Literature / Ella Enchanted

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a Twice Told Tale based on the Fairy Tale "Cinderella".

At birth, Ella, the protagonist, is given the "gift" of obedience by Lucinda, a fairy. Thus is Ella Blessed with Suck. She is forced to obey every direct order given to her, no matter what. Eventually Ella learns to fight the curse, delaying her obedience, but she becomes sick when she tries. She also fights the curse by not doing exactly what is wanted when the wording of an order is not clear enough.

The basics of "Cinderella" are in Ella Enchanted: There is a Missing Mom, then later a Wicked Stepmother. There is a Disappeared Dad, as Ella's father is often away on business. (The closer the book gets to the climax, the more Cinderella plot elements are included.)

A film adaptation based (very loosely) on the book was released in 2004.

Fairest is a loose, meta sequel. According to some it is actually a companion, due to the timing.

The book contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Ella's father Sir Peter, of the neglectful variety. Dame Olga also counts.
  • And Then What?: Mandy is fond of using this technique to educate Ella about the consequences of using big magic and thinking through her actions. When Ella uses an example of how Mandy could use her magic to stop it from raining, Mandy points out that such magic could cause a long-term drought, and then undoing the spell in turn could lead to overdoing the need for water and uncontrollable floods.
  • Arranged Marriage: Ella's father tries to set her up for one with an old duke. It doesn't push through once her father finds out the duke isn't as rich as he thinks.
  • Baleful Polymorph: One of Lucinda's other 'gifts' involved turning the recipient into a squirrel; she believes she's doing them a favour until she spends six months as a squirrel herself.
  • Banister Slide: Ella's father and new step mother walk in on her and the prince enjoying themselves sliding down the giant banister in the castle in which the wedding has just taken place. Her new family members are not amused.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Charmont. In one of his letters to Ella, he admits to ruining his tutor's career when he was younger just because the man made his sister cry. And years later, he still resents the tutor.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Charmont is very protective of his little sister, to the point that he sent his former tutor to ruin because he made her cry.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Charmont and his knights saving Ella from the ogres. Subverted slightly by Ella aiding the attempt.
  • Big Eater: Dame Olga and her daughters.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Dame Olga. When we first meet her, she seems nice enough, at least compared to her daughters (especially Hattie). But once she marries Ella's father and discovers that he had no money, she quickly turns into the cruel, abusive, petty stepmother we know from the Cinderella tale, making Ella a slave in her own home and tormenting the girl after her father leaves for business.
  • Black Best Friend: Areida.
  • Black Speech: Ogrese plays with this. The language sounds pleasant, as sweet as honey and as smooth as oil, but is definitely evil: Ogres use these qualities to hunt by charming people into compliance. Hence, for those who have dealt with ogres:
    Ella: AhthOOn SSyng! (literally, "Much eating") That's farewell.
    Charmont: It sounds evil.
    Ella: It is.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Ella. Almost literal example!
    • Several, in fact. Lucinda's "blessings" tend to focus on making their recipients better children, where "better" is dictated by the sort of book which declares that the proper behavior for a child is to sit quietly and behave like a miniature adult. She's always baffled when the recipient is unhappy with their Stepford Life.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Ella attends one which she eventually escapes. It wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for Hattie ordering her about and the punishment of meals being taken away if you talked back to a teacher.
  • Bothering by the Book: One of the ways Ella deals with being forced to obey orders she'd prefer not to follow is to exploit any ambiguity in the wording that allows her to do what she's told without doing what the orderer wants.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Ella tries this with Charmont, knowing that if they do get married she'll only put both him and the kingdom in danger because of her curse. It works up to the point that she attends the royal balls, and Hattie unmasks her on the third night.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Briefly done to Lucinda herself so she realizes the complete horror of what she's done to everyone.
