52 pages 1 hour read

Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1997

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Summary and Study Guide


Gail Carson Levine’s book Ella Enchanted was awarded the Newbery Honor in 1998 after its publication in 1997. In 2004, a film adaptation was released, though it received criticism for diverging from Levine’s story, including adding new key characters.

Ella Enchanted was Levine’s debut. She also wrote Fairest, which retells Snow White’s story and is set in the same world as Ella Enchanted. Some of her other notable works 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 celebrated for her nonfiction children’s book about the craft of writing, Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly.

Plot Summary

Ella Enchanted is a novel based on the fairy tale 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, regardless of how strange the command may be. This causes problems for Ella, but Lucinda’s intentions were pure when she bestowed the gift. Lady Eleanor, Ella’s mother, can see that this gift might be problematic. She tells 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 and dies. Ella is devastated at her mother’s funeral. She runs into the graveyard to grieve alone, but meets Prince Charmont. Charmont gives his condolences to Ella. 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 Ella does not like them.

Ella learns that Mandy is her fairy godmother. Unfortunately, Mandy is not able to reverse Lucinda’s spell; Mandy has strict principles about only using “small magic.” Mandy loves Ella like a daughter. She finds ways to care for her, such as by giving her an enchanted book of fairy tales.

Ella’s father, Sir Peter, tells Ella 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. Hattie turns Ella into her personal servant. She sends her on errands and is cruel to her, using Ella’s obedience against her.

Ella learns that Lucinda might be attending the giant’s wedding. Ella flees school, trying to make it to the wedding; she hopes that Lucinda will be able to reverse her spell and give Ella back her free will. A group of elves help Ella, giving her gifts and supplies for the journey. A group of ogres stop her, but Ella is able to use her words to charm them to sleep. Despite this, Ella is unable to escape: She has been ordered to not run away. Fortunately, Charmont and his knights discover Ella and the ogres, and help her reach the giant’s wedding. Ella finds Lucinda at the wedding, but instead of breaking the spell, Lucinda instructs Ella that she should love her obedience.

Meanwhile, 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. She exacts her revenge and makes 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 loves him, she thinks that—because of her curse—a marriage between them would allow her to be used as a weapon against him and the entire kingdom.

Despite this, she attends three of his balls in disguise, wanting to see him. Lucinda the fairy summons transfigures a pumpkin, lizards, a rat, and mice into a carriage, footmen, a coach driver, and horses. Hattie unmasks Ella at the final ball. Ella flees, losing one of her glass slippers along the way. Char finds the slipper and goes to her home, demanding 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 tells Char about the spell, that she worried that she would be used against him. Now that she is free and no longer a threat to Prince or kingdom, she can marry him. They live together in the castle, happily ever after.