once upon a time (v) wrapped

Today I am wrapping up Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings’ Once Upon a Time Challenge V. It is a challenge that involved a couple of months enjoying 4 genres: fantasy, fairy tales, folklore and mythology; both the reading of them, and the reading of reviews by other bloggers.

You may recall (from here) that the daughter and I had decided to do, at the very least, Quest the 2nd, which was to read one book a from each genre.  Really, this was all rather effortless to N who loves said genres. I had meant to keep track of her readings, but I didn’t, unfortunately.

Such as it is, here is my list:

a few picture books:

The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum written by Kate Bernheimer, pictures by Nicoletta Ceccoli   : fairytale, folklore.

A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli.  :  fairytale, mythology

The Secret  Footprints by Julia Alvarez, Illustrated by Fabian Negrin  :  folklore

some juvenile fiction novels:

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne M. Valente w/ illustrations by Ana Juan  :  fairytale

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.  :  fairytale

some graphic novels/comics:

Castle Waiting (vol.1) by Linda Medley  : fairytale

Foiled by Jane Yolen Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro  :  fairytale

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection Ed. Matt Dembicki  :  folklore, mythology

one for the adults:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss  :  fantasy

(no posted review) Italo Calvino’s The Cloven Viscount : folklore : fantasy. and Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle : folklore.

and film

Ondine (2009), director/writer Neil Jordan  :  fantasy, folklore, fairytale.

Thor (2011) Directed by Kenneth Branagh  :  fantasy, mythology

We spent some time in these non-fictional sources, which I did not review:

Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales (WW Norton & Co) edited by Marguerite Gordon :  folklore.  These are marvelous!!

Myths of the World:The Illustrated Treasury of the World’s Greatest Stories (Duncan Baird) edited by Tony Allan.  wherein we concentrated on North American myth.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World (WW Norton & Co) by Kathleen Ragan w/ foreword by Jane Yolen. A toe-dip into this collection this time, and again in the North American myths.


The challenge was a fun one, and if you haven’t participated in one of Carl’s challenges, I strongly recommend you do. Reader’s Imbibing Peril will be coming up in September, which is a great place to start. Meanwhile, check out the Once Upon a Time (V) Review site for links to other participants reviews. There are some really great ones (though I was regrettably lax in my commenting).

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales · young adult lit

…in a Ship of Her Own Making

“Am I to save Fairyland, then? Did you choose me to do that? Am I a chosen one, like all those heroes whose legs were never broken?”

The Green Wind stroked her hair. She could not see his face, but she knew it was grave.

“Of course not. No one is chosen. Not ever. Not in the real world. You chose to climb out of your window and ride on a Leopard. You chose [….] You are not the chosen one, September. Fairyland did not choose you—you chose yourself. You could have had a lovely holiday in Fairyland and never met the Marquess, never worried yourself with local politics, had a romp with a few brownies and gone home with enough memories for a lifetime’s worth of novels. But you didn’t. You chose. You chose it all. Just like you chose your path on the beach: to lose your heart is not a path for the faint and fainting.”

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

by Cathrynne M. Valente

illustrations by Ana Juan

Feiwel & Friends, 2011.

247 pages, hardcover.

September is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.

Not since Oz has there been a land—or a cast of characters—so rich and entrancing. ~inside cover.

While that last line sentence in the inside cover is a stretch, “Not since Oz has there been a land—or a cast of characters—so rich and entrancing,” the Fairyland and characters in Cathrynne Valente’s The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making are rich and entrancing. The narrator (third omniscient) lathers it on in the storytelling, so you may want to pace yourself with this one and savor the whimsical imagination of Valente’s telling. Steep a bit in her thick descriptors.

The Girl who Circumnavigated began as an on-line book project where legions of people apparently followed the installments. (I am ever late to these sorts of parties, sigh.) Valente was an author looking for support and expression of her talent while her partner looks for steadying employment. I was delighted to find this reference to its beginnings at “Folk and Fairy:”

This is not only a way to enjoy a really fun story, but it is also a way for you to help out an author and fellow faerie-lover in her time of need.

Catherynne Valente and her partner recently fell on hard times. Though they were able to survive for awhile, jobs are scarce and action had to be taken. They didn’t have enough to last a month! Then, she had a brilliant idea: she would share the story that is referred to in her (decidedly mature) novel, Palimpsest.

It is called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. And it is provided for entertainment and in good faith that the donations made to her through this effort will keep she and her partner afloat (it is a ship of her own making! Think of that!) until he finds a new job.

