Ella Enchanted: An Exercise in Free Will

“It is helpful to know the proper way to behave, so one can decide whether or not to be proper.” (Ella Enchanted)

Ella of Frell loses her mother at a young age and grows up under the thumb of her stepmother and two stepsisters.  Her one great difficulty in life is not getting to the ball–it’s getting her way.  She’s been “blessed” with obedience by a meddling fairy: If someone commands her to tie her shoe, bake a cake, fail an exam, even cut off her own head, she must do it.  She cannot stop herself.  In the midst of trying to break this curse and save her friendships, she begins a correspondence friendship with the prince of her country.  But she can’t possibly be involved in a kingdom–her curse would make her a weapon in enemy hands.  Ella has to fight against a curse nobody can fight for her–or the results will be even worse than she imagined.

This treasure by Gail Carson Levine is such a clever retelling that I was three quarters of the way through it before I realized it was the story of Cinderella.  No more figurehead beautiful princess here–Ella is smart, thoughtful, resourceful and insightful.  She’s not a perfect person because she wants to be–it’s because she has no choice.  She must eat her peas and make tiny stitches, because she’s been told to; if she had her choice, she’d slurp and yell and play in the mud a lot more often. She’s not a snappy feminist rebel, (which, if you’ve seen the movie retelling, is Anne Hathaway’s character–more on that in a second) but she sure would rather make her own choices. Ella is gentle with her friends and determined against her enemies, and an inspiration to us all.  *sniff* Pass the Kleenex…

And now we come to the problems everyone has when a story is told in multiple media:  If you saw the movie, you either thought Oh, okay, fine, and maybe went out and read the book–or else declared it a sacrilegious outrage and spent the entire movie calling down ancient curses upon it–which, loosely translated, go, “What?  WHAT??? Noooo… That’s not how it–What?!?”–because you’d already read the book.   (If you’ve never done this to a movie experience, you know you’ve had to sit through someone else doing it. Joy.)  It was because the book was your favorite ever, and your hopes have been dashed upon the rocks of Hollywood, and your disappointment has ruined the weekend and possibly your entire life…

Snap out of it!  (Haha, sorry that’s unkind.  I feel your pain… okay, that’s enough.  Snap out of it!)  Even author Levine said, “To fans of the book, I’d suggest regarding the movie as a separate creative act. You might want to think about the choices the screenwriters made and why they may have gone in the direction they did. But I hope you have the breadth and sense of humor to encompass both movie and book.”

What impressed you most about this book?   Did you hold a DVD-burning ceremony?  If you’ve seen both, are there any strong points the movie has that the book did not?

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