  • Charm Person: Ogres are able to convince people by the power of their voice that they are friends... right up until they eat them. Ella somehow manages to copy this power from observation and use it on the ogres.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The order that Lucinda gives Ella after she renounces big magic and thus can't undo Ella's curse: "If you need me, just summon me" (paraphrased). When it rains on the masquerade ball's first night, Ella is compelled to call Lucinda, who gets her to the ball on time.
    • Ella's What You Are in the Dark moment (see below) gives her the strength and willpower to say "No!" to Char's marriage proposal and break her curse.
    • Hattie's vindictive jealousy of Ella and any girl who appears to do better than her ends up causing her downfall: she unmasks Ella at the masquerade ball, tries to pass of Ella later on as a scullery maid, and openly orders Go to Your Room and reveals her knowledge of the Geas to Char.
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Apply to Ella after her father re-marries.
  • Con Man: Ella's father tries selling land that doesn't belong to him; getting found out and having to pay off the massive debt leaves him and his daughter nearly penniless.
  • Cool Pet: Char defies normal fantasy personalities by getting Ella a centaur. Aside from it being a centaur he actually acts like a normal horse, even taking an apple from her hands.
  • Costume Porn: Lampshaded, when Ella sees Dame Olga's letter to her daughters, which mostly describes her clothing and her social calendar. She only remembers she was writing to them by the last paragraph.
  • Cunning Linguist: Ella and her natural proficiency with languages.
  • Curse Escape Clause: Not until the very end. The curse is broken once Ella disobeys an order, which she is only able to do, with great difficulty, when the stakes are high enough. Merely saving her own life isn't sufficient, but when it comes to the future of the man she loves and the entire kingdom...
  • Denied Food as Punishment: After Ella talks back to her teacher Sewing Mistress, the lady punishes Ella by making her skip both dinner that night and breakfast the next morning.
    • On the journey to the boarding school, Hattie abuses Ella's obedience by forcing her to give all of her food away. Given that the "punishment" is for Hattie being jealous of Ella, it makes Hattie even more of a Jerkass
  • Didn't Think This Through: Every one of Lucinda's blessings, which makes her a laughingstock when the other fairies point out the logical flaws.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ella's father is alive, but frequently away on business, and has little to no interest in what goes on around his house in his absence.
  • Every Proper Lady Should Curtsy: Ella is depicted as being very clumsy at the beginning, stating that "curtsies often make me fall over". Her father wishes for her to become less clumsy and more ladylike and sends her to finishing school. Ella rebels against the stern teachers at the school but eventually gives in to their teachings, until she runs away. The next time her father sees her she's much more graceful and able to do a perfect curtsy.
  • Exact Words: Ella learns to do this to work around her curse.
  • Fairy Godmother: Deconstructed with Lucinda, who goes around giving Blessed with Suck "help" to people who don't want it, and Mandy, Ella's actual godmother, who it turns out is also a fairy but is much more inconspicuous (and thoughtful) about the help she gives.
  • Forged Letter: Ella realizes that if she were to marry Char, her curse would make his life difficult and even dangerous, so she writes a letter in her own handwriting, claiming she's run away with a rich lord, then writes an accompanying letter in her stepsister's handwriting, terrible spelling and all, to back it up. He burns her letters as a result, but later on on learning that she loves him thinks the letter from her is fake, instead.
  • Geas: The title character is given, at birth, the "gift" of obedience, and she has to do whatever she is told, provided the order is given in a language she understands (and she's an Instant Expert at languages).
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: Ella, at Lucinda's command. Not helped by the elven mushrooms she eats later, making her shamelessly flirtatious towards the old duke her father wants her to marry. When Mandy snaps her out of it later, she's horrified.
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Justified in this case because there's fairy blood in Ella's family, so her feet are significantly smaller than most people's.
  • Gold Digger: A mutual attempt with Ella's father and Dame Olga—except that Dame Olga doesn't know that Sir Peter doesn't have any money until it's too late.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: Ella's incredibly helpful (and self-disguising) book; being magical, it can even provide detailed information about events as they occur.
  • Greed:
    • The defining character flaw of Sir Peter, Ella's father. It leads to him losing his fortune.
