Jul 1, 2009

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

At her christening, Ella was given a gift by Lucinda, a foolish fairy: the gift of obedience. After all, obedient is something every good little girl should be, right? Well, wrong. Ella’s gift is of course a curse. She absolutelyhas to obey, no matter how unreasonable or even dangerous the command. If someone were to order her to cut her head off, she would have to do it. But having to obey doesn’t mean she has to like it, and Ella rebels in whatever ways she can. If she’s ordered to hold a bowl, for example, she’ll hold it and but run around the room with it. But if she’s asked to hold a bowl, well, that’s a different story altogether.

Ella is not willing to live with this curse forever. After her mother’s death, she goes on a quest to find Lucinda and ask to have it removed. And that’s only the beginning of her adventures. Ella Enchanted, by the way, is a retelling of “Cinderella”. It doesn’t seem to be one at first, but the familiar elements – the unkind stepsisters, the glass slipper, the fairy godmother, the pumpkin turned into a coach, the ball, the prince – are all there.

This is my favourite kind of retelling: the kind that uses a familiar fairy tale structure to tell a unique story. And if along the way it gently pokes fun at some fairy tale conventions, well, even better. There were so many little twists that made me smile. The glass slipper, for example: we’re given a justification for the fact that Ella has such small feet, and the way this is constructed in the story does not make it a good thing. It doesn’t mean she’s better, more delicate, more feminine than her stepsisters, or anything silly of the sort. I just loved the fact that Gail Carson Levine didn’t let that assumption go unquestioned.

Ella Enchanted charmed me completely. I loved Ella’s voice, her warmth, her humour. Reading this book reminded me a little of how I felt when I first read Howl’s Moving Castle. They’re not exactly similar, but they do have a thing or two in common, especially when it comes to the tone.

I loved how the romance between Ella and Prince Char developed – slowly and sensibly and still very heart-warmingly. I loved that there was no Oh-I-want-to-spend-my-life-with-this-person-I-don’t-even-know nonsense: they actually get to know each other before they fall in love.

I also loved how much depth the world Gail Carson Levine created has. In that sense, I was reminded of another book I loved, The Goose Girl. Ella’s world is inhabited by different sentient species, including ogres, elves, gnomes and giants, each with their own language, culture, and traditions. I was very happy to learn that Levine set her retelling of “Snow White”, Fairest, in the same world as Ella Enchanted. It would be a shame if I didn’t have the chance to visit it again.

Above all, though, what I loved about this book was Ella herself. She’s smart, determined, extremely funny, sensible, and not at all willing to be manipulated: my kind of heroine. I was especially happy that even though the story has a so-called traditional fairy tale ending, things happen in a way that very much allows Ella to remain her own person. That’s the whole point, really: it’s her life, her choice, her decision. She only wants to accept things if she’s allowed to refuse them. In a way, she reminded me of Jane Eyre, who returns to Mr. Rochester when she’s in a position where she could afford (quite literally in her case) not to.

Other Opinions:
An Adventure in Reading
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Maw Books
Out of the Blue
A Reader’s Journal

(Did I miss yours?)

51 comments:

  1. I didn't know this was a book, I saw it as a movie with Anne Hathaway, and while you were describing the story I was trying to remember where I'd heard before. :-P

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  2. I deliberately have not watched the movie, since I knew it was a book that I wanted to read, but somewhere along the line it got lost in the mists of "I'd like to read that someday." Thanks for reminding me to add it to the list before I forget again!

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  3. I'm pretty sure that I have seen this movie before, but the book sounds way better. I love it when heroine get to pick their own terms. Speaking of Jane Eyre I am reading The Secret Life of Charlotte Bronte. It's so good.

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  4. You know, I hadn't thought at all about the parallels with Jane Eyre, but that's an excellent point! It's one of the things I really love about Jane Eyre, that she refused to do the easy thing. And yes, that's definitely true of Ella as well - I need to reread that book. :)

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  5. I don't know what to think about this, since I don't normally like fairy tale retellings but everyone says this is so good. I have it on my shelf. I suppose if I read it and don't like it, I can always watch the movie. I like retellings better in movies anyway...

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  6. Love the story, Love books based on fairy tales, it's interesting to see authors spin to their imagination, I'm definitely buying this book.

