Friday, June 15, 2012

Musings: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted
Probably only a few followers of my blog know this, but many years ago, I had a very intense love of Cinderella.  It's always been my favorite fairy tale.  I love everything about it.  And because of that, I am really, really against Cinderella retellings.  I have a strong (and probably borderline insane) protective feeling for the story (ok, yes, I mean the Disney version).  I just hate when people mess with the formula, particularly with these four components:

1.  The Fairy Godmother - Why get rid of this character?  She is supportive of poor Cinderella, who is forced to be a servant in her own home.  Also, it's called a fairy tale.  So leave the fairies alone.

2.  Cinderella Herself - Cinderella was a kind and sweet and intelligent and beautiful woman.  What's the deal with authors making her out to be the bad guy in some retellings?  I am not on board with this.  Not.  On.  Board.

3.  Prince Charming - His name is Charming!  He is charming!  He's also handsome and patient and good.  He is not spoiled, he is not dull, he is not a buffoon.  Is there something so wrong with being swept off your feet by a person who happens to be just as wonderful as he seems at first glance?  Don't mess with the fantasy.

4.  Cinderella and Prince Charming fall in love and live happily ever after.  With each other.  Period.

So I generally veer away from Cinderella retellings - nearly all of them mess with at least one of those key components, and that makes me very unhappy.  But everyone I know who has read Ella Enchanted loved it, and I set aside my fears and gave it a go.  And didn't look back once.  Sometimes you read a book and it's just what you need.  It's a gift, and you never forget that wonderful delight of realizing that you've found a book that speaks to you.  Ella Enchanted was that for me.

Ella was cursed at birth by a well-meaning fairy who said that she would always be obedient.  For her whole life, every time Ella has received a direct order, she must obey it, whether it's something simple like passing the salt, or something horrible, like giving her mother's beautiful necklace to her evil stepsister.  But this curse does not make Ella docile.  Au contraire, my friends.  Ella is delightfully insubordinate.  She will follow the literal order she's given, but not necessarily the spirit of it.

Ella lives a happy existence until her mother dies, and then (as happens in all good Cinderella retellings) her life gets bad very quickly.  Her remote and shady father sends her to finishing school, where she gets ordered about all the time, especially by two horrible girls, Hattie and Olive, who soon become her stepsisters.  Ella realizes that it's time she takes control of her own life, so that she cannot be used as a pawn by everyone around her.  She sets off to find the fairy that cursed her and make her remove the spell.  But the road to independence is not smooth, and things get worse before they get better.  Making life a little brighter are her encounters with the handsome and good and serious Prince Charmont, who is dreamy and laughs at her jokes.

Guys, this book is awesome.  It went directly onto my "buy immediately on sight" list because I must own a copy (though I would hate to own the horrible movie tie-in edition).  Levine does so many great things in this book.  Not only does she create a wonderful story, but she also populates it with magical creatures and cultures and customs that add so much depth to the story.  There are so many details here that I appreciated - the wedding customs of giants, the seductive language of ogres, the beautiful handicrafts of elves.  But while these bring the world to life, the story can stand on its own.  There is substance to it.

Ella is such a strong person.  She is so funny and so smart.  She makes friends with all kinds of people, but she isn't nice to everyone.  Ella doesn't waste her time with people who don't deserve it.  I loved this about her.  There's nothing that bothers me more than a fairy tale heroine who allows everyone to walk all over her.  She is also very brave and can see how her curse will effect the people she loves and takes pains to make sure that they remain safe and unhurt in spite of any orders she might receive.  And she is just one of many strong women in this story.

I also loved Prince Charmont.  If I had to be ruled by an outmoded form of government, then Prince Char is the benevolent dictator I would choose.  He is so sweet.  When he is told that Ella was sent to school to be "finished," he demands to know what about her needs to be finished because there is nothing wrong with her.  When Ella's evil stepsister Hattie orders Ella to leave the room because Prince Charmont "can have no further need" of her, Char replies with, "I have great need of her."  Swoon.  Oh, Char.  You are such a gentleman.

