“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 – it’s
about being a hero in your own home.”
Castle Waiting was exactly the kind of story I was looking for when I started reading it. The art is simple and evocative, and though the scope of the story is not a grandiose sweeping fantasy, it makes up for what it lacks in action by the depth of feeling and the simple kindness and generosity shown by the characters to one another.
There isn’t a plot so much as there is a framing story filled in with several vignettes and
character sketches, filling in the backgrounds and biographies of several characters. The
book opens with Lady Jain, a young woman from a noble family, running away from
home and her abusive husband. She’s alone and pregnant but competent, confident and
smart. She’s making her way to Castle Waiting, which she’s heard will take in travellers
and which she hopes will be a good place to hide out for awhile and have her baby in
peace. At this point we get some background on how Castle Waiting came to be how it is
now, a story which is recognizably Sleeping Beauty-esque.
When Jain arrives there, she meets the assembly of characters living in the castle already.
There’s Rackham, the stork-headed castle steward, and Dinah Lucina who cooks and
runs the household. Iron Henry is the blacksmith who speaks grudgingly and only when
absolutely necessary. There’s Sister Peace, a member of the Solicitine order of bearded
nuns, Simon who can’t read and wants to, and Dr. Fell, the eerie loner who goes around
dressed in a beaked costume like that of a seventeenth-century plague doctor. They
welcome Jain openly, and the castle is a place of warmth, good humour, and peace. The
rest of the story is mainly made up of bits and pieces which flesh out the characters. The
most in-depth is the story of how Sister Peace became a nun, a calling she came to by
way of joining a circus after her beard started to grow.
The overall theme is exactly what the description above sums up – being a hero in your
own home. The characters in this book do not save the world or fight ultimate evil, but
they do perform acts of extreme courage and generosity in the name of helping each other
out. They treat each other kindly and with respect, and love is found and freely given.
My friends and I often say to each other “Sharing is caring!”, and usually we mean it as a
joke, but as a truism it is undeniably, well, true. The characters in this book share almost
everything – food, shelter, money, work, and (most importantly, maybe) their stories.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Yolen’s introduction to this edition, which sums
it all up nicely: “It had everything in it that the author had been born to do: Comics,
Grimms, Rackham, faeries, magic, potions, notions, pregnancy, birth, death, jokes, truth.
-Kayleigh, children’s staff