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  7. Ana: I haven't watched the movie, but I know quite a few fans of the book who hate it with a passion :P

    kiirstin: Yes, same here, and then I heard such bad things about it I'm not sure if I want to watch it anymore. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it!

    Nicole: Ooooh, that sounds like a book I'd love!

    Jenny: I loved that about both of them as well :)

    Amanda: It's a very quick read too, so even if you don't enjoy it you won't have wasted too much time. I can't imagine how liking fairy tale retellings, though :P Shock!!1 Horror!!1 But to each their own, of course :P

    violet, I hope you enjoy it :D

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  8. It never occurred to me that this movie was made from a book. The book sounds delightful!

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  9. Okay, how did I not know this was a fairy tale retelling?!! I previously thought I might like to read this book, but now I KNOW I do...it sounds so utterly wonderful! And the good news is that Annie already has it. :) Wish she had The Knife of Never Letting Go. I went back to the book store yesterday, just to get it, and they didn't have it...I've been having such bad luck finding books in person lately. Thank goodness for the internet.

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  10. *grins* Fairest isn't the only book she's written in the same world as Ella Enchanted. I have three more books set in the same world, though of the four I read Ella Enchanted is definitely the best of the lot. (Translation: If you want the three other books I have, holler.)

    This is a fun story, though. I should really add it to my reread list and rewatch the movie to make comparisons. (At least I think I got the movie by now... *has too many dvds to keep track of* I'm glad you enjoyed this. ^-^

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  11. This book has been recommended to me... it looks fun. In a rare occurrence, I have actually seen the movie (saw it while babysitting a friend's daughter) and it's very cute. I think I would like the story.

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  12. I don't remember the same storyline in the film, but it has been a few years since I saw it. I didn't realise it was actually a book. Definitely one I would enjoy. There is definitely an uprise in books retelling fairytales in an original manner lately.

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  13. I have always wanted to read this book. I know there is a movie out but I have this thing about reading the book first. Thanks for the great review Nymeth and a reminder about the book. It sounds so wonderful.

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  14. This one sounds like MUST read! Need to check the library on my next visit. I love clever, thoughtful re-tellings of classic fairy tales.

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  15. I'm not a huge fan of retold fairy tales but this one sounds charming!

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  16. I loved this book, too. Absolutely a must-read. :)

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  17. I'm breathing a HUGE sigh of relief over here...can you hear it?? Why you may ask...Disney did a version of this as a movie and it looked kind of dumb...so I was hoping the book was not! And by the sounds of it, it isn't :)

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  18. Great review Nymeth, I enjoyed this one too. I agree, Ella was a great character.
    I actually really enjoyed the movie version as well.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  19. I have this. I haven't read it though ... seriously, I'm going to have to do a reading challenge called "Books Nymeth has reviewed that I have but haven't read yet" ;)

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  20. I love all of the books you've mentioned in this post! Ella Enchanted was great though, it was the first book I read by Levine, but I also enjoyed Fairest, Ever, and The Princess Tales. I think I have some of those reviewed on my blog.

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  21. Man, do I ever want to reread this now! I read it a few years ago and absolutely loved it. It really surprised me; I was expecting something rather shallow, but I got so involved with Ella that I engaged in more than a little wretched sobbing before the book was over.

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  22. I had shied away from this book for so long because of that movie! I liked the movie okay enough, but it didn't seem like it'd be a good book. Then I read a good review of it from a blog (forgot whose, though) and gave the book a try, and realised that the movie changed A LOT. It's practically a different story, really, involving using Ella in a plot to assassinate Charmont.

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  23. Somehow--not really sure how--I conned my husband and brother into seeing this movie with me in the theatre. :) It was a cute movie but I don't remember very much of it now. But after your praise a few days ago and now this, I definitely need to put it on my list. And I keep forgetting about Goose Girl! Need to look into that one, too.

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  24. I'm sorry I didn't have quite the reaction to Fire & Hemlock you were hoping for (I do think I need to re-read it), but I think we had the same reaction to Howl's Moving Castle at least. I need to read more Wynne Jones- she's great! And clearly, I need to put Ella Enchanted on the list, too. I think they made a movie, too, didn't they?

