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The Ugly Stepsisters

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 15, 2011

The Ugly Stepsisters tells how Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters came to the castle, and by their own pettiness ruined a party in their honor.

First, let me say that I was looking forward to this: I have wondered, in the past, whatever happened to Cinderella’s family, once the story ended? If Cinderella lived happily, ever after, then at least they must have troubled her no more. I like to imagine that kind Cinderella gave them a lovely home–very, very far away.

In The Ugly Stepsisters, we learn that Cinderella has not seen her stepmother and stepsisters for quite some time, and she is excited to see them–odd, perhaps, given how cruel they have been to her, but not incomprehensible. Cinderella decides that she will have a ball in their honor, and invite all the men in the kingdom (and according the story, it really is every man–must be a small kingdom), so that they can find happiness in marriage as she has. She asks that the party be kept secret, and that her stepsisters be told only that it is being given for some very important people.

Cinderella’s stepsisters overhear her talking about the ball, but don’t realize it is in their honor, and think that Cinderella is just trying to show off, so they do all they can to ruin it. Fortunately (perhaps), the two mice, Jaq and Gus, undo much of their mischief, and Cinderella, too, helps, though she generously ascribes to them much nobler motives than the jealousy that really motivates them.

When the ball finally begins, the stepsisters have gone so far as to wear horrible costumes, so as to embarrass Cinderella (“How embarrassed Cinderella will be! The guests will laugh at her when they see how her sisters dress for her parties!”). Indeed, when the guests see them, the run out, horrified at their ugliness. Of course, the joke’s on them, since the ‘important people’ were Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, themselves. Oops.

Enough summary, then. The story is actually fairly enjoyable–the dramatic irony is nice, and this is, in fact, a lovely, simple example of it. Eight year old students of literature, take note! The main point of contention I have is that the stepsisters’ ugliness is noted repeatedly, as though it were some failure on their part. I don’t think that we should be encouraging children to ostracize people because they are ugly, and unfortunately this book seems to do just that. To be fair, the book does (always, I think) comment on how mean they are at the same time, but I also don’t like the associate that creates between ugliness and meanness. Well, no story is perfect.

Unfortunately, the artwork isn’t as good in this one. It looks a little simpler than in previous volumes, and I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the characters seem a little stiff, as though they are posing, whereas the illustrations in the previous books are much livelier and more natural looking. It’s a shame, too, since one of the great triumphs of the movie Cinderella (as with many other Disney movies, really) was the smoothness and realism of the characters’ movements.

This volume is something of a mixed bag. The artwork is okay, but not great, and the story is nice, but a little problematic. I liked it better than Thumper’s Little Sisters, but that’s not saying much. It’s not too bad. I’d prefer other volumes in the series, but The Ugly Stepsisters holds up well enough that you won’t regret reading it, and I suppose that for Cinderella fans, it’s a bit more appealing. Basically: your mileage may vary.

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