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.