Ella Enchanted: Introducing Myself to Romance

ellaenchanted Before Harry Potter swept in and defined my generation, two books left remarkable impressions on me. Two very different books, but they had a strong impact on me and many of my peers. I’m going to look back at these books in two blog posts. The first is on my introduction to romance. It was 1997. I was eight years old. The book was Ella Enchanted.

If you haven’t read this book by Gail Carson Levine (or seen the poorly adapted film version, whose only saving grace was Anne Hathaway), it’s a Cinderella story about a girl, Ella, given the “gift” of obedience as an infant, her struggle to get rid of the curse, and her relationship with Prince Charmont (Char). It takes place in a delightfully traditional yet imaginative fantasy world, with ogres and gnomes and elves and giants populating the country. I can say definitively and unequivocally that Char and Ella’s relationship is one of the purest, strongest romances in literature.

Though Ella Enchanted is a children’s chapter book, it’s more complex, interesting, and strongly characterized than quite a number of adult books. Gail Carson Levine is brilliant. I went to a reading of hers a few years ago at the National Book Festival, and it was interesting to see the crowd of people there. A lot of ten, eleven, and twelve year old girls and their parents, but not a small number of high school and college students like myself, who were in their tween years when Ella was first published. A friend of mine once told me that Ella and Char’s relationship was a defining aspect of her childhood.

Ella Enchanted was, I think, one of my first tastes of romance. I relished the interactions between Ella and Char, the development of their affection for each other, the teasing and serious nature of their letters, the struggles they faced in being together—and most of all, their triumph over the hungry ogres, misguided fairies, and malicious step-siblings that tried to pull them apart. It was a fairy tale romance, but not an anonymous one. Our heroine and hero were not total strangers, in love with an image or ideal. Ella was no Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, and Char was not a perfect and dashing Prince Charming, sweeping in to save our heroine. Ella saves herself – and Char. This is a fairytale with a real relationship and a strong heroine. What wasn’t there to fall in love with?

I tore through a number of Levine’s other books searching for similar fairy-tale-with-a-kick plots, then to fantasy/historical young adult novels, then young adult stories. It wasn’t long before I read an equally defining, but far more mature and bittersweet book that I’ll tell you about later.

-Jane Granville

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15 Responses to “Ella Enchanted: Introducing Myself to Romance”

  1. carrie says:

    I first came across this book when I read it aloud to my children. I don’t know that we’ve ever enjoyed a book more, and we’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books together (I home school my children). Ella Enchanted is enchanting. (But don’t watch the movie…YUCK!)

    If you haven’t read The Ramsay Scallop you’re in for another treat. It’s different, but wonderful in it’s own way.

  2. mingqi says:

    I love Ella Enchanted! Though I’m in the same generation as you, I actually missed out on the book when it came out and didn’t read it till I was in college. It was clever and romantic. I love the new spin on the fairy tale and how the author gave Ella and Char personalities.

  3. Alesta says:

    I was 10 when I read Ella Enchanted – it was also my introduction romance. I don’t know how many times I reread Char’s proposal. *sigh* I may be in my twenties now but I still love it.

  4. Kristy says:

    Also loved, loved, loved the book but did not like the movie. Levine’s other books are good too, but imo none quite live up to Ella and Char.

  5. JulieLeto says:

    I’ve not read this book, except that in 1997, I was just pregnant with my daughter and didn’t read much except adult romances for me and picture books for my daughter for many years.

    I find the movie quite amusing, but then, I’m a HUGE Anne Hathaway fan. I’m sure if I was a devotee of the book, I wouldn’t like the film…I gather its very different? I did love the characters of Ella and Char, though. The rest was over-the-top campy, but the soundtrack rocked.

  6. AAR Lynn says:

    I missed Ella Enchanted by a few years and while I remember kids I babysat being enthralled by this book, I didn’t read it myself until recently. Oh, it was wonderful! I adore Anne Hathaway, but the book is WAY better than the movie.

    For myself, I remember reading every last one of the Sunfire teen romances as they came out, starting when I was about 9 or so. Susannah was my favorite, and I still remember the heroine as strong and her story as impossibly romantic.

  7. marcella says:

    I also enjoyed the movie – Minnie Driver fan – which reminded me vaguely of A Knight’s Tale and Cinderella. Weird but fun.
    I didn’t know it was based on a popular book – sounds good, though, so I’m going to try to find it.

  8. AAR Heather says:

    I missed Ella Enchanted, but my introduction to romance came way back in middle school (early 1980s) when I read The Sapphire Pendant by Audrey White Beyer. I don’t remember the details of the book, but to my young middle school mind it was romance. I checked it out numerous times and was infatuated.

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  10. Maegan says:

    I’m so happy to see this book mentioned on this site! Without a doubt, “Ella Enchanted” was not only the first ‘romance’ novel I read but one of the best, as well. I think I was a bit older than you when I first read it, maybe 11 or 12, but it had the same effect on me. I’ve reread it countless times in the 10 or so years since I first discovered it and I still get a bit fluttery when Char first walks onto the scene after the funeral.

  11. carrie says:

    The problem with the movie is that it messes with the characters in the book. If I’s seen the movie without knowing the book, I probably would have enjoyed it as some light fun. But the characters in the book are so incredible, especially the elves. What the movie did to the elves actually made me mad. The book is a great read aloud! We had so much fun with it more than once.

    Another fun read aloud (or alone) series of JF fiction is The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C Wrede. It starts with Dealing With Dragons and is so imaginative and fun!

  12. Ida says:

    Jane, I may be a few years older than you (by only 3 or 4 yrs) but I have to say that I remember picking this book up after ordering it from the Scholastic book catalog that was sent home with students and I loved it! I have always thought that the first romances that I read were the Sunfire series I found at a local used bookstore when I was around 11/12 but it was really Ella Enchanted. I wanted to like the movie but it just did not live up to the book for me.

  13. Shauna says:

    I thought the movie Ella Enchanted was pretty lame, but I will pick up the book after reading this post.

    My introduction to romance was definitely the Sunfire series. I thought about them a few weeks ago because I was feeling disappointed in the variety of historical romance settings. Part of what I love about the Sunfire series was the little history lesson in each one.

    Beauty by Robin McKinley was another YA fairy tale romance that I LOVED.

  14. Darth Clavie says:

    I read this book, like, nine or ten years ago. I had read The Two Princesses of Bamarre first (another of the author’s books and one of my favorite) and I decided to pick Ella because I love fairy tale retellings.

    And you’re right it’s an great book.

    *sigh*

    Now I want to read it again,

  15. puchatek says:

    The entry of very good quality. Great write this article. Now I am very interested.

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