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castle waiting

When I picked up Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting as recommended by “no flying, no tights”* I didn’t realized the novel was a collection of previously serialized work, nor did I know it was only volume 1. When I finished reading it, I hoped there was more, because it is brilliant, and two, it seems to wander off and once finally returning—dangles. A second volume was published December 2010. Now, to hunt down that volume.

That Castle Waiting doesn’t look like a graphic novel is part of its charm; Natalya’s eyes had already lit on the cover, but they melted when she saw it was full of b/w frames. That is Castle Waiting, smart and provocative.

Castle Waiting (vol.1) by Linda Medley

(w/ Intro by Jane Yolen)

Fantagraphics, 2006.

456 pages, hardcover.

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. ~publisher’s comments, link.

Castle Waiting the novel is refuge for the eccentric, for “misfits, outcasts, and other seeking sanctuary,” for those looking for original and amusing tale telling. Linda Medley isn’t reinventing the tradition but is following its lines by embracing its malleable nature, and introducing her own perspective through her own choice of medium. Drawing from folk tales, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, classic myth, bible story, and more, Linda Medley creates her own highly imaginative take on the modern fairy tale.

Castle Waiting is a marvelous comic in how it has wide appeal. The black and white line-drawing is pleasing and expressive. There is a great deal of humor and the bizarre.  The stories, both over arcing and small, are interesting. The most novice reader of tales will be entertained and intrigued. The veteran tale reader will enjoy the scavenger hunt as Medley honors traditional storylines and figures even as she uses them at will—up-cycling, repurposing. Castle Waiting isn’t just feminist, its also green. I think the hipster (?) “mustache club” crowd** should get into it just fine as well—facial hair is in: female’s not excluded.

As the publisher’s comments shared, the opening chapters are about Brambly Hedge (Sleeping Beauty). There is a great deal of humor and general silliness in these chapters; this creates a harmless sensibility that will capture and trap the reader. For example, that humorous lullaby leading us into the castle as the narrator introduces us to the village? It takes us right into the room of a queen holding a pillow bundled in a blanket, “Just practicing…heh!” she says. “Again?!!” the King returns. A black-inked frame with a segue; an empty space, like the emptiness the Queen felt. The third frame in this bottom row: She sits in an unadorned chair, eyes downcast, chin in hand, despondent, with her hand open, palm upward, empty, in her lap. Her body is angled toward her husband but her face is turned away. The King’s look of concern in the upper frame wasn’t just from his wife’s questionable song lyrics.

As the publisher notes: “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.”

The effect of some of the more serious topics or situations addressed in Castle Waiting really depends upon the age and experience of the reader. The daughter of 10 3/4s didn’t blink at some of the frames that I mulled over or was moved to sadness by. She found a light-hearted humor over details I skimmed past, partly because she knows more tales than I do, but also because the story can be read with an eye for only adventure and humor.

Castle Waiting shifts from “Sleeping Beauty” riding off into the sunset to a next “Once upon a time…”  So, the first part paints Medora (the princess) as foolhardy, unwise; indeed, one of the witches regrets being robbed of her opportunity to gift the babe with wisdom (30). I thought that the young woman in the following chapters was the princess running from an abusive prince charming. [The trouble I have with b/w line-drawing, not minding features and hair texture; shouldn’t read so rushed.] Perhaps the potential mislead is meant, after all, we don’t know anything more about the Prince Charming than Medora did… Then it seemed that Jain has been gifted in some of the same ways Medora was, easy to make friends, beautiful…natural graces?

Jain is a wonderful character, a strong female protagonist, though still an unusual pitch for children. I kinda like her though. What interests me is her depiction as a Mary figure withheld. There is a room at the Inn at Bremen (75). Jain is not saintly or sainted. Her husband beat her, will kill her if he finds her, and she’s pregnant by another man (creature?). Medley isn’t building role-models but reflective surfaces. Messages and morals are of a more organic derivative, more so in the first half of the book than the latter.

Jain makes it to the refuge Castle Waiting. She becomes a part of the hodgepodge of a castle family where everyone has a story. This volume does not explore them all, nor most to any depth. There are allusions to a few that I think a knowledge of Medley’s references would flesh out. I really want to know more about Pindar’s father.

