November 29, 2019
Dear Gail Carson Levine,
Hi. My name’s Ella. Not a rare name, but not quite a common one. The first time I ever saw my name in any piece of media was in Ella Enchanted. I love every one of your books, but Ella Enchanted is my favorite to this very day, and not just because of the name.
Ella Enchanted ignited my love of fantasy itself. It was Ella’s journey that introduced me to sweeping tales of elves, ogres, magic, and kingdoms-- not Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or The Chronicles of Narnia. It was your seemingly simple Cinderella story, so unexpectedly rich in worldbuilding and character and romance, that showed me the wonder of far-off, long-forgotten lands of myth-- not lofty academics with their inflated male egos. Or J.K. Rowling.
Your books gave me the opportunity a young girl needed to enjoy a genre dominated by old men with no clue how to write female characters that resonate with us. Ella was everything I wanted to be as a little girl. She was whip-smart, hilarious, badass, and genuinely kind. She struggled like all girls do, chafing at the bonds of society, but she knew her way around it all and always figured it out.
I think what I most love about Ella was her appreciation of language. A few years ago I discovered a long-forgotten fascination with language in all its forms, a fascination that has guided my decisions the past few years and has led me to exactly what I want to dedicate my life to-- linguistics. I genuinely believe that Ella’s interest in language, as well as your own dedication to creating thoughtful and inventive fantasy languages and cultures to contextualize them, led me to who I am now; a kid with big dreams of one day understanding everyone as well as Ella understood the people in her world.
Ella’s curse of Obedience is something that has grown and changed in significance for me over the years. When I was young I didn’t truly understand what it meant; I was just reading a fun book. Now I truly understand the horror of Ella’s situation. In recent years I’ve had to come face to face with the concept of consent, particularly as a teenage girl attempting to protect herself and her friends. With that change in perspective came the knowledge that, as a woman, the most terrifying thing I can imagine is the thought of having all choice taken from me. It’s never addressed in the book, but Ella could have faced far worse obstacles on her journey. And many young girls do. They feel just like Ella— as if they have no say in the matter. As if some foreign force is controlling their every move.
The most beautiful scene in the book, one that has since become my absolute favorite, is the climax. That pivotal moment when Ella is assaulted on all sides with orders from her step-sisters, her step-mother, Mandy, and especially Charmont, who is asking-- no, telling-- her to marry him. That final moment, when Ella is able to say no to something for the first time in her life, is gut-wrenching. The simple empowerment of one word legitimately changed her life. A simple ‘no’ changed everything for her. And it changed me as well.
Your character and I not only share a name-- we share a common goal: To live untethered by the thoughts and wants of others. To never feel as if we have to do something to appease someone else. To only ever do what is best for us. I love helping people be the best they can be, but in order to help others, you must first help yourself. Ella Enchanted introduced me to a world of magic, incited my love for language, and most of all, it taught me that no one, not a man, not a king, not even an ogre, can ever tell me what to do.
Thank you for giving Ellas a good name,