I was about eight years old when I first read Ella Enchanted, Levine’s Newbery Honor-winning retelling of “Cinderella,” which was, unfortunately, very poorly adapted into a film. I adored that book–I still do. I’ve read it at least four times. Levine had made the story of Cinderella infinitely more appealing by giving the heroine a curse that forces her to obey all direct orders, allowing for Ella to be a proactive character while sticking with the evil-step-family premise. I’m fairly certain that Ella Enchanted was the first book I read that was told in the first person, and the first starring a female exclusively.
Ella Enchanted introduced me to the concept of the fairy tale retelling, which has since become one of my preferred sub-genres. It gives one the ability to take favorite old stories and put a little power into the hands of the girl instead of forcing her to wait for a male to come along and rescue her. Other virtues of the genre include the ability to flesh out characters, explore motivations, and expand on the coming-of-age themes intended by the fairy tales’ original authors, whether they be Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brothers, or some other scribe of old. I tried my own hand at it with a somewhat lengthy short story based on “King Thrushbeard.” It was a somewhat poor retelling, having very few differences from the original, and I’d love to rewrite it someday.
But I digress. Levine’s other works are nearly as good as Ella Enchanted. Her other retellings include Fairest (“Snow White”) and the series of novellas “The Princess Tales” (which are not nearly as imbecilic as they sound). She is also the author of Ever, The Two Princesses of Bamarre (another of my favorites), Dave at Night, and The Wish. I’ve read many of these multiples times, and it was the way I devoured Levine’s novels that originally earned me the title “bookworm.”
By the time I turned thirteen or fourteen, though, I’d stopped reading Levine. Her books retained a treasured place on my shelves, nothing more. She had gotten me into reading, and had been one of my major inspirations to write. It was at this point that she swooped in with a work of non-fiction to save my writing: Writing Magic.
Don’t let the “Ages 8 and up” label deceive you. Writing Magic is a witty, intelligent, and extremely useful helper for creative writers of all ages. It offers advice on everything from inspiration to publication, and still manages to be an entertaining read. The prompts she provides for writing practices have turned into some of my full-length stories. I can honestly say that reading this book, going through the exercises, and taking its advice seriously improved my writing immensely. Experienced writers might not find it as useful or ground-breaking, but I highly recommend it to creative writers just getting started or in need of a boost.
To me, Gail Carson Levine is one of the patron goddesses of the fairy tale retelling, an ingenious writing teacher, and, all in all, a brilliant author. I owe her nearly everything in the realms of reading and writing both–and beyond. Her heroines were my idols as I grew up; she helped define my essential being. I wouldn’t be who I am without her books.
I would give anything to be an author like that.