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Books  |  Reviews

Castle Waiting: Volume I

January 22, 2013  |  1:09pm
Castle Waiting: Volume I

Writer/Artist: Linda Medley
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: January 18, 2013

In the forward of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, a formidable retelling of Jacob and Wilhelm’s compilation of nineteenth century Germanic folktales, esteemed author Philip Pullman lays out the bones of what exactly makes a fairy tale a fairy tale. Of special note is his analysis on characterization: “There is no psychology in a fairy tale. The characters have little interior life; their motives are clear and obvious…The tremors and mysteries of human awareness, the whispers of memory, the promptings of half-understood regret or doubt or desire that are so much part of the subject matter of the modern novel are absent entirely.

Apparently nobody told Linda Medley about this skeletal approach. Her lively roster of maidens, demons, and bearded nuns in the lavish fantasy comic Castle Waiting hide complex backstories, secrets, and motivations that only emerge over hundreds of pages of incremental revelation. Literally every character is a gateway to stories hiding more stories, nesting doll anecdotes, and introductions to new characters who take the spotlight at the drop of a panel. This dense approach borrows more from the narrative tricks immortalized in The Canterbury Tales than oral tradition. When it’s not used in couch debates about Quentin Tarantino, postmodernism can be a beautiful thing and this myth stew counts as a wonderful example.

The intricate plot choreography is impressive if not instantly gratifying. One thread will pick up some nice momentum only to derail into a corollary that will take another hundred-some pages to resolve. But you will definitely keep reading. This new paperback reprint of the first volume (originally self-published in the late nineties before a layover at Cartoon Books) includes the first 19 chapters of the ongoing epic housed in thick cover stock and weighty pages. The tome provides a birds-eye view of a massive story with grand ambitions.

The driving plot follows pregnant maiden Lady Jain as she flees into a semi-abandoned castle years after it was deserted by a Sleeping Beauty analogue. A quirky ensemble of characters, including an ornery water spirit and genteel stork, embrace Jain into their cartoon commune. Capitalism isn’t the modus operandi of this singular estate; each resident tends a row of crops in the garden while an incognito income source pays utilities for the entire micro-kingdom. But for anyone who would decry this economic system as impractical, this book is by definition a fairy tale that guarantees a happy ending for its heroes and heroines. Especially its heroines.

The feminist buzz behind Castle Waiting has been audible throughout its publishing history, but it’s well apparent how much Medley pushes the maiden power by the end of this volume. Many of the stories star female protagonists who grind against exploitive, gross men and their flaccid social chains before breaking free into the biceps of monogamous husbands and maternal sewing circles. More than a third of the book is devoted to a convent of bearded women whose new members escape an oppressive circus manager who monetized their stubble and refused to spoon at night. If these pages could grow pulpy appendages to hug its readers before a Ben & Jerry’s vent session, they would. But these stories are universally entertaining regardless of gender, and this slant should be taken as an innovative perspective instead of an excluding barrier. (Though for a comic that portrays women with realistic body shapes, some of the guys look like they just walked off a Chippendale review. Come on Ms. Medley: how are your male fans supposed to compete with a saintly Gypsy Lion Tamer and his glistening 8-pack?)

Ultimately, Castle Waiting is an elegantly-written, uplifting take on European folklore supported by sterling art. As long as voices as talented and creative as Medley’s are around, stories like this will always be timeless.

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