One of my ultimate favorite fantasy books as a child, and still today, is the reworked fairy tale, “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine. It retells the classic literary fairy tale of Cinderella with some new twists: Ella is, in fact, under a fairy’s gift (curse) to always be obedient. The tale is a familiar one, but provides more depth and detail about the protagonist and her own journey to discover herself and break the curse herself. In addition, it answers that question that was always infuriating to me about the size of Cinderella’s feet – surely there was more than one girl in the kingdom whose feet could fit the glass slipper! Well, in this story, Ella has fairy ancestry, and fairies have significantly smaller-than-average sized feet, so THERE! Levine’s attention to details such as these really grounded the story and made it more believable to me – it was definitely logical and made sense within the framework she created and expanded upon. While it certainly shares many patterns and characteristics with both more traditional fairy tales as well as reworked fairy tales, this is by far my favorite retelling of Cinderella. I like that it addresses the real-life issues of the importance of being strong by making your own decisions, standing up for what you believe in, and the worth of sacrifice in relation to love and the protection of those you love.
“Ella Enchanted” provides a universe that is similar to one children have already experienced, but includes a great deal more in the way of explanations, possibilities and self-driven opportunity. It is a great example of a way to challenge a reader to see beyond more simplistic explanations and search for new perspectives and explanations. A retold fairy tale is a great example of this, because the concrete universe has already been established, and by telling the same tale from a new perspective, new questions can be unearthed, alternate mindsets discovered, and previously unconsidered horizons can be expanded. This particular retelling is also consistent with the idea of concepts carrying over from the fantastical worlds to the real ones. In “Ella Enchanted,” Ella is a real girl with a flaw that she has to work to overcome. This is certainly a concept that is applicable to many people. While Ella may not fit the traditional archetype of ‘hero,’ she is still heroic. She becomes, through her own strength of will, her own knight in shining armor – in the process, saving herself, her prince, and the entire kingdom. If someone as seemingly average and insignificant as Ella can create such a vast and positive impact, surely this will inspire those who read about her to feel hope and optimism that they, too, can overcome significant challenges and obstacles to create a positive impact on themselves and the world around them.
Fairy tales have been around for a long time. And with each retelling, they have continued to change and grow ever since their inception. “Ella Enchanted” is a distinctive example of 21st century fantasy with an alternate world that is still attached to a familiar and long-standing one. While it may lack the grandeur of Tolkien, or the epic tragedy of Rowling, it is accessible in its realism and its message – one that, while not political or catastrophic, speaks to the more personal internal battles that still must be fought and are no less important than those larger-than-life clashes between good and evil. “Ella Enchanted” has no evil villain to be abolished or grand quest to be completed. There are good characters and bad characters, but the main struggle is simply one between a girl and the unwarranted chance restrictions and conditions to which she finds herself bound. Ella is ordinary, but she is strong. And it is that kind of inner strength and conviction that is an amazing resource in struggling through such challenges as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Read it. Or else.
(If you were Ella, you’d HAVE to obey me, but as it is, you have the freedom of choosing.)