Castle Waiting by Linda Medley: A

castlewaitingBook description:
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.

Blending elements from a variety of sources—fairy tales, folklore, nursery rhymes—Medley tells the story of the everyday lives of fantastic characters with humor, intelligence, and insight into human nature. Castle Waiting can be read on multiple levels and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

I check out a lot of stuff from my local library. Most of the time, even if I like something a good deal, I’m content to return it to them with the knowledge that I can check it out again if the desire for a reread hits me. On rare occasions, though, I encounter a book that I love so very much that I can’t abide the thought of not owning my own copy. Castle Waiting is one such case.

Originally self-published by creator Linda Medley, the series was collected into a very nice hardcover edition by Fantagraphics in 2006. The design is rather old-fashioned, calling to mind the story books of my youth, and something as simple as the inclusion of a bookmark ribbon contributed quite a lot to my overall reading experience. Each time I cracked open the book to my marked place I felt like Bastian from The Neverending Story!

Castle Waiting begins with a prologue called “The Curse of the Brambly Hedge,” which is a variation on “Sleeping Beauty.” Everyone is happy in the land of Putney. They’ve got a kind and wise king and the people and commerce of the town are thriving. The one problem is that the king and queen desperately want a child, so they seek the advice of a group of witches in the forest. An evil witch is angry at not being consulted and places a curse upon the babe, which ultimately results in the princess slumbering for a century, the castle being obscured by brambles, and the town being destroyed. A hundred years later, the princess is awoken by a kiss and promptly takes off with her prince, leaving the castle waiting for royalty to inhabit its walls once again.

In the meantime, the castle becomes known as a safe haven for outcasts and the real story begins when Jain, who is pregnant, flees her abusive husband and travels a long way to make it to the castle. Once there, she meets the eccentric residents who are immediately kind to her and extremely excited about the prospect of having a child around the place. There’s Rackham, the beak-faced steward; Dinah, the cook; Simon, Dinah’s oversized son; Sister Peace, a surprisingly fun-loving nun; Henry, the taciturn blacksmith; three old ladies who were formerly the handmaidens of the princess; and Dr. Fell, a reclusive physician. Missing from the gathering is Chess, a traveling knight, though he does show up later.

Life at the castle is peaceful, with only minor irritations arising in the form of a poltersprite infestation and a lecherous river spirit. Jain settles in and is eager to contribute, eventually taking charge of the castle library. When she gives birth—to a green, snout-nosed boy with a tail—everyone fusses over the baby. Adorably, this includes the poltersprites, who watch over him and keep him warm, and gruff Henry, who makes an elaborate ironwork cradle for the child but does not visit him, since he has not yet gotten over the death of his own son.

Everyday life ensues. Rackham and Chess make a supply run into town. Dinah and Jain decide to dye their hair. Henry finally holds the baby. Simon and Peace go fishing. Each of these anecdotes is far more interesting than one would guess. While no one appears to be hiding their past from any other, not much is said beyond hints until a spate of rainy days leave Jain pining for a story and Sister Peace ready to tell one. The final third of the book is comprised of Peace’s backstory, from her days with a circus to her life in a convent. It does drag on a little bit, but it fleshes her out incredibly well. One gets the feeling that a tale as involved could be told about every single resident, and I’m looking forward to learning more about them all.

Perhaps the best adjective I could employ to describe Castle Waiting would be “homey.” It’s all about the pleasures of home and the relief of being amongst family who accept you, even if they don’t happen to be related to you or even entirely human. As the book description quoted above attests, it can also be read on many levels. Taken on the surface, it’s a perfectly cozy and enjoyable story. If one decides to delve more deeply, themes of tolerance and equality can be found gently at work, though by no means do they take precedence over the characters.

Lest all of this sound a bit too quaintly domestic, let me assure you that the story is also quite funny. I giggled many times and even my husband laughed when I showed him a panel that contains a reference to The Ren & Stimpy Show. Alas, there are several other references that I did not get—the most confusing of which has to do with disappearing people leaving piles of oats behind—but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story any.

With such a wealth of genuinely likable and intriguing characters, each with a story to tell, Castle Waiting seems to have the potential to go on indefinitely. I know I would love to read lots, lots more of it. In fact, even before I’d finished the first book I’d placed an order at the Fantagraphics site for the single issues that will, I hope, eventually be collected into a second hardcover for my collection.

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  1. Yes, this! Yay for your discovery. The second collection will be as interesting (and really goes into Jain’s backstory as a teenager) – I bought all the single editions and they’re finally releasing the collected version this December.

    • I know! I can’t wait. 🙂

      I actually bought all the single issues too, but was saving them for a rainy day and then thought, “Well, but won’t it be nicer to read them in a lovely book with a lovely bookmark?”

      • Indeed. And meanwhile we have supported the interest in the new collection and can pass the single ones on to infect other likely fans, so all is good.

        I actually was afraid she had died or something, I hadn’t heard any news about her, her site had vanished and the release rate of the pamphlet comics was spreading out.

        • Ack! I certainly hope she hasn’t!

          • Right, so do I. But there haven’t been features about her or interviews with her for almost two years, since the Eisner nomination, and her website went down at least a year ago…

            Well, I take the fact that Fantagraphics are releasing a collection as a good sign.

          • It’s out! It’s available at Amazon. I’ve just ordered it at the DE-version ^^.

            • Waah! Thanks!

              • If you haven’t collected the comics as I did, you’ll have a lovely focus on Jain and her backstory, on finding the right place to live with the baby and a firm focus on most of it (except for the flashback to Jain’s childhood) happening at the Castle itself. Some lovely new characters come visit, too.

  2. Okay, I’m too stupid to remember that we both collected the singles 😛

    • Haha. No worries; I kept them around for a day when I especially needed cheering, and then never read them. Now I guess I can move them to my one lowly box o’ comics.

      • Or donate them to someone who might like a taste of this… Melinda? She needs to be converted…

        • *strokes nonexistent goatee* She does.

          • Heee ^^

            That’s the one thing I hate most about being a German reader, I don’t know anyone fluent enough in English and interested enough in my favourite genres to pass these on to. I did during my university years and then I didn’t have the money to buy all these. Arrgh!


  1. […] my love for Emma, which beguiled me immediately. I liken it to my immediate affection for Castle Waiting; though the themes of the stories are different, the bond between Emma and Kelly is not unlike that […]

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