The Girl who Circumnavigated is apparently Valente’s first foray into Juvenile fiction. And while it might be found on Juvenile shelves the novel is sure to be a pleasurable read to those who love tales and fairy lore, and their possible and probable reference. This is especially for those who like the storyteller narrator, and the use of big words. For those who could easily see themselves in Victorian (or earlier) dress sitting near a fire with something covertly alcoholic and telling a story to the wee ones slouching not-so- primly-and-properly on the couch and floor. You would begin with this:

Chapter 1

Exeunt on a Leopard

In Which a Girl Named September Is Spirited Off by Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle.

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.

“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders fairyland? I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”

“Oh, yes!” breathed September, who disapproved deeply of pink-and-yellow teacups and also of small and amiable dogs. (1-2)

The Girl who Circumnavigated will end quite beautifully as well, and by ending I do not mean the last two-paged chapter. Valente pulls the story together with an exhilarating flourish. I am conflicted by the desire to hear more, and the need for everything to remain as is.


“You’re not a changeling! There’s no poppet or goblin in your bed, taking your place at supper. There’s more than one way between your world and ours. There the changeling road, and there Ravishing, and there’s those that Stumble through a gap in the hedgerows or a mushroom ring or a tornado or a wardrobe full of winter coats.” (186)

Fairyland is necessarily a fantastical place. The narrator and September mind their observations with suitable wonder, and clever wit.

The sun hitched up her trousers and soldiered up into the sky. September squinted at it and wondered if the sun here was different than the sun in Nebraska. It seemed gentler, more golden, deeper. The shadows it cast seemed more profound. But September could not be sure. When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. Thad does not mean it is brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on. (50)

Fairyland is an adventure through stories, many familiar, but all woven spectacularly with Valente’s own needle. For all the references, this is Valente’s Fairyland, and one of her characters has been up to mischief.

“Before I came, Fairyland was a dangerous place, full of brownies spoiling milk and giants stomping on whomever they pleased and trolls telling awful punning riddles. I fixed all that, September. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to invent bureaucracy in a world that didn’t even know what a ledger was? To earn their submission, even to the point of having their wings locked down? But I did it. I fixed it for children like you, so that you could be safe here and have lovely adventures with no one troubling you and trying to steal your soul away.” (94)

Such may sound like it could come from any number of mouths, doesn’t it? But the above quote is attributed to the The Marquess.  The Marquess is a brilliantly rendered villainous, much more complicated than she seems (not that any character is left flat). And even as you might come to feel some sympathy for her (near the end), her hideous actions are hard to forget. What might appear at first to be a fun little jaunt of a story, to amuse and meander a bit, is actually a well-crafted vessel.* So if there are moments that might feel a bit sluggish or exhausted, do not leave this adventure unfinished. And if you are of some agreement with the above sentiments that Fairylands are a too dangerous for children, you mightn’t open this novel (even for yourself). There is peril and volumes of unpleasantries; and biting criticism. No world can be made safe and ordered without horrible sacrifice, whether in the getting or the having.

September does not have it easy. There are all these choices with consequences with which to struggle. She makes friends whom she comes to love and cannot envision abandoning (and neither can the reader). She is starving and has to eat a raw fish and the blood goes everywhere. September is a fascinating character, “ill-tempered and irascible”–importantly so, but oh, so much more.** September gets to experience the danger of Fairyland, yet not wholly as a cautionary tale. Like any world (our own and Neverland), a realm is capricious and subject to its own rules and rulers. Life is unfair, but you still have choices. You can navigate in a ship of their making, or one of your own.


*although I am a bit unsure about the Key bit. Its treatment reminded me a bit of Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Melancholy Kitty in the first of the May Bird trilogy, only not as good. Still it worked…

** September is (to our good fortune) not Alice or Dorothy or Wendy, more in line with Alexandra Morningside (of Adrienne Kress’ Alex and the Ironic Gentleman), very much like Mosca (of Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night).

***The first image is from page 39,  Chapter IV: The Wyverary: In Which September Is Discovered by a Wyvern, Learns of a Most Distressing Law, and Thinks of Home (but Only Briefly). The image below is from page 144, Chapter XII: Thy Mother’s Sword: In Which September Enters the Worsted Wood, Loses All Her Hair, Meets Her Death, And Sings It to Sleep.

A link to the book’s site where you can preview some chapters. Valente’s website.

Illustrator Ana Juan’s site. (You may recall she did the beautiful cover of Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters.)