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  25. I've never read anything by Ms. Levine, althoguh my middle son (he's 6) has checked out a book that has three of her stories in it - one that's based on the Princess and the Pea, one from the Frog Prince, and I don't know what the third is from. I'll have to drop you a link when he finished them :)

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  26. Ella was quite the favorite around here for a while, as was Howl's Moving Castle (especially the film of the latter). Wonderful review. Thanks!

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  27. My copy of Ella Enchanted is battered from being over-read! You should one day also read The Princesses of Bamarre which is another of childhood Levine favorite! And also, the more recent Fairest which is set in the same world as Ella Enchanted. I think I cried when I read Ella Enchanted, when Prince Char doesn't understand why Ella can't marry him. And my heart beats at the parts where Ella goes to the three balls and can't help but make Char fall in love with her again. Look at me, sounding like I'm a giggling teenager again just talking about this book!

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  28. I enjoyed this book too. Gail Levine is a really good author, your post reminded me that I haven't picked up any of her books in a while!

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  29. This one sounds so good and I like that there's a Snow White retelling set in the same world. I always think it's weird that fairytale characters from different stories hardly ever meet each other in fairytale retellings...

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  30. I wrote a six word review of this last year:
    "Cinderella beautifully retold; better than movie."

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  31. i would love howls moving castle, but I can only find it in mass paperback and that's too small for me to read. I haven't read Ella Enchanted but I did see the movie does that count? no huh?! lol

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  32. I enjoyed the movie and definitely enjoyed your review! :D

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  33. Bermudaonion: It is :)

    Debi: I didn't that for the longest time I didn't know either! I'm glad you can raid Annie's shelves for this one :D And sorry that the Patrick Ness book has been hard to find... but thank goodness for the internet indeed!

    Shanra: As always, you are too kind, but I actually included Fairest in my book buying spree yesterday :D I've heard that Ella is the best of them, yes, but I hope I enjoy the others anyway!

    Daphne: Maybe it's one of those movies better enjoyed before you read the book? In which case, it might be too late for me :P I think I'll wait a while before I watch it.

    Scrap Girl: This one has actually been around for quite a while! But it's definitely a new addition to my list of favourites.

    Dar: Yeah, me too. It often makes me resent the changes the movie makes, but I can't help it :P

    Jenclair, this is right up your alley!

    Cath: And the same goes for you! It's different from most retelling because for the first half or so you don't even realize it's going to be one! The world she created is so rich and detailed.

    heidenkind: Agreed!

    Chris: lol, worry not :P It's anything but.

    Naida: I'll give it a try sometime, but not too soon after reading the book, as that tends to make me enjoy the movies less :P

    Maree: lol! I like the sound of that challenge :P

    Andrea: I ordered Fairest yesterday :D I can't wait to get it.

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  34. Memory: Same here. I thought it'd be cute and fun and not much else, but I was definitely wrong.

    Marineko: Wow...so basically they wrote a whole other story and gave it the same title? Not my favourite kind of adaptation, that :P

    Trish: Both are lovely, but you know, I think I enjoyed this even more! It's definitely more than just cute.

    Aarti: Fire & Hemlock definitely gets better and better with re-reads! I know not everyone will love it as much as I did, though :P I'm glad you loved Howl's, though! They did make a movie out of this, but from what I hear they changed the story completely.

    Jason: Oooh...I think I need to get my hands on that book!

    ds: The film version of Howl's is lovely indeed!

    xalwausdreamx: I knooow! That bit with the letter was so sad. Thanks for the recommendation - I'll keep The Princesses of Bamarre in mind!

    Icedream: Considering how much I love fairy tale retellings, I can't believe it took me so long to get to her! She really is great.

    Jodie: Have you ever read Fables? If not, it sounds like you need to :D

    Rebecca: Though I haven't seen the movie, that sounds like a perfect summary!

    Deslily: lol :P I'd say yes if they hadn't changed the story so much. And sorry to hear that about Howl's :(

    Alice: Then I think it's safe to say you'd enjoy the book too!

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  35. I'll have to try both the book and the movie! I like re-told fairy tales.

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  36. *blinks* No, no, no. You misunderstand. I don't own Fairest. (here. Those are the ones I have. They're all three small books. I think you might enjoy The Fairy's Mistake. Trouble with them, I think, is that they're aimed at readers younger than Ella Enchanted is and their length keeps them from being as deep. It's worth the read for retelling a motif I enjoy at least.)