    • Olive's most prominent character trait is a desire for more money. She constantly demands that Ella hand over whatever little she has and, when it looks like Ella is marrying Char, she orders her to "give me all of your money!" Char is also shocked that she seriously thinks it would be acceptable for him to order all of his subjects to give him all of his money, just so he'd be richer. Given how Olive is very simple-minded and surrounded by her very greedy, vain sister and mother, it's no wonder she ended up that way.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Hattie is jealous of Ella because she's brave, smart, and pretty. It's mainly the reason why she treats Ella so miserably.
  • Grew a Spine: A concrete-metaphor version, with Ella's compulsion to obey orders that she has to overcome.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Ella's father marrying Dame Olga.
  • Hates Small Talk: Not exactly hate, but all the Ayorthaians that Charmont stayed with for a year were like this. Not through snobbiness, either; it's just they're more contemplative, more appreciative of silence, and far too polite. Much to Charmont's displeasure. It's also implied that this behavior specifically applies to the Court, where Char was, but doesn't extend to the common Ayorthaians.
  • Hoist By Their Own Petard: In the hopes of getting Lucinda to lift the curse on Ella, Mandy tricks Lucinda into changing into a squirrel, and then becoming obedient. Lucinda learns quite quickly that her "blessings" are literally Blessed with Suck. She agrees to give up "big magic" though she helps Ella with a carriage to the ball and jewelry.
  • Literal Genie: Ella's friends are careful to phrase all of their requests to her in the conditional mood ("could you...?"), which gives her the leeway of refusing. On the other hand, Ella also would follow an improperly phrased order with vexing precision to annoying anyone who tried to take advantage of her curse.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Olive. She bullies Ella, steals the coins that Ella's father gave her for emergencies, and orders her around, but doesn't seem to have any real malice toward her the way Hattie and Dame Olga do. It is strongly indicated that she has some type of mental or social disability, and she seems to spend a lot of time getting looked down on or dismissed. The fact that she orders Ella to talk to her for hours on end implies that she is probably very lonely.
  • Internal Reveal: On the third night of the ball, Hattie removes Ella's mask while she's agreeing to be Just Friends with Char. This causes Ella to run and attempt to flee the town with Mandy, but she doesn't even get to leave the house before Char catches up to her.
  • Irony: Being blessed with "obedience" led to Ella being more stubborn.
  • Karma Houdini: Lucinda to a minor extent, though she changes her ways after learning just how terribly her "blessings" affect the people she chooses. There is the fact that there are dozens of children and married couples that she has cursed who aren't going to be cured anytime soon, however, and who may lack Ella's stubbornness, like her father.
  • Kick the Dog: Done to Ella a lot by Dame Olga, Hattie, and Olive, as well as the extremely snooty governesses at the girl's academy.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: When they reveal just how cruel they are to Ella in the climax, in the middle of either stopping the prince from proposing to her and encouraging him, Ella's father and stepfamily end up being excluded from the court and Char's family.
  • Love at First Sight: Charmont mentions in a letter to Ella that he's loved her ever since they first met at her mother's funeral.
  • Masquerade Ball: The climactic ball is one, allowing Ella an opportunity to attend without being recognized.
  • Missing Mom: Ella's mom dies of illness early in the book.
  • Money Fetish: Ella's father. Olive follows suit.
  • Motor Mouth: Charmont's knight who takes Ella to the giant's wedding.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mandy tricks Lucinda into trying out the magical gifts she's bestowed on newlyweds and babies. After three months of being a squirrel, and three months of being an obedient child, Lucinda goes through a horrible breakdown and learns of how many lives she's ruined.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Ella's stepfamily outs themselves as a Jerkass group to Char in the climax when Hattie unmasks Ella at the ball when before Ella would have been content to just have had those three nights, tries to pass off Ella as a scullery maid, order Ella to deny the wedding proposal, and send her to her room. Olive demands that Ella marry Char and give Olive money, and Dame Olga belatedly sees the Gold Digger opportunity and can't hide her greedy intentions. As a result, none of them are welcome in the royal court or at the wedding, especially since Ella is no longer under a Geas and tells Char off-screen what her father and stepfamily did.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ella is never shown reclaiming her mother's necklace from Hattie. She does recover it, but it's only a quick throwaway line in the epilogue.
