I’ve been going through childhood favorites of mine, as mentioned in my previous post. I wasn’t really expecting to re-read this one though, it just happened. A friend of my little sister’s came over and I was shocked to find that she hadn’t read it, but she’d seen the movie. I was appalled. The movie is in no way similar to the book; they merely used the names in the book and then wrote their own story. So naturally I ran downstairs, grabbed my copy, and insisted on reading part of it out loud. We got to chapter ten before she had to leave, but it was enough to hook me into the story again. And enough to have me watch the movie again as well (I know, I was shocked too).
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, is a story about Ella, who was cursed from birth to be obedient by a careless fairy. When her mother dies she is forced to deal with an absent and selfish father and new, odious acquaintances. However, among all the grief she meets Prince Charmont and it is the beginning of a beautiful new friendship, for both of them.
Ella is forced by her ridiculous father to go to finishing school with Hattie and Olive, the most disgusting girls on the planet. Hattie quickly deduces that Ella will do whatever she tells her to and makes her Hattie’s new “lady in waiting.” Ella reaches a breaking point and runs away, deciding to find Lucinda (reckless fairy who cursed her) and earn her freedom once and for all.
It is a beautiful story. I’d almost forgotten how amazing it was. I’m glad I read it again. One of my favorite elements of the book is that despite Ella’s required obedience, she isn’t necessarily a damsel in distress. At one point of the book she is captured by ogres. It’s established pretty early on that she is magnificent at picking up languages and so instead of just allowing the ogres to eat her, she imitates the way that they lure their victims. She speaks to them in their own language and convinces them that they are full and sleepy. She doesn’t have a next step, but she at least saved herself for the time being. (And then Char shows up and saves the day…)
Her relationship with Char starts out as friendship, and I like that too. Char is completely taken with her from the day they met, but she is more hesitant and their relationship grows through laughter. My favorite scene with Char is her father’s wedding. Lucinda shows up and gives her father and Dame Olga (evil stepmother) a gift, and Ella runs to hide from her. Char, arriving late, joins her upstairs and they search for a hidden tunnel together, laughing and simply enjoying each other’s company. Towards the end they slide down the banister together. It’s magnificent.
I hate the step family. You’re supposed to, they are THE WORST. Hattie is petty and entirely self-centered. Olive doesn’t understand anything beyond wanting money and copying her sister and mother. It’s kind of sad. Dame Olga is a gold-digging wretch. They torment Ella and force her into servitude.
I can’t say that there is anything wanting in this book. If it weren’t a children’s/YA book, it would need more character development to make it perfect, but it’s written for kids and it’s perfect the way it is.
There are two redeeming features of the movie. The first is Hugh Dancy, who is everything Char ever was in my mind, even if the movie version isn’t anything like the book version. The second is Cary Elwes and his ridiculous evil snake. They made up their characters to make the movie “more interesting” but I love Cary Elwes so it was almost acceptable.
Everything else is awful. The movie took the names of the places and characters and then changed the story into something else entirely. It had some similar elements. Like Ella is under a curse. And they include Hattie’s theft of Ella’s mother’s necklace and the glass slippers. Also Areida is Ayorthian. But Ella and her father get along and even love each other. Dame Olga, Hattie, and Olive are all skinny and pretty mean people, instead of fat and ugly. And the plot is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.
With all that in mind, it’s important to realize that the movie is not Ella Enchanted. It stole the names, but it’s a different story with different characters under similar circumstances. And when you look at it that way, it makes it bearable. Funny, even. I enjoyed watching it, once I came to terms with it.
If you haven’t had the chance to read Ella Enchanted, I would encourage you to go to your library and obtain a copy and read it. It doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your situation in life. It’s a heartwarming tale that will encourage to pursue your dreams and appreciate what you have.