WARNING - Contains Spoilers!
Some of you might have heard of Ella Enchanted by watching the film of the same name, a film currently rocking three measly stars on IMDB. I don’t recommend the film, but as far as retellings of fairytales go, this novel is a good place to start.
Based loosely upon the story of Cinderella, Ella Enchanted is the tale of a young girl named – wait for it – Ella, living in a world named Frell. Frell is bursting with magic – ogres, fairies and elves just to start with. There’s also a much loved monarchy, with the heir to the throne being Prince Charmont, a take on Prince Charming who possesses both humour and a great personality.
Meanwhile, Ella is perfectly happy with her mother and their cook Mandy, spare for one snag…a curse. True to traditional fairytale form (looking at you, Sleeping Beauty) Ella was cursed at birth by a fairy, Lucinda. Ella’s curse is obedience – whatever she is asked, she must do. Rather than mindlessly obey commands, Ella grows up into an intelligent, fiercely witty and somewhat rebellious teenager, determined to keep her curse a secret from those who could harm her. You love her from the first page to the last, she being one of the few likeable characters in the novel, as well as the most interesting. Admiration for Ella and her spirit begins when her mother dies unexpectedly, disrupting our heroine’s somewhat uneventful life. Devastated, Ella attends the funeral in a blur, uncomforted by her hideously immoral father. A merchant who has travelled for most of her life, he’s essentially just a stranger sharing a bit of the same DNA. The fact that he barely knows his daughter doesn’t affect his agenda though - money is scarce and Ella must marry fast to bring them back into the black.
Ella is horrified by her father’s plans and has only one small consolation, in learning that her beloved cook is her fairy godmother. Naturally, Ella expects all kinds of miracles from Mandy – only to learn that Mandy specialises in small magic, not the extravagant kind that Ella’s curse giver once loved to display. All seems doomed, until Sir Peter stumbles across Dame Olga and her appalling daughters. Soon, they are engaged, for Olga is shrouded in wealth and therefore a brilliant solution. She steps into the shoes of evil stepmother with grace, immediately sentencing her new stepdaughter to the servant quarters. Ella prefers anything to the company of her new “sisters”: the conniving Hattie, catching on straight away to Ella’s curse and her far slower sister Olive, only interested in stealing what isn’t hers.
Ella’s situation goes from bad to worse when she is unexpectedly sent to finishing school with her unpleasant new family. Her only comfort is an enchanted journal, a present from Mandy, where she is able to read the journal entries of Prince Charmont.
It may be predictable that (Cinder)Ella would end up with Prince Char(ming), but the quest she undertakes is definitely a spanner in the works. Enduring cannibalistic ogres, friendly elves and the wedding of a couple of giants, Ella seeks Lucinda and the ultimate goal of breaking her curse. Along the way, she finds much more than she bargains for.
Having first read Ella Enchanted when I was still included in its target audience, I strongly recommend it to fans of happy endings; also to people who prefer their princesses sharp and wilful over drips in dresses, dangling from towers in the faint hope that a man with a crown will gallop along and rescue them. The appeal of Ella Enchanted lies in its encouragement to rescue yourself and write your own story.
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