"review" · Children's · fiction · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · Tales

the secret footprints

The Secret  Footprints by Julia Alvarez

Illustrated by Fabian Negrin

Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

That it was Alvarez caught my eye when the daughter and I were browsing the 398s. I had never heard of ciguapas, and now I am just flat out captivated by the idea of their existence.


As a little girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, I remember hearing stories of the ciguapas. (See-goo-ah-pas.) This tribe of beautiful women live underwater but come out at night to hunt for food. No one has ever been able to track them down because they have a special secret. I’d lie in bed, struggling to stay awake, hoping to spot one. I never did, until I wrote this story about one little-girl ciguapa, Guapita, who almost gives away the special secret by befriending a human boy. The illustrations by the Italian artist, Fabian Negrin, are fabulous. ~Julia Alvarez, here.

In Julia Alvarez’s tale, The Secret Footprints, a fearless young ciguapa, Guapa, has a curious nature that nearly costs her tribe their freedom. “If people find out where we live, they will capture us because we are so beautiful. Doctors will want to put us in cages and study us. We will be forced to live on land” (8). But are all humans so terrible? Her boldness gets her into trouble, but the human boy she’s found interest in proves kind.

I am just going to go ahead and share their secret, because I thought this to be a interesting invention (and it won’t ruin the story). “Their feet were on backward! When they walked on land, they left footprints going in the opposite direction” (3).  No prints are seen rising up out of the sea. An added enchantment is how Julia Alvarez imagines some of the difficulties of having backward feet on land. This is a story that truly captures the imagination.

Those familiar with Ondine, The Little Mermaid, and/or Selkies will be intrigued by the ciguapas, fairytale figures originating in the Dominican Republic.Alvarez adds a letter at the end of the book, “About the Story,” where she talks about growing up with the tale and shares some of the different versions she’s encountered. I love that she includes people’s ideas about where the ciguapas stories come from, but I am even more charmed by the influences ciguapas have had on the author’s life, how they’ve still managed to make it to Vermont, backward feet and all.

“Sometimes I leave my wash out on the line overnight and stick a piece of candy or an apple in the pocket of my pants or jacket, just in case. I know it’s a long way from the Dominican Republic to Vermont, especially if your feet are on backward. But I have to tell you, sometimes that piece of candy or apple is gone from that pocket in the morning. My husband says it could be squirrels or maybe even a raccoon.

I know better.”


to view more of Fabian Negrin’s work. Julia Alvarez’s site.

my review of Tia Lola Learns to Teach.

read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V) as well.

"review" · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

ah, nicoletta

It has been some months since I featured one of my favorite Illustrators Nicoletta Ceccoli. The blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast” posted on a new picture book by Ceccoli and they had this video where Ceccoli talks about her work. I immediately went to see if the Library has some picture books with Ceccoli’s name on them.

The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum

written by Kate Bernheimer, pictures by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008.

Once there was a small castle on display in a museum. When children visited, they’d press close to the glass globe in which the castle sat. For they’d heard that if they looked hard enough, they’d see a tiny girl inside….

Can you see her?

Here is an original fairy tale that feels like a dream—haunting, beautiful, and completely unforgettable. ~dust jacket

Inside the Castle inside a Museum that is Inside the Story that is this book, which was inside the imagination of Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli. Dreamers inside dreams who have dreams wherein the reader is brought to mind.

The story and its images would defy the dimensions of a page. Ceccoli plays with dimensions (some Escheresque details), media, and shadows, while Bernheimer acknowledges the reader in a theatrical violation of the fourth wall. The story resides in simultaneity, multiple planes living and interacting. Reader and character alike are enlivened; the reader inspired to dream by the one they would dream about.

Even if the reader doesn’t leave their photograph in the frame on the girl’s wall, the reader has already kept her company.

The Girl inside the Castle inside the Museum is an equal parts disturbing and enchanting fairytale. I highly recommend it.


“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?” ~Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (and epigraph to A Dignity of Dragons by Jacqueline K. Ogburn)

A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts 

by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli.

Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

With inventive groupings, luminous artwork, and a fact-filled glossary, A Dignity of Dragons makes for a bestiary to treasure. For within its pages, you’ll learn about all the creatures you may be lucky enough to see, if know where to look. ~dust jacket.

“Everyone has heard of groups of animals—a pride of lions, a charm of hummingbirds, a school of fish. If you came upon magical beasts gathered together, what would you call them?” (2) Jacqueline K. Ogburn is marvelous in her response to this question. A Dignity of Dragons is a fun and enchanting read.

