When I first heard of Ella being “cursed” with the gift of obedience by her fairy godmother, I was a little suspect. But I watched and enjoyed the film starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. Then I discovered and just listened to the audiobook Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, and it is almost completely different from the film. I had really liked the film, but now that I’ve read the book, I’m really disappointed that the film veered so far from it.
The book Ella Enchanted is a clever retelling of Cinderella. When Ella is first born, her fairy godmother bestows what she feels is a wonderful gift: the gift of obedience. But the gift seems more of a curse, as Ella is at the mercy of anyone who gives her an order. And she still finds ways not to quite do what she has been told, or to add to it, and she confesses at one point that there is a difference between being obedient and being good.
She hides her “condition” well, until Dame Olga and her two daughters come into her life. The older daughter, Hattie, doesn’t know about the curse but does figure out quickly that Ella obeys direct orders, and Hattie uses that knowledge in multitudes of ways, especially when the girls are all sent to finishing school. Olive catches on soon as well, and Ella is at their mercy, until she runs away from school to try to find her fairy godmother to ask her to lift the curse, which she refuses to do. Then she discovers that her father is going to marry Dame Olga, and her doom is sealed.
Earlier in the book Ella had met Prince Char at her mother’s funeral. His attempts to comfort her began a friendship which grows until they are old enough to realize they love each other. Ella’s initial joy turns into sorrow, however, when she realizes that she can’t marry the prince while she is cursed: any enemy could use her against the prince to do him harm. So she refuses him, but can’t resist going to the balls thrown in his honor just to see him and be near him again.
This book has delightful fairy tale elements and characters – giants and ogres and elves and gnomes (even a baby gnome with a beard!) The glass slippers and pumpkin coach are there are well as a different kind of a fairy tale book.
Some see it as a feminist version of Cinderella, with strong characters who take action rather than sitting in a castle with no will of one’s own while waiting to be rescued by a prince. I do not know if that is the author’s intent. I am no feminist, and I would disagree that meekness equals passivity, but I think this can be enjoyed as a fun story as is without bringing political correctness or ideologies into it.
This was a nicely-written, lighter read after some of the heavier subject material I’ve been into lately.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)