Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine was my first true fairytale retelling. I’d always devoured fairytales and world mythology, but I hadn’t read anything that transformed something old and made it new. I hadn’t experienced what it meant for someone to take a story and make it her own. I picked it up because it was on my elementary school summer reading list. It was a total pick based on the title. I’m a magpie in all things, and if you say ‘sparkle’ or ‘enchanted’ 10/10 I’ll pick it up.
It was like my heart was trying not to balloon in size out of excitement. Ella Enchanted had heart and humor, delightful world-building and magic that didn’t just exist but had consequences. I was, to be super punny, enchanted.
Reading Ella Enchanted felt like a quiet “oh” moment. It meant: “Oh, you can do this?” or rather “I can do this?” For some reason, fairytales felt like this untouchable sphere, and yet I saw those same fairytales (Snow White, Beauty & The Beast, Cinderella) reincarnated across every cultural spectrum.
Years later, I would come across the image of Philip Pullman’s imagined Coat of Arms depicting a raven with a diamond in its beak. He said it represented the storyteller because storytellers always steal their tales because every story has already been told.
I loved that.
It stuck with me not by making me think that my work was doomed to be unoriginal, but that the true magic of storytelling came in how we constantly reinvent ourselves. It’s the hope I carried with me when people told me that The Star-Touched Queen would never be published because it featured an all-Indian cast and a different mythological well. It’s the talisman I hold in my heart every time I set pen to paper or fingers to keys: “I’m following a grand tradition. No one can tell me I don’t belong.”