by Gail Carson Levine
Where It All Goes Down
Kyrria; the town of Frell
Getting the Lay of the Land
Not even a geography nerd will be able to find Kyrria on a map. Well, duh. It's fantasy. The author, Gail Carson Levine, simply made up the place.
But hang on—being made up doesn't mean being shallow or shoddily put together. Like, Tolkien constructed a convincingly historical and mythical setting for The Lord of the Rings, complete with invented languages and ballads and all. What Levine has done here isn't so different, and she even has invented languages to prove it.
(Although, no disrespect to Levine—we love this book—but Tolkien really went all out. Dude was a language professor, after all.)
Anyway, like many fairy-tale settings, Kyrria features a hereditary monarchy (translation: your dad's king; you get to be king) and magical creatures like elves and ogres. Fairies bestow gifts—both welcome and unwelcome—and spouses are selected at balls. And, oh yeah, castles. Gotta have the castles.
Some things are unexpected given Kyrria's fantasy medieval-ish setting, though. The land has a reliable postal service (which helps Ella and Char's correspondence), and young ladies are sent to finishing school to learn every possible way of being polite, ever.
We'd take a field trip to Mount Doom over finishing school any day.
In fantasy, people talk about something called "worldbuilding." That is—how detailed is the world? Does it feel like a real place? Could you imagine living there?
One way writers build a world that feels real is through languages. And boy, does Ella Enchanted have languages. Here's a sampling of the main languages so you can see how different they all are, from the section of the book where Ella's saying goodbye to the parrots who have taught her the lingo:
".iqkwo pwach brzzay ufedjeE" That was Gnomic for "Until we dig again."
"ahthOOn SSyng!" Ogrese for "Much eating!"
"Aiiiee oo (howl) bek aaau!" Abdegi for "I miss you already!"
"Porr ol pess waddo." Elfian for "Walk in the shade."
Each language has its own logic that determines where capitalization occurs or whether multiple vowels or consonants tend to cluster together. Ayorthaian, the language spoken in the next-door kingdom of Ayortha, also follows certain rules, with most words beginning and ending with a vowel.
In keeping with the magical setting, some of the languages actually are magic. Like Ogrese.
Ogres weren't dangerous only because of their size and their cruelty. They knew your secrets just by looking at you, and they used their knowledge. When they wanted to be, they were incredibly persuasive. By the end of an ogre's first sentence in Kyrrian, you forgot his pointy teeth, the dried blood under his fingernails, and the coarse black hair that grew on his face in clumps. He became handsome in your eyes, and you thought him your best friend. (6.55)
Ogres can thus use their words magically, but in fact their native tongue helps with their magical persuasion powers, as Ella finds out when she's captured by ogres but manages to tame them using their own language against them. Ella tells Char: "I spoke to them in Ogrese, and I imitated their oily way of talking. I didn't know if I would succeed" (15.37).
The many languages with their magical associations help make Kyrria a well rounded fantasyland, not just a cardboard cut-out imitation of Tolkien. And we'd want Ella with us as a translator—if only to make sure we don't end up as an ogre's brunch.
Town vs. Country
Ella grows up in the town of Frell, so she's familiar with the way manor houses and castles work (hint: it helps to have servants). We know that she and her mother would go swimming in a nearby river, so it's not like she's a total city girl, but you get the picture: she's a pampered rich girl, even if she's a lot nicer than you'd expect.
When Ella ditches finishing school to find the giant's wedding, she's on her own in the wilderness for the first time in her life. She asks a baker for walking directions and he laughs at her: "On foot? Alone? With ogres and bandits roaming the road?" (13.8). Apparently, being outside of civilization isn't all rosebuds and rainbows—not even close.
For Ella, though, being out in nature has its benefits. For the first time in her life, there's nobody to order her around. In this sense, the natural world comes to symbolize freedom for Ella.
Of course, the natural world also has natural predators, like ogres. So Ella can't wander around forever. That, and she runs out of food because she's a newbie at this. But between the elves in their forests and the giants in their farmlands (with pumpkins as tall as Ella!), there are plenty of allies out there for Ella—provided she can steer clear of ogres long enough to find them.