Ella of Frell is fifteen years old and lives with her father, Sir Peter, and mother Lady Eleanor, their cook Mandy, and other servants in the kingdom of Kyrria, ruled over by King Jerrold and Queen Daria, who are the parents of Prince Charmont (Char). At her birth, the foolish fairy Lucinda gave Ella the gift of obedience, but it turns out to be a curse because she must automatically obey every order given to her regardless of what it is, whether hopping on one foot for a day or even chopping off her own head. After Lady Eleanor dies, Sir Peter marries the odious Dame Olga, who has two equally odious daughters, Hattie and Olive. Then her father promptly leaves on a business trip. In the meantime, Ella and Char have fallen in love, but Ella knows that she can't marry him while under the curse, so she goes on a quest, encountering ogres and giants, in order to break the spell. Will she succeed? Or will the Prince find another bride?
Ella Enchanted, which was a Newbery honor book in 1998, is Levine's take on the traditional Cinderella story, giving her own explanation of how the heroine came to have a wicked stepmother and stepsisters, ended up becoming a servant, and is finally chosen by the Prince. One could see the book as making fun of the traditional vows of brides to "love, honor, and obey" their husbands. Or one could view it simply as showing that obedience doesn't, or shouldn't, necessarily reduce a person to mere chattel slavery. Each reader will have to decide that for himself. There are references to drinking wine, brandy, and ale. And, of course, whenever you have princely balls, you are going to have mention of dancing. In 2006, Levine went on to write Fairest, a retelling of the Snow White story, set in the same world as Ella Enchanted.
The plot of Ella is presented in an interesting way, though it will probably appeal much more to little "princesses" rather than little "princes." It is easy to read, and I basically enjoyed it, but like several others, I thought the book really couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a hip "modern day fairy tale" or a traditional medieval-type story. It seems to bounce back and forth almost willy-nilly between the two moods. While it is not a bad book, I have to wonder why it was chosen for a Newbery Honor award. The reason is probably that, as one reviewer called it an "examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales," it presents "a spunky, intelligent female lead" that is quite in tune with the modern feminist ideal. A movie was made in 2004 that was very loosely based on the book, and some people expressed the opinion that the film was less disjointed and confusing than the novel, though it is quite different in many respects.show more
by Wayne S. Walker