As a kid, I devoured every book in the mythology/folklore/fairy tale section of our school library and public library. I was utterly fascinated that no matter what culture about which you read, you always came back to the same types of instructive or amusing narratives. (Note: yes, I discovered you can actually major in college in this subject. It’s called International Affairs, and I have two degrees in it.) When I discovered a whole world of fictional chapter books on retold fairy tales (think Robin McKinley and the like), I was over the moon. But by far, my favorite was Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine.
I have read this book no less than 20 times in my life I’m sure, but in re-reading it for my book club pick this month, it occurred to me that it’s the first time that I have read it post-marriage. I love it just as incredibly as I loved it the first 19 times I read it, for entirely the same reasons. It’s the feeling that you have in greeting an old friend whom you know so well. It might not have held up perfectly well to our scrutiny as adults, but it didn’t make it any less delightful.
How many times do we watch/read/hear the Cinderella story, especially in the western media? Re-told in so many versions, the most recent of which is (amusingly) Disney retelling their own cartoon. We are inspired by the story of characters who overcome all odds, then thumb their noses at the people who kept them there.
But what I love best about Ella Enchanted is that it is NOT a story in which the only strife the character experiences is that placed upon her.
I considered doing this post for Worthy Women Wednesday, because as a fictional heroine, Ella of Frell is certainly that. Ella’s voice is clear, likeable, bold. Despite her curse, she defies expectations and is her own person in the midst of a world in which her obedience is a constant threat to her happiness and even life. As a girl, I recognized a bit of myself in her, in being bound to obedience and subservience to please the people around me. I could remember wishing that I had Ella’s boldness amidst her obedience. I strove to be like her in some small way; to find the small ways to be myself in a world that expected conformity. What a wonderful sensation it is to be bold! I think that we all struggle to some extent with that desire to be the best version of ourselves.
It is with happiness that as an adult re-reading this wonderful story, I no longer feel that curse to the same extent, although boldness may still be my challenge. (As with many stories, the tale says more about the reader than the book.) I loved that Ella breaks the curse herself: not true love’s kiss, not to preserve herself. To save the kingdom from something that was yet to pass, but was most certain to occur.
The moment that she shouts that she won’t marry Char is a moment of utter literary triumph. It’s the shout of freedom to choose.
In addition, re-reading it just reminded me how deeply in love with a character I always was (or maybe am?) when it comes to Char. I even appreciate his flaws; forgiving his misunderstood belief that Ella could be so mercenary and heartless as to elope for money. I loved the way that Ella loved every bit of him: his honesty, his anger, his hands, his freckles, his attempts to be the ruler he believes that he should.
I cannot wait in years to come to read this classic story with my nieces and nephews, and hope that they love it as much as I have. What stories have you returned to in recent years? Did you find them drained by the years and the suck fairy, or still as inspiring and delightful as the day you first read them?