I loved this book.  I will probably spend much of today reading my favorite parts again and dreading the day that I must return it to the library.  But soon I shall have my own copy on my shelf, and can revisit it whenever I want.

47 comments:

  1. It must be hard, not liking Cinderella retellings, because there are so many of them! But yes, this one is the cream of the crop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are so many retellings of the story! But I will probably avoid most of them.

      Delete
  2. I'm so glad you read and loved this one, too! This was my first real introduction to fairy tale re-tellings and it sparked a lifetime fascination with retellings. Although I definitely have a 'don't mess with it' Disney fairy tale in Beauty and the Beast. The only straight retelling of that one that I really love is Robin McKinley's Beauty!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I'm glad you have a Don't Mess With It feeling about a Disney fairy tale, too! I'll have to look into Beauty, though I admit I don't love Robin McKinley, based on reading Sunshine by her.

      Delete
  3. Oh I'm so glad you talked about this. I must get this! Even BEFORE Terry Pratchett! (ha ha)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should get it! And perhaps after you read it and LOVE it, you will understand that you should always trust my recommendations.

      Delete
  4. Oh, yes, I loved this book! It was really smart--and I loved the giants' wedding and the really thoughtful lessons about what makes a good magical gift. I really liked her book Fairest, too, which is a retelling of Snow White--it takes a few more liberties with the story, and the character is a bit more meek to start with, but not in a demure or obvious way. Gail Carson Levine is one of those authors whose name I google periodically to see if she has anything new out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the giants' wedding was really thoughtfully done. I liked all the details Levine put into the book- she really created such a fully realized world.

      Delete
  5. Aw, I've been meaning to read this, so I'll push it up the list a ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do it! Better than Lost in Austen as a retelling ;-)

      Delete
  6. It bums me out that none of Gail Carson Levine's other books came close to being as good as Ella Enchanted. I don't even enjoy most of them, which is really sad to me. Because Ella Enchanted comes close to being the perfect fairy tale retelling. It and Robin McKinley's Beauty are probably my two very favorite fairy tale retellings (not counting DWJ's Fire and Hemlock, because that's a ballad not a fairy tale).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, people love Beauty, too! I will definitely check that one out. I am sad you don't love Levine's other books- that can be so depressing when you think you love an author and then find that really, you just love the book...

      Delete
  7. I love your description about your ....obsession. Insane. lol. Great - I love it. :)

    Anyway, I understand and yet I dont' hold your viewpoint. I like all kinds of versions of different stories - some are better than others. I absolutely LOVED Ella Enchanted and soon I plan to read it to my grandchildren. I'm glad you read it.

    Even though I enjoy the many versions of Cinderella type stories, even the evil-ish main character - I do think if they use the name Cinderella, and the basic formula (stepsisters, etc) I can see how it would tarnish the original Disney version for you. I just look at them all as different stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can completely understand why you don't hold my viewpoint as it is completely irrational ;-)

      Delete
    2. LOL - thanks - I had a great chuckle out of your response. ;)

      This also reminds me that I need to find my original ppb version of Ella Enchanted - the one printed before the movie character covers came out. Have you seen the movie? pretty close to the book, though it's been a long time since I read EE or saw the movie. Need to find both, now - I think my granddaughter will love it for the strong female character and my grandson will love the strong female (loves his domineering cousin) AND the ogres and other characters.

      Delete
  8. Ha, I feel the same way about Sleeping Beauty (Disney VersionTM)! It's funny which ones we pick up and love to death, isn't it? I don't mind a good Cinderella retelling, myself, but generally most fairy tale retellings make me wince. They try too hard to be *different*, when the best ones (for me) are the ones that follow the pattern and keep the important elements but are beautifully fleshed out. Beautiful is key. The only retelling that veers frightfully off path that I've still really enjoyed was Pratchett's Witches Abroad, and there the veering is the point.

