“’Nothing should be dictated!’ An idiotic remark to a future king, but I was thinking of Lucinda.”
Ella Enchanted is basically the reason I started this project. I think I had role model characters for girls on the mind – The Hunger Games and the emergence of Katniss Everdeen as a pop culture icon prompted some renewed conversation among myself and friends, many of whom also read about Ella years ago.
I put off picking up Ella Enchanted for a long time because I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations – maybe I romanticized the whimsical world of Frell, and Ella wasn’t the kick-ass heroine I remembered. But fear not! She totally is.
As a baby Ella is presented with the “gift” of obedience, meaning she is forced to follow any command, no matter how dangerous or impossible. For most of her life, sheltered by the protection and love of her mother and cook/fairy godmother, this amounts to mainly frustrations and inconveniences rather than anything of significant consequence. But after her mother’s death, she is sent away to finishing school with her stepsisters-to-be, one of whom figures out the basics of her curse and turns her life into a living hell.
If some of those details sound a little familiar, it’s because why yes this is a re-telling of Cinderella, a fact I did not grasp as a child until well into the book. Of course there are some obvious additions/subtractions/tweaks to the story, which make both the tale and the character much more engaging.
For one thing Ella’s not trapped in her mansion scrubbing the floors (at least not the whole time) so the reader gets introduced to all of Kyrria, full of ogres, giants, gnomes, elves, each with their own traits, rituals and even languages. The fully developed settings make Ella by extension feel so much more real. Don’t get me wrong, Gus Gus was cute, but some ribbon-threading birds and button-stealing mice pale in comparison to the universe Ella inhabits.
Like many fairy tales, including the original Cinderella, the story largely takes place after Ella’s mother has died – but not entirely. The reader gets to know Eleanor, Ella’s mother, in the opening pages. We witness Ella’s grief when she gets sick, and ultimately dies. And we understand the influence Ella’s mother had in her life – she’s not just a nameless, faceless figure that was always out of the picture.
Similarly, while Ella may (spoiler alert!) end up marrying a Prince (Prince Charmont, to be exact, and yes he is a charmer) she marries him despite his princely status, not because of it. She falls for the actual guy – the freckle-faced, banister-sliding, ogre-fighting guy. They fall in love long before the midnight ball, but she realizes they can’t be wed so long as she’s cursed, for the sake of both Char and the kingdom of Kyrria. So in an odd twist on the original tale, Char tells a disguised Ella while sharing a dance that he has no intentions of marrying – his heart having already been broken – while she wholeheartedly agrees, as she didn’t attend the ball to secure a husband.
Of course, what kind of fairy tale would it be if they didn’t live happily ever after? But in this case it’s no prince who rushes in to rescue the damsel in distress. Ella’s got to break the curse herself, and in the mean time she turns down Char’s love to protect him, making her the ultimate hero of the story even if he doesn’t realize he’s being saved until after the danger is passed. Ignoring that they marry when Ella is only 16 (it’s still a middle-ages-era-fantasy-story people), this is a fairy tale I can fully get behind.