A dazzlement of Quetzalcoatls/An arch of rainbow snakes

A few groupings I especially liked (that are not already mentioned): A grapple of griffins. A resurrection of phoenix. A continent of kracken. A flurry of yetis. A pandemonium of fauns. A faculty of centaurs.

A flame of feng hwangs/A resurrection of phoenix/A flash of firebirds

If the reader is curious who some of the creatures are, or to whom they belong, there is a glossary at the back. This is a beautiful book and a must see for lovers of magical creatures. And Nicoletta Ceccoli was the perfect fit as an illustrator for this collection of collective nouns. Kirkus writes,

Every figure is pretty, but the illustrator staves off preciosity by injecting plenty of drama into her compositions — like a scary “riddle of sphinx” gazing down clinically on a small pilgrim or a ship of ancient design being attacked simultaneously by a “vengeance of harpies,” a “tangle of gorgons” and a (bare-breasted) “chord of sirens.” Enthralling fare for addicts of myth and fantasy…


my two other posts featuring books Nicoletta Ceccoli illustrated: here & here.

A Dignity of Dragons images from 7 Impossible Things for Breakfast on their review of said book.

Both these books fit into the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V): The first book being a fairytale, the second dealing in myth

"review" · cinema · recommend · Tales

it was just like a…

fairytale life.

Set in a small, rural, Irish fishing village, Neil Jordan’s Ondine (2009) is a romantic drama about a fisherman Syracuse (Colin Farrell) who pulls a woman from the sea in his net. Both Syracuse and his daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), come to believe that the woman who calls herself Ondine is a Selke, a seal-woman.

As the film progresses in its romantic narrative, the lore around the Selke is revealed, usually through Annie who has done her research on the shape-shifting creatures. If Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) is a Selke than she has to stay on land until she can find her seal coat, and if she finds it, she can choose to bury it and stay with the fisherman for seven years, after crying seven tears. This would be good as the fringe dweller and charming Syracuse (Circus) could use a beautiful lover about the house—and on the boat. Ondine’s singing seems to bring Syracuse good luck when fishing. However, of pressing importance is: if Ondine is a Selke, than she can grant a wish. And Annie could really use that wish.*

Annie** is dying, suffering from kidney failure and in need of a tissue match. She gets around in a wheel-chair, an explorer. But she is no delicate flower in the harsh landscape of her home. She is a survivor, quick with the big words, a reader, quite practical. And yet Annie is still a child, vulnerable–and hopeful. In a story where everyone is trying to find their legs, Annie finds hers in the sea.

Thematically, life is found in the sea; comes from it. There is the sustenance and the industry, of course. And like, for Ondine who she claims it brought death, she sees it also as a source of re-birth. Her romance with Syracuse is a new start for her. Salvation is sought and found in the sea.

Selke’s are supposed to make for sexually alluring humans, right? Ondine uncovers its bases.

The mysterious (close-mouthed) Ondine has a past, whether the characters or audience believes she is Selke or no. Does she have a Selke husband who wants her back? Did she have domestic troubles in her underwater realm, which caused her to run away? If she isn’t a Selke, where does she come from and how did she come to be in Syracuse’s fishing net? The past haunts the new beginnings, rising up out of the dark depths of the sea, the bottle, the village, the confessional…  Such are the darker aspects of the tale.

The film’s narrative is a bit difficult to follow at times, a bit choppy about the middle. I had a hard time at moments understanding what an actor was saying. Partly it was the soundtrack***, primarily it was the quick, clipped exchanges or emotionally charged Irish accents. I should have put on the subtitles—good thing there were gestures and Farrell, at least, can emote quite convincingly. There was also the problem of seeing the film. It was very dark for spans and I would recommend a good dark room and a television that can translate low-to-no lighting photography. Besides these frustrations the film has its charm. A fairytale set amidst the grit of a poor, rural fishing village with its enchanting vistas.

both the setting and Colin Farrell carry the weight of this film; though I do like Dervla Kirwan in her role.

The charm I found in Neil Jordan’s tale is how it begins as a fairytale come to life and ends with how it is actually life that becomes a fairytale. Ondine meets the varying expectations of the Lore, even as the story begins to shifts and harsh reality brings the return of dark lighting. With the shift, comes the lovely reversal in thought, that fairytales are created out of life (not life is created out of a fairytale). As the mystery behind Ondine is revealed, so is the origin behind the fairytale. (Neil Jordan’s fairytale). Ondine looks at how tales find their origin in the human condition, in human desires and human difficulties. How senseless events, out of which miracles might be found, find explanation in a Selke’s wish.