One character’s story that is delved into in the second half of the read is Sister Peace, who is a nun in the order of the Solicitine. Really, you have to read it. Sister Peace is already intriguing enough with her Wimple that looks to have horns (or ears) and her demonic looking pet, then it is revealed she has a beard. Oh the fun a body could have writing essays from the feminist perspective on what follows! When I own this volume, perhaps I will indulge. Jain gets Sister Peace to tell her about herself and how she came to Castle Waiting. A pub, a circus, and a refuge for bearded women are involved.

The daughter was curious why the second half spent the majority of its length on the bearded women, but she was fascinated and entertained. I’m not sure how attuned politically she is,or metaphorically savvy she can be, but Peace’s antics are witty and wild regardless. Highly charged reads can be daunting and alienating to certain ages, but Medley pulls it off. Regardless of how you choose to approach the stories, or with what you have to approach the stories, Medley entertains and provokes, both through written and illustrated renderings.

[a bit of a caution for my Christian friends who may slam the book shut at ~page 326, just think about Nejmah’s story, and give Medley the benefit of the doubt here. course, Catholic friends might find it mocking (?)—curious: tell me what you think.]

It is an enchantment of the book that so many oddities or social outcasts are portrayed as normal; if not acceptable, certainly not judged. Medley draws eccentricity in more human, and thus accessible, terms. Her compassionate gaze has a humored perspective that is not keen to humiliate; which is such a wonderful and refreshing part of the experience of reading Castle Waiting. If you believe books can be refuges, this one is an unusually engaging one.


Please read this review by Chris @ Graphic Classroom. He is eloquent as always and addresses some of the things I did not (as I intended to provide this link). Also, since Chris (and crew) reviews comics for their potential use in the grade school classroom, he provides a good age recommendation of 10 & up, and some cautions if you are thinking of handing this to your child.

As for you adults: if you like comics that are nicely done and tales that are as simple or as complicated as you want them, Linda Medley will meet expectation.


* site is dedicated to comic/graphic novel reviews/recommendations.

**don’t ask, but do tell. have observed the trend, but as to how or why it started/exists?–do instruct.

images: (1) page 60, after Medora rides off into the sunset.  (2) p 68, Jain (battered) leaves her husband, and home.  (3) p 275, a glimpse of Peaceful Hortense Elaine Warren’s story.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley was read as a part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V).

4 thoughts on “castle waiting

  1. I was reading Linda Medley’s series way back when she was putting out (sporadic) issues in comic form. I remember when an issue came out with a goodby and apology to the readers as she was self publishing and could not afford to do so anymore. I am so happy that, years later, she was able to start the story up again and continue it. I have yet to read the rest, though I own much of it in single issue form, but I remember really enjoying what I read.

    And her art is wonderful. Such a nice heft to her lines.

  2. I should preface this comment with a note about how I wrote my thesis about Castle Waiting, Fables, feminism, fairy tales, and comics. (Aka, I am a HUGE DORK for talking about CW.) Instead, since it is late, and I’m sleepy, I will just tell you that Medley actually planned to have the Solicitine episode occur later and more broken up, but she was forced to do it earlier because it was what her publisher at the time wanted. That’s why it so abruptly shifts to Sister Peace’s back story for so long.

    And I can’t help but being giddy about what your daughter didn’t actively pick up on. One of the things I suggested in my thesis was that many of the darker themes of Castle Waiting aren’t verbalized in the prose but relayed to the reader through the visuals. I thought that this would allow Medley to have younger readers who wouldn’t pick up on certain cues, but could still enjoy the overall story.

    1. thanks for commenting. I really appreciate your enthusiasm (dorkiness) and knowledge about CW. It is good to know about the Solicitine decision, it did seem odd; and good for Medley to work it in as best she could.

      Medley’s ability to honor the oldest and youngest reader, the most experienced and most naive, is something I admire in CW. I hadn’t stopped to think about how this was accomplished, though, and your insight will stick with me for the next reading.

      What an awesome scope for a thesis by the way. Very cool!


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