of elements of characterization that I think adults will appreciate as well.

There are also a lot of really emotional moments in the book, which I think is another example of Levine's writing ability. It's very easy to get mad or frustrated or even enraged at the unfairness of Ella's circumstances in the book. Reading this again I found myself very emotionally invested in Ella's story, even though I knew how it would end. So I think Levine does a very good job of sucking you into the story and making you unable to wait to find out what happens next.

There are some downsides. It's not a terribly long book so the characters of the story don't grow much beyond two dimensions. It's certainly an improvement over the barest suggestion or non-existence of characters in the original story, but I wouldn't say it's complete either. And I would definitely say that the ending of the book feels a little rushed compared to the amount of groundwork Levine puts in to getting to the finale.

Overall I think this is a really good book that families can enjoy. While Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister put the story into a strictly historical context with no magic at all, Ella Enchanted keeps the magic and remains accessible on what I feel to be a wider level. I think if you enjoy fairy tales like I do it's definitely worth a read.

- Kalpar

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