    I read a Levine earlier and wasn't so on board with it, which I think has scared me off this book a bit. But if you liked it that much, I think I'm going to have to go for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree with your first paragraph! I don't know if I've read Witches Abroad, or perhaps I don't remember it... but didn't know it was a re-telling. That said, Terry Pratchett is a genius, so I am not at all surprised he did it well!

      Jenny's Books Jenny said above that she didn't like the other Levine books she read, so perhaps you are in the same boat as her on Levine. I am sad her other books don't match the awesomeness of this one.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure it's fair to call Witches Abroad a "re-telling", now that I think of it. Perhaps more like an "unraveling."

      Delete
    3. Ooh, that sounds like even more fun! :-)

      Delete
  9. I just love this book! I keep meaning to re-read it but have yet to find the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't re-read many books, either. This is a short one, though, so would be a quick re-read!

      Delete
  10. I haven't read this, but my older daughter loved it. It might be fun to read with my younger one now. Thanks for the reminder!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it features such a strong female character! Great for older and younger daughters :-)

      Delete
  11. I could do with this book right now. I'm very busy and work and need something wonderful to escape into, this sounds perfect :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this would fit the bill perfectly!

      Delete
  12. I liked the movie, it was cute :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I'm glad! I've heard many different things about the movie. I think most people that dislike it are upset that it doesn't at all follow the plot of the book.

      Delete
  13. I thought the movie was cute, too... until I read the book. The book is just so much better. (And I am usually a proponent of taking movies as separate works!) The book is magic.

    I'm so glad you read this and loved this, Aarti. I only read it after the movie came out, so I was late to the ball game, too. But I loved it - love it still. I love it so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's WONDERFUL. I don't think I can watch the movie, now that I've read the book. It just wouldn't stack up to the amazing feeling that reading this one gave me.

      Delete
  14. I feel the same way about retellings! This one sounds good though.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Since I just finished Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I suppose I'm in the mode of retellings of old stories. I've had so many people I know love this novel, I think I'll really need tpo pick it up. thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, well, I have a feeling it will be quite different in tone than Vampire Hunter, but no less lovely for that :-)

      Delete
  16. One of these days I must read this book. I have heard good things.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Sometimes you read a book and it's just what you need. It's a gift, and you never forget that wonderful delight of realizing that you've found a book that speaks to you."

    Aw, I know this feeling well. And I adored this book too! You reminded me that I need to read Fairest, which I bought shortly after finishing this and still haven't read all these years later (story of my life). I did read a couple of other books of hers, though, and it's true that they don't really compare to Ella Enchanted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is unfortunate to hear, but unsurprising as it would be tough to beat this one.

      Delete
  18. My daughter is happy to hear you enjoyed it. She has a copy on her shelf that she hasn't read yet...and I'll probably borrow it from her when she's done!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, nice! Can't wait to hear what you two think.

      Delete
  19. I've seen the movie, but I haven't read the book. It looks like I really need to though. Sounds great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it seems like the movie is very different from the book, and that the book is better. As usual :-)

      Delete
  20. I can understand why people might change Prince Charming, as the idea of people competing for a prince does present the possibility of him not being so charming. And argh, movie tie-in book covers. All it does is suggest that the film came before the book and that your imagination must imitate the screen. I've already got Ash on my TBR, but I'd definitely considering adding this one too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make a good point. And I'd say that the whole ball situation was the weakest part of Ella Enchanted, too, as it made Char seem not quite as smart and awesome as he was through the rest of the book. But he's still charming :-)

      Delete
  21. Most fairy tale retellings rarely succeed, but Ella Enchanted is certainly an example to the contrary. It builds nicely on the original Cinderella tale, but also creates new and original characters. Really a great book.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I loved this one too.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I love Ella. LOVE. She is the best.

    I also love the movie. They're different, yes, but they both rock in their own ways.

    ReplyDelete

I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.