|Rose bowers at Descanso Gardens, Pasadena, CA
Once upon a time there was a girl named Eleanor, or Ella for short. This is how she told her story to her diary:
"That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head symapthetically at Mother, the fairy touched my nose. 'My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now, stop crying, child." So Ella stopped crying. She had to: that is how the fairy's magic worked. Well, Ella had a pretty nice childhood despite the fairy's gift. Her mother and father loved her, she had the run of the castle, and was cherished by the cook, Mandy. She goes on to tell that "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." Either way, Ella's mother indulged her, and her father was mostly away on business. He was a salesman, or as they called it in the olden days, a "merchant". Life goes on with Ella encountering many unfortunate scrapes as she is forced to obey whatever command anyone gives her, even if they didn't really mean it. She learns that Lucinda might, just might, remove the curse if Ella asks her personally to do so. But first, she'll have to find her. One winter, when Ella was almost fifteen years old, tragedy struck, though at first, no one recognized that it would be so. Ella says, "Mother and I caught cold. Mandy dosed us with her curing soup, made with carrots, leeks, celery, and hair from a unicorn's tail. It was delicious, but we both hated to see those long yellow-white hairs floating around the vegetables." Ella could not disobey Mandy by not eating the soup up, but her mom could, and she did. "The next day, I was well and Mother was much worse, too sick to eat or drink anything. She said there was a knife at her throat, and a battering ram at her head." One night her mother kissed her goodnight, saying, " I love you, Precious." She worsened during the next three days, not speaking again. During these sad days Ella walks the hallways, looking down at the spiral staircase "remembering the times Mother and I slid down the banister." This time, she walked down the stairs, out the front door and into the bright, cold air. Now she walks, and later writes: "it was a long walk to the old castle, but I wanted to make a wish, and I wanted to make it in the place where it would have the best chance of being granted. The castle had been abandoned when King Jerrold was a boy, although it was opened on special occasions....It was infested with mice....I went straight to the candle grove. The candles were small trees that had been pruned and tied to wires to make them grow in the shape of a candelabra." Ella wishes that her mother "gets well quick" and promises to be really good if this happens. She admits that she "didn't bargain for Mother's life, because I didn't want to believe that she was in danger of dying." But her mother does die, and Ella tells us of the funeral: "Mother's casket was made of gleaming mahogany carved with designs of fairies and elves. If only the fairies could leap out of the wood and cast a spell to bring her back to life....Everyone called it 'losing mother' but she wasn't lost. She was gone, and no matter where I went —another town, another country, Fairyland or Gnome Caverns—I wouldn't find her." Ella cries for a long time, and then returns home. When she gets there her father has a guest to introduce to her. "This is Dame Olga," he tells Ella. And then she is introduced to two girls, a bit older than she. "These are my treasures," Dame Olga says, "This is Hattie and this if Olive. They are off to finishing school in a few days." The girls get acquainted: "Olive was the one I'd bumped. 'I'm glad to meet you,' she said, her voice too loud. She was about my age. The furrows of a frown were permanently etched between her eyes. 'Comfort Eleanor in her grief.' Dame Olga told her daughters. "Our hearts weep for you." said Hattie. Olive looked at the dress Ella was wearing and said, "Green isn't a mourning color." Little did Ella know that her father would soon decide to send her off to finishing school as well. Ella hates it: "I wanted to throw myself onto a bed and cry about being so hungry and about everything else, but these were not beds onto which one could throw oneself. A purple chair was placed next to one of the two windows. I sank into it. " Soon Ella discovers a friend, a girl from the Kingdom of Ayortha who teaches Ella some of the beautiful language they speak there. Among other things, Ella learns to say,"ibwi unju", meaning "tall girl", the only insult she can think of to call her tormenting classmates. After a miserable month of forced needlework and daintiness lessons, Ella has had enough. She runs away, half hoping to find Lucinda, half planning just to go home. "I slipped through the sleeping house as silently as a needle through lace." she tells her journal. But freedom is not hers. Before she gets far she is overtaken by a party of foraging ogres, who plot to fatten her up and then eat her. She succeeds in tricking them, and continues on her way, determined now that she will attend a giant's wedding she has heard about. The fairies are invited, and Ella believes that Lucinda will be there too. In the course of her travels, she meets her old family friend, young Prince Charming, or Char as Ella used to call him when they were playmates. He assists her in getting to the giant's wedding, and Lucinda is in attendance, but things do not work out quite as Ella planned. She returns home instead, and during a long, drawn out state affair, she and Char go exploring in the old castle. "The tower had once been an indoor garden, with small trees in wooden pots. I perched on a stone bench. It was chilly, but we were out of the wind. 'Do the king's gardener's come here?' I asked [Char]. 'Are the trees dead?' 'I don't know.' Char was staring at the bench. 'Stand up.' I obeyed, of course. He pushed at the seat with his foot, and it moved. 'This lifts off!' he exclaimed." They lift the seat of the bench, and find old garden tools, "a leather apron, and two things more. Char twitched the apron aside and found gloves and a pair of slippers. The gloves were stained and riddled with holes, but the slippers sparkled as though newly made. Char lifted them out carefully. 'I think they're made of glass!" Ella tries them on, and they fit her perfectly. Of course. Together they dance in the abandoned tower. But this easy friendship cannot last. Many complications are in store for both of the young people. Father does indeed marry Dame Olga, and is soon called away on business. Alas, he loses his fortune, and soon Dame Olga puts Ella to work in the castle, declaring," I will not have that pauper live like a lady in my house. She can earn her keep." And so Ella is made to suffer many hardships and humiliations. Prince Char, however, has not forgotten her, and begins writing to her from the Kingdom of Ayortha where he has been sent for a year of training. Ella ponders how she can every marry anyone, let alone the prince she is slowly falling in love with. " I thought of the bride I'd make, in a threadbare, sooty gown, that stank of cooking fat and yesterday's dinner." Finally, Char's year of training ends, his mother and father, the Queen and King, throw three nights of dinner and dancing in his honor. Now beloved Mandy the cook, who of course is a fairy, aids Ella in dressing for the ball. But it is Lucinda who shows up at the last moment to provide the transportation. Lucinda conjures a coach, saying,"Earlier this evening in Frell I spied a giant's cart filled with pumpkins." There is a rumble, and Lucinda winks at Ella. "Look, child." The pumpkin had been transformed into a gleaming coach...'Mice will make plump horses' she said. Six fat brown mice raced across the tiles of the hall. They vanished, and six horses appeared before the coach. A white rat became the coachman, and six lizards were transformed into footmen." Ella goes to the ball, and the rest, as they say, is history.
From Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine (1997) New York: Harper Collins
Notes: This is a great book for kids ages 9+ to read. Ella is 15 years old in the story.
Montessori Connection 9-12 Real Royalty
1. Read Ella Enchanted.
2. Think about the story is like that of other Cinderella stories you have read, and how it is different.
3. Learn about real royalty: The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, Revised and Updated or Kings & Queens of England and Scotland or Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, England, 1544 (The Royal Diaries) or Hatshepsut, His Majesty, Herself, or The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa