Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted

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Ella Enchanted Summary

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a fairy tale novel based on the story of Cinderella. Upon Ella’s birth, a fairy named Lucinda gifts her with obedience, so that no matter what people tell her to do, she does it without question, and regardless of how strange the command may be. Despite the fact that this causes problems for Ella, Lucinda’s intentions were pure when she bestowed the gift. However, Lady Eleanor, Ella’s mother, can see that this gift might be problematic and instructs Ella to keep Lucinda’s spell a secret. This does not stop people from telling Ella to do things, and she always obeys.

As she grows up, Ella loves to laugh and play with the cook, Mandy, and her mother. That is until Lady Eleanor falls ill one day and dies. Naturally, Ella is upset at her mother’s funeral. She runs into the graveyard to grieve alone, but there she meets Prince Charmont. Charmont gives his condolences to Ella for the loss of her mother. After the funeral, there is a dinner and Ella meets Dame Olga and her daughters, Hattie and Olive. Hattie and Olive have horrible temperaments, and immediately, Ella does not like them.

Ella learns that Mandy is her fairy godmother. Unfortunately, Mandy is not able to reverse Lucinda’s spell. But she does offer to look out for Ella. Ella’s father, Sir Peter, tells her that she is to go to finishing school—with Hattie and Olive. Ella is distraught; on their way to school, Hattie makes a dangerous discovery—that Ella does whatever she is told. Once they are at school, Hattie turns Ella into her personal servant. She sends her on errands and is cruel to her, playing tricks by using Ella’s obedience against her.

Ella learns that Lucinda might be attending a giant’s wedding; Ella flees school, trying to make it to the wedding, hoping that Lucinda will be able to reverse her spell and give Ella back her free will. A group of ogres stops her, but Ella is able to use her words to charm them to sleep so that she can slip by. When Charmont and his knights discover that Ella has subdued the ogres, they thank her. However, she is unable to get the spell broken.

Meanwhile, back at her home, Sir Peter loses all of his money in his business dealings and decides to marry Dame Olga, who is wealthy. When Dame Olga finds out that Sir Peter only married her because he lost his fortune, she is furious and decides that to exact her revenge, she will make Ella work as a servant. While conducting her duties at home, Ella and Charmont, or Char, communicate via letters. Char asks Ella to be his wife. Though she is fond of him, she thinks a marriage between them would be a bad idea because the spell Lucinda placed on her means that she could be used as a weapon against him and the entire kingdom.

Despite this, she attends the masque ball he holds, knowing that his intention is to choose a woman to marry. Hattie unmasks Ella, so she flees from the ball, losing one of her glass slippers along the way. Char finds the slipper and goes to her home to demand she marry him. Still concerned for the safety of the kingdom, she finds the strength to refuse his command, thus breaking Lucinda’s spell.

Once free, Ella explains to Char how Lucinda had put the spell on her, and she worried that she would be used against him, so she had to find a way to refuse. Now that she is free, and no longer a threat to Prince or kingdom, she can marry Prince Charmont. They live together in the castle, happily ever after.

Free will is an important theme of Ella Enchanted, as for much of the story, Ella does not have free will. She exhibits another theme—determination—to recover her lost free will, which grants her agency and independence.

Gail Carson Levine’s book was awarded the Newbery Honor in 1998 after its 1997 publication. In 2004, a film adaptation was released, though it received a mix of criticism because it diverted from Levine’s story in so many ways, including adding new key characters such as Sir Edgar and Heston. Levine wrote Fairest, in 2006, which retells Snow White’s story and is set in the same world as Ella Enchanted.

Gail Carson Levine’s debut novel was Ella Enchanted; some of her other notable works, in addition to Fairest, include Dave at Night, The Wish, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, and Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg. Levine is also known for her picture books Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsy Red Hoodie. She is also celebrated for writing a nonfiction children’s book about the craft of writing called Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly.