Castle Waiting (volume 1) by Linda Medley
The 456-page Castle Waiting graphic novel tells the story of an isolated, abandoned castle, and the eccentric inhabitants who bring it back to life. A fable for modern times, Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that’s not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil — but about being a hero in your own home. The opening story, “The Brambly Hedge,” tells the origin of the castle itself, which is abandoned by its princess in a comic twist on “Sleeping Beauty” when she rides off into the sunset with her Prince Charming. The castle becomes a refuge for misfits, outcasts, and others seeking sanctuary, playing host to a lively and colorful cast of characters that inhabits the subsequent stories, including a talking anthropomorphic horse, a mysteriously pregnant Lady on the run, and a bearded nun.
I got and read this about three years ago, while browsing the comic book store. I read and loved it. Now I reread it because volume two had recently come out and wanted to remember everything that happened.
There are so many stories-within-stories. It’s a cascade of stories!
The very beginning is a setup for why the castle is the way it is. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty actually. And when Sleeping Beauty finally does wake up, after a hundred years, she obviously falls in love with the prince who wakes her and they decide to immediately leave the castle, leaving the entire castle completely dumbfounded. It sort of points out the ridiculousness of the whole awoken-by-true-love’s-kiss thing. I mean, how can anyone be your true love if you’ve never met him? I sort of liked this part more than when I first read it. I feel like I “got” the absurdity. Below is when Sleeping Beauty departs from the castle, leaving everyone…slightly shocked (it also gives you a sense of what the art looks like):
So the real story begins years later, and the only remaining people from Sleeping Beauty’s days are her three handmaidens. The castle has become a refuge for anyone who needs just that: a refuge. You have the steward (a beaky fellow), a Knight (whose name is Chess and is a horse), all sorts of sprites causing mischief, a silversmith with a heart made of steel (literally), and so on. Oh and a lady called Sister Peace, who is bearded. Her story by far is the most interesting. Wouldn’t you like to know how a scrappy bearded lady made it all the way to Castle Waiting?
Castle Waiting has been described as great feminist reading, and you can see why. There is a whole order of women who have beards and they are actually happy to have them. And not all men are disgusted by them; some are actually quite smitten with them. It’s all about being happy with who you are, whether you are woman, man, or beast. One of the ladies in Castle Waiting has a son, Simon, who is a bit, let’s just say, on the slow side. But no one gives him a hard time about it. He isn’t treated that much differently. The newcomer to the castle, Jain, actually helps him learn to read. Oh Jain….her story is one of great mystery. We see glimpses of her early life, but the real mystery unfolds when her baby is born! That’s a doozy!
Castle Waiting is also sophisticated, as it is funny and charming, and poignant. I’m sure this is intended for all-ages but part of me thinks an older person would appreciate these stories more. I have a feeling there are references in here that I don’t even get, but right now, it does not deter away from the enjoyment.
There’s also been comparison to The Canterbury Tales because of all these characters congregating in one place. And I can totally see that comparison. Castle Waiting combines fairy tales, religion, politics, and comedy, and it’s done right.
I’m sure there is complaint somewhere out there that nothing really happens at Castle Waiting. All you truly get is a lot of back story to the characters, due to the arrival Jain. But, I have no problem with that, cause I just think of the Castle as a good backdrop for all these stories to come together. I mean, they all ended up there somehow, right?
I guess you have to experience Castle Waiting for yourself to see what is really going on. And I hope you do!
The Fantagraphics site actually has a great preview of volume two on their website.