03 February 2014

Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine)

Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, like Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice, came out when I was in high school--tragic, as seven or eight years earlier both books would've become all-time childhood favorites.

I cut my teeth on fairy tales, and have since been a sucker for retellings of all kinds: Ella is a riff on "Cinderella," but such a sly and oblique one, half the fun is coming across the bits you remember and smiling at how Levine makes them new.

She starts off borrowing a scene from "Sleeping Beauty,": the infant Ella receives a fairy blessing. This particular fairy, Lucinda, has a regrettable knack for idealized "blessings" that are practical "curses," and poor Ella is no exception--she is ensorcelled (awesome, I'm so happy I get to use that word) to be always obedient. Sounds lovely, right? She'll grow up well-behaved and pleasant. Or, helpless before an order from anyone, she'll grow up with no control over her life, in constant danger--tell her to kill the king? She'd have to do it. As she gets older, she learns to delay her obedience a bit, but it's physically painful; Ella would give anything to have the spell undone.

After her mother dies, her distant father ships her off to finishing school, where she gets high marks, of course, having no choice but to obey the teachers' orders perfectly. But when she learns that Lucinda may be at a giant's wedding across the kingdom (fairies love celebrations), she sets off on a perilous journey into ogre territory.

There's more, of course: wicked stepsisters, a fairy godmother, glass slippers, and a budding friendship with Prince Charmont--but as I said, following the familiar tale through Levine's clever twists makes the book just delightful. Plus, plucky heroine! And subtle commentary on the subordinate role of women, too, without being the slightest bit didactic. Oh, for a time machine to pack with books and bring to my little-girl self...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Muse at Highway Speeds by http://museathighwayspeeds.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.