  • Omniglot: Throughout the story, Ella is shown to have a talent for learning new languages. She's fluent in Kyrrhian, and knows more than enough Ayorthaian, Gnomish, Elvish, and Ogrish to get by.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: They're only about as intelligent as normal horses. Char even gives Ella a young one as a pet.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Our elves strongly resemble plants and place extreme value on beautifully crafted objects. They don't actually place much of a trade value on things, either; while Ella's father takes quite a while trying to find a way to trade for some of the Elvish masterworks because of their trade value, they give one freely to Ella because she's entranced by the simple beauty of the piece rather than its monetary value.
  • Parental Neglect: Sir Peter, Ella's greedy and selfish father. He tries to use his clever ways to gain riches. He gains much of his wealth through trickery and deceit and loses it the same way. Sir Peter takes pride in Ella for being a brave, sassy child. Once he gets to know his daughter, he notes their resemblance, laughs at her attitude, and seems to grow somewhat fond of her. Yet, he deals little with his daughter and is more concerned for his business than her well-being. They have a distant relationship, as Ella acknowledges his corrupt, greedy nature and finds it unpleasant - especially during his attempts to force her to marry. He marries Dame Olga because of her wealth and cares little when Dame Olga forces Ella to work as a servant.
  • Picky People Eater: When Ella is captured by a family of ogres, they argue over how to divide up her parts. (The neck is the best part, apparently.)
  • Plucky Girl: Ella.
  • Prince Charming: Levine plays on this: the prince's name is Charmont, which is a letter away from 'Charmant,' the French word for 'Charming.' Playing it further, he actually hates his full name and only likes to be called "Char".
  • Rich Bitch: Dame Olga and her daughters Hattie and Olive.
  • Royal Brat: Hattie and Olive.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Charmont readily goes out to hunt ogres with his knights to protect the citizens of his kingdom.
  • Scullery Maid: As expected for a Cinderella retelling, Ella's stepfamily make her work as a scullery drudge in her own household. The cook is actually a friend of hers, who does what she can to make the situation no worse than it has to be.
  • Supreme Chef: Mandy is one, and all of her meals are delicious. Her Tonic is the only thing that Ella dislikes, and that's because of the slippery texture rather than the taste. It's the only food that Hattie doesn't steal from Ella because of that.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: Ella is "Elle" in Ayorthian.
  • Tongue-Tied: Ella's mother ordered her not to tell anyone about her curse after a former childhood friend found out and used it as a power play.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Ella's mother not eating all the ingredients of the magic soup that Mandy prepared for her while sick, picking out the unicorn hairs. Though Mandy ought to have noticed and told her, to be fair.
    • Hattie attempting to pass off Ella as a scullery maid to Char after unmasking her at the ball. Both she and Char know what Ella look like, and Char is not only disgusted on hearing that Ella's been treated as a scullery maid, but also he witnesses Hattie's verbal abuse.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: When Charmont falls for "Lela," Ella's masked alter ego at the balls. Only a semi-example, since he never takes their interactions beyond friendship and worries about "raising her expectations" because he's resolved never to marry - presumably because he's still not over Ella.
    • Which is lampshaded when Ella uses her magical book to read a diary entry he writes. When he writes about the mysterious maiden he's fallen for at the balls, he accidentally writes her name as Ella's. He then crosses it out and writes "Why did I write that name?"
  • What Does She See in Him?: Ella asks Mandy about her parents, since they seemed like such complete opposites.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Charmont confesses to Ella in a letter that he loves her, for several hours she fantasizes having her freedom away from Dame Olga and Hattie and being with the man she loves. When the buzz wears off, however, she thinks through the consequences of still being cursed, including what it might do to the kingdom, and writes a letter pretending that she has eloped. That's right, Ella would rather sacrifice a chance at freedom than endanger Char and the kingdom. This is also how she breaks the curse, when Char accidentally orders her to accept his proposal, and after struggling for several minutes she manages to reject it instead.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Kicks in with Dame Olga almost immediately after the marriage.

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