And yet Ondine does not discard how the power of suggestion/belief in a fairytale can be transformative. Bachleda’s character is empowered by Syracuse and Annie’s belief in her. When lore and life become dangerously mixed near the end of the film, Ondine embraces her role as wish-fulfiller, for herself (as Syracuse desired). And when lore and life are not so dangerously mingled at the end, the Selke is granted her citizenship, a foreigner finding a new home in a other form (in the only way seemingly available to her).

Ondine suggests that fairytale stories do not just occur once, a long time ago. It is as Syracuse tells his daughter about his encounter with Ondine as a story that begins “Once upon a time” and she wonders why such stories should always begin that way. As if such a tale has only happened once, to someone else, a long time ago and far far away. As if life, or fairytales, happen to someone else. Ondine returns lore to its human origins –without robbing us of a fairytale ending.


* I did a superficial scratch at the lore behind “Selkie” and “Ondine” on wikipedia. Neil Jordan pulls from at least both histories in the creation of the story.

**Annie is a bit other-worldly herself. She is a bit of a Little Mermaid, highly inquisitive, a bit of an Alice, “curiouser and curiouser,” as both are known to say.

*** sigur rós fans will appreciate the use of the band’s music here.

Ondine (2009)

director/writer Neil Jordan

Produced by Ben Browning, James Flynn, Neil Jordan

Starring Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda

Music by Kjartan Sveinsson (who is a member of Sigur Rós)

Cinematography Christopher Doyle

Editing by Tony Lawson

Studio Wayfare Entertainment, Little Wave, Octagon Films

Country: Ireland

111 minutes, PG-13

IMDb, wikipedia.

as of the date of this post, Ondine is available for streaming on Netflix.

viewed as a part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V)

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · series · Tales · wondermous · young adult lit

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).


once upon a conversation (b)

The husband and I are reading Pat Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind together. The bulk of the book is the protagonist Kvothe recounting his youth and essentially fleshing out the man behind the Legend, relaying the sources of many a story about him. Still Kvothe, a figure of Legendary/mythic proportion (of which we have yet to fully realize), exists within a realm of already conceived mythical figures that would pre-date him. The Name of the Wind recounts songs and stories of varying folk lore, some specific to regions or a people, and some shared by everyone (the Chandrian, Lenre and Lyra, etc).

Sean and I got to talking about the myths, fairy tales, and folk lore observed by fictional characters within a novel. Some feel more borrowed and cobbled together than others, but regardless, they can be as wonderfully entertaining and as real as a tale that comes from some other country only heard about, but never seen. A folk tale can blend quite nicely into fiction unless it is very presently culturally observed, like the man who gathers bad children in a bag near Christmas and carts them off into the woods to be brutally murdered; I was afraid of him up until we moved to a different country. Still I worry a bit that he will be waiting for me when e’er I return.

I have read little in the Fantasy genre (thus far), nor do Sean and I tend to read the same books, but I think it natural anyway that the conversation would move from Rothfuss to Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are many charming and terrifying tales told in the realm Tolkien created and historicized. The song of the Ent wives is a particular favorite of mine, or of the maid Nimrodel.

After Tolkien, Sean reminded me of the story he’d read in a Gene Wolfe novel that he liked so much. We since have gotten the 2nd half of The Book of the New Song: Sword & Citadel so as to read it again, and to collect it. I found the chapter/story, “XIII: Foila’s Story—The Armiger’s Daughter,” on-line last night, here. We also learned it shows up in at least one of Wolfe’s short story collections.

A collection… There are collections of fairy tales and folk lore and myths from around the world. Is there an anthology of lore/tales collected from “fictional” places?

What tale would you like to see in such a collection?  I like Jesse Ball’s tale in The Way Through Doors about the man who meets the devil on the road home to his wife and makes an arrogant and unwise deal. Or of the queen (?) who loved a count who did not return her affection so she hunted down the ugliest woman in the known world and made him marry her in their kingdom of ice. Course, the protagonist is making up stories, it is not a part of some fantastical place other than his own imagination. It isn’t Middle Earth, or Narnia, or where ever it is that Kvothe lives, or within the Wheel of Time, or A Song of Fire and Ice, or the Dark Tower

What tale would you like to see in such a collection? Do you have a favorite fairy tale, folk tale, or myth conceived in some cultural setting in a fictional realm?* Would you limit it to Fantasy/Sci Fi, or could we include  others, like Psychological fiction for example?


*Going to have to work on that wording of that question; fictional is a tricky word. How would you more eloquently word it? What would you call such a collection of tales (if it doesn’t already have a known name)?