Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.
Anyone who understands my taste in literature knows that I despise Cinderella with a passion. Almost every adaptation of the fairy tale tells the same story over and over and over again. It’s a boring, uninteresting burden that I’d gladly defenestrate any day. With that said, by all outward appearances, I should hate Gail Carson Levine’s magnum opus, Ella Enchanted. Had I known before reading the book that it would be another retelling of the fairy tale, I don’t think I would’ve touched it.
And yet, as the title indicates, Ella Enchanted is in fact genius. Not only is it the best retelling of Cinderella; it’s one of the best books ever written. How is that even possible?
One, Ella Enchanted not only stayed true to the fairy tale setting, but it also expanded on it, adding mythical creatures like ogres and giants and fairies. They’re not just characters to set up the background, either; every type of creature plays a different role in the story. And given how many of them Levine reimagined for the world she created, that’s saying a lot.
Two, Levine added clever exposition, finding ways to explain different aspects of the original story. How come the glass slippers never broke when Ella danced in them? They’re fairy-made. How did one pair of shoes fit only one girl in the whole kingdom? Ella has a bit of fairy blood, which causes people like her to have ridiculously tiny feet. If the stepmother was so horrible, why did the father marry her to begin with? It turns out he’s as selfish as the stepfamily, and he only marries the stepmother to increase his fortune. If the Fairy Godmother could get her to the ball, why couldn’t she also make the stepfamily nicer, or turn them to different creatures at least? Mandy—the fairy godmother—explains that big magic can cause unpredictable consequences, so it’s safer to use smaller magic for things like strong medicine, unbreakable glass, and good cooking.
And finally, the characters are different here than in other adaptations, thus changing the story while staying true to the spirit of it. Most adaptations portray the stepsisters as stupid and vain, and the stepmother as conniving and cold. Here, Hattie—the oldest stepsister—is the conniving one in the family, doing the most to secure her position over Ella even before their parents marry. The Fairy Godmother’s role has expanded a lot, allowing her to act more like a caretaker than in earlier adaptations. Char, the prince, expanded here too. While he’s not that different from other versions, he does more here than in other stories. He hunts ogres, he visits peasants, he travels to other kingdoms, he trains centaurs, and he even introduces Ella to his family during one of the balls. The book is also clever in giving Ella and Char time to fall in love, rather than just have them meet and decide they’re meant for one another. They meet at Ella’s mother’s funeral well over a year before the balls, and they develop a realistic friendship long before realizing they’re romantically attracted to each other.
And then there’s Ella herself. In the original as well as most early adaptations of Cinderella, the heroine is the typical nice girl next door. But she was also limited to the roles women were expected to have at the time. Later adaptations made her smarter and more ambitious, but still not interesting enough to remember years later. There’s only one Ella. She’s stubborn, funny, intelligent, fearless, and rebellious. She’s certainly kind, but only to those she believes deserve it. She’s still a role model, but she’s a different kind of role model in that she marches to the beat of her own drum. Char still rescues her from a life of drudgery, so to speak, but she still has to save his life when she realizes her curse could be a danger to the crown prince. Unlike other versions of Cinderella, Ella tries everything she can to rid herself of her circumstances, even going so far as to go on a journey to find the fairy who cursed her. And the climax is not just one of my favorite moments in the book; it’s one of my favorite moments in all of literature.
In short, Ella Enchanted is genius because it’s smart, it’s imaginative, and it changed the story enough to make itself stand out while still staying true to it. If you want a refreshing take on Cinderella, this is the book to go to.
Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”
Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Enchanted