by Gail Carson Levine
If there's one thing Disney has taught us, it's that you can't have a fairy tale without a dead mom. (Although it's not like Disney made that up—dead or absent moms, and dads, are a staple of literature). Ella Enchanted? Check. One dead mom.
Fleeting and Of Fairy Blood
Ella's mom dies between chapters one and two of this book. We didn't have long to get to know her, but through other characters, we can piece together a pretty good idea of who she was.
Mandy tells Ella that her mom's family has some fairy blood—just a tiny bit, enough that their feet will remain small (as do those of fairies) their whole lives. They don't get to do magic or live forever, though—obviously, in this case.
Ella's mother was also very kind, so it might seem surprising that she shacked up with a jerk like Sir Peter. But Mandy explains: "Until she was his wife, Sir Peter was very sweet to Lady. I didn't trust him, but she wouldn't listen to me. Her family didn't approve because he was poor, which made Lady want him even more, she was that kindhearted" (5.54).
Well, Lady Eleanor should have listened to her fairy godmother, since her mistrust was well placed. We get the impression that Lady Eleanor was kind-hearted and also a little naïve. That's worth noting, because Ella isn't the least bit naïve. She can tell right away when people are good, and when they're just pretending to be.
At Court But Not Courtly
But Lady Eleanor and Ella do have something else in common: they don't take anything too seriously, including (especially) court. Char recalls: "Your mother used to make me laugh. Once, at a banquet, Chancellor Thomas was making a speech. While he talked, your mother moved her napkin around. I saw it before your father crumpled it up. She had arranged the edge in the shape of the chancellor's profile, with the mouth open and the chin stuck out. It would have looked exactly like him if he were the color of a blue napkin" (2.25).
Clearly, napkin impersonation should be one of the many skills taught to young Kyrrian noblewomen at finishing school. Maybe they'd have more luck marrying princes—and court would definitely be a lot more fun.