The novel Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is classified as a fantasy. There are parts of the book that make it very obviously fit into this genre. The fact that many mythical creatures reside in the story, the main character is cursed to follow every order she is given, and that throughout the novel she goes on a journey to overcome the adversity of having to live like a slave as part of the nobility. However, there are parts of the story that have absolutely nothing to do with the fantasy genre and much more to do with romance. The fact that she loves a prince whom she cannot have because of her curse even though he loves her too is purely romance and does not fit with the fantastic aspect of the novel.
The ways it does fit into the fantasy genre are the frequent use of the mythical creatures. According to Chandler in his essay “An Introduction to Genre Theory” he states that a certain approach to describing genres is prototypicality. He proposes that “According to this approach certain features would identify the extent to which an exemplar is prototypical of a particular genre. Genres can therefore be seen as ‘fuzzy’ categories which cannot be defined by necessary and sufficient conditions.” The prototype of a work of fantasy is the fairytale and myth. The source of all fantasy works originates from the stories our parents told us as children. They contain mythical creatures, curses, and adventures. In the book the main character Ella visits one of her favorite places in the kingdom the royal menagerie. This place contains dragons, centaurs, elves, etc. These creatures are an aspect of the prototype but do not define the fantasy novel. Chandler is saying that authors can follow the prototype as strictly or obtusely as they want.
The reason this book can be doubted as a fantasy is because aside from the plot there is a love story between the protagonist Ella and the prince. We can see this from the first time they meet at her mother’s funeral and her comforts her where no one else could. People could just as easily say this book is a romance novel even though that is not a part of the plot. However, later in his essay Chandler tells us that genres are not “fixed forms” but that they are “dynamic”. He states that “‘genre is not…simply “given” by the culture: rather, it is in a constant process of negotiation and change’”. This is completely true. Although the prototype of a fantasy is the fairytale that does not mean that it cannot have evolved beyond that point as people have evolved. If people choose to accept a romance as part of or compatible with a fantasy then there is no reason not to alter the definition in order to include it.
The term genre is human construct. It was created to help classify literary texts in order to help people find what it was that they wanted to read. Since people created it and people have a tendency to change their minds then so to does the definition of what a genre is and what fits into it.
by Lyuba Lazarev