I picked up Castle Waiting by Linda Medley at the recommendation of The Book Smugglers who described a charming take on classic fairy tales with a twist. When I checked it out from the library, it felt like a vintage volume of fairy tales with a beautiful full-color illustrated cover, rough cut pages, and a silk ribbon bookmark. However, there is a very modern sensibility to these stories. Castle Waiting is a hardback omnibus collection of the first several issues of Medley’s comics about an abandoned castle that has become a refuge for the abandoned, lost, and rejected in society.
Castle Waiting starts with a take on the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, but in this case, the princess runs off and the castle is abandoned. Soon, though, the castle becomes home to geriatric ladies-in-waiting, an anthropomorphic horse, a young man with a learning disability, a man with his heart in a cage, and a whole other variety of fairy tale mainstays. The more familiarity you have with fairy tales, the more of the in-jokes you will catch, as many of the old tales show up here in one form or another, including the castle steward, who is named Rackham, as a nod to the inspiration for the illustrations. This is definitely a comic book, and not a graphic novel, as the illustrations are all done in black and white and lack the gorgeous, immersive quality familiar to those who read the graphic novels that were originally designed for that medium. However, the charming ink illustrations have a piquant charming quality that match the story wonderfully.
As I was reading this volume, I found myself wondering why I was struggling with the story. Where most comic books feature superheroes and dashing rescues, this collection of outcasts tell a story of community, love, and enduring relationships. Once I realized the subversive nature of the story, I was enthralled by how well Medley had taken a medium that is frequently mocked and critiqued for its objectification of women and had made a feminist comic series, in the sense that there are women both at the center of, and central to, the story. Castle Waiting, instead of being a place where women wait to be rescued from their lives, is a place where women go to rescue themselves, and, through relationships with other women and men, build a community of their own choosing. In contrast to the vapid Sleeping Beauty at the beginning of the story, who runs off with a perfect stranger, convinced that he is the love of her life, these characters come together as strangers and discover the power of love to change their lives.
Linda Medley has written a gentle feminist fairy tale comic book that truly deserves to have a wider audience. I was very happy to learn that Castle Waiting is going to be re-released in a paperback edition in December of 2012. While this book obviously won’t appeal to a lot of readers, I think that for the right reader, it will earn a cherished place in the heart and on the bookshelf. I am looking forward to reading the next volume. Luckily, my library has it. I’ll be picking up my own copies when they are published.