Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine, 1997

My sister Elisabeth had recommended this, and then it made it to the list of the teen Summer Reading group (“Joust Read”) which I participate in to help out the Children’s Librarian. Great book, a truly original fantasy. (The language is a little choppy for my taste, but less so than much YA fiction nowadays). Re-interpretation of fairy tales (this is “Cinderella”) are a dime a dozen, but this one is so original that the characters come alive in a remarkable way. Ella’s predicament–she is cursed with obedience and must obey any direct order given her–feels genuinely alarming, and her skill in languages (and the importance of language to the ogres especially) is a great touch. My favorite little bit was the giant’s wedding ceremony:

The giants pantomimed their lives together. They framed and built a house and brought a series of older and older children from the audience into the imaginary home, and then more babies for grandchildren. It ended when they lay down in the grass to signify their deaths together.

We also watched the movie, which is nice enough but a totally different animal from the book. It’s all played for laughs and jollied up with silly anachronisms and impossiblities–a farce instead of an emotionally-realistic fantasy. Slannen the elf and the magic book are travesties who bear no resemblance to the characters in the story. And there’s nothing special about Ella (no gift for languages, for one thing)–she’s much more of a traditional fairy-tale princess with a good heart. Nonetheless, I liked the way the movie resolves Ella’s overcoming her curse much better; it doesn’t feel symbolically convincing enough in the book.

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