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  37. I haven't read the book or watch the movie of this yet, but they're onto my wishlist!

    Psss...I think my daughter will enjoy the movie; she loves anything that has a princess/fairy theme, hehe.

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  38. I watched the movie first and then read the book and I found both wonderful. I love the fairy tale retellings too and this is a great version.

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  39. Oh my goodness! This was my absolute favorite book ever in the entire world when I was ten-ish!!! I loved this book so much it was ridiculous. Now I want to read it again, but I'm a little worried it won't be as magical eleven years later.

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  40. I don't often read YA fiction, but your review of this book really intrigues me. I think my daughter has this one on her shelf, so I will have to be sure to take a look. I really like your reviews because even if I am not really the target audience for the book, by the time I get to the end I usually have a solid impression of whether the book would be to my tastes or not.

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  41. I just love this book! Your review is fantastic- I've been meaning to write something about Ella, but now I don't know what I could say that you haven't. Maybe I'll just mention how it's my favorite Levine book, and them point them to your review!

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  42. I'M SO GLAD YOU LOVED IT! It is one of my favorite childhood books, and I would have been very sad if you hadn't liked it.

    Great review :)

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  43. Thanks for your review. This book has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I really should read it soon.

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  44. I'd really like to re-read this at some point - I listened to the audiobook a few years ago, and liked it, but the girl they had reading it sounded like she was maybe 12, tops, so there was a bit of cognitive dissonance when it got to the love story. I also have Fairest on my TBR pile - thanks for the reminder that I need to get to that soon!

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  45. Beth: Me too. A lot :D

    Shanra: Eep, I did! Sorry! Even if they're not as deep, they do sound fun :)

    Melody: She probably will! And the book too :)

    Meghan: It really is! Probably my new favourite Cinderella.

    Shannon: Well, it was completely magical for me as an adult :D I think this is one that will live up to a re-read.

    Zibilee: Aww, thank you so much!

    Jeane, thank you! I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Lu: Your recommendations are awesome! Anything else I need to read RIGHT NOW? :P

    Framed: I think you'll enjoy it :)

    Fyrefly: lol, I can imagine that. As of today, I have Fairest on my pile too. Now I just need to read it :P

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  46. I'm so glad you loved this. It's one of my favorites! :-D

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  47. *ruffles hair* Is that "Yes, please send"? (*hides* Pleasedon'tkillme!
    Ididn'tsendanythingyet!)

    And no worries about misunderstanding. It happens to everyone. I'm always misunderstanding people myself, anyway. ^-~ (And, usually, mine are slightly bigger misunderstandings than which books I've read!)

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  48. Darla, I can see why!

    Shanra: It's yes as in yes-that-would-be-lovely-but-ah-you've-been-so-generous-to-me-already-and-I-don't-want-to-be-greedy-so-what-do-I-say-but-still-thank-you-so-much-for-being-one-of-the-nicest-people-ever :P

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  49. Hun, you're not being greedy. I'm only going to pass them on to someone, so if I can pass them on to a friend who'll give them a good home that's more than enough to make me happy. ^-^

    Now if only I still had envelopes. Guess it's off to the store with me! ^-~

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  50. See I had read a few mixed reviews of this preivously, but you loving it may be enough to tip me over the edge. Especially as you compared it to The Goose Girl which I loved.

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  51. I just have to say, I read this book for the first time in fifth grade. Now I'm an eleventh grader, and it continues to be my favorite book. Even those my preferances in literature have dramatically changed since I first read Ella Enchanted, I still love reading it again and again. Every time I read it as I get a little older, I get something out of it that I missed before, or an idea I could not quite comprehend at that age.

    I truly love the innocence about it, and Ella is the most fabulous heroine I have ever read about and admired. Her romance with the prince is splendid, because it development is slow and interesting and doesn't consume the book or make Ella look like a desperate hopeless romantic at all. In fact, one of the things that makes the book so great is seeing her struggle against her curse in an almost comical way, and causes you to sympathize with her and root for her.

    If you haven't read the book, but saw the movie and liked it, still give the book a try. My friend read it after seeing the movie, and still testified that the book was better.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.