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I recently finished (a re-read of) Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. I like its discussions of free will, the way it’s incorporated into a wealth-based patriarchal society, and the sheer grand scope of what true obedience really means. All elements that were sadly lost in its translation to film, which seemed to mostly focus on musical numbers, gravity defiance (oddly enough, not within the context of a dance number, though I’m sure you saw it in the trailer), and the use of a typical ‘you are annoying and I hate you but oh, I guess I secretly love you’ romance trope. In any case, I think the book has considerable more depth and layers than its intended audience might necessarily pick up. This is one of the many reasons I lean towards YA novels, as you can read them as a child and read them again as an adult to pick up all the things you missed.

Another element of Ella Enchanted, one of my favorite things in novels, is the retelling of a well-known (fairy) tale. I love getting to look at favorite stories from a new perspective. In Ella, we see the daughter of a well-known trader given an unwanted fairy gift at birth: complete obedience. In her youth, Ella escapes the worst implications of following every order through the kindness of her mother and the family cook. Following the death of her mother, however, Ella begins along the path to womanhood as dictated by her father, who sends her to finishing school and toys with the idea of marrying her off (at fifteen!) for the money. Throughout all of this, Ella maintains a friendship with her country’s prince, Charmont (Char), and suffers at the hands of her fellow students and soon to be bratty stepsisters, Hattie and Olive. All of the elements you recognize from the most common retellings of Cinderella are there: glass slippers, a charming prince, a wicked step-family, the blistering horrors of menial labor, down to the fairy godmother. But all of the characters are well-developed and interesting, and there is such a spirit of adventure in poor Ella, who herself is so intelligent and crafty that it’s not difficult to fall for her, as the prince inevitably does. I find myself wishing that this was the Cinderella version with which everyone was accustomed, and not those damn singing mice.

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