As a teenager, I babysat four children every Tuesday night for several years. This is where I discovered the joy of reading and telling stories to tiny humans. I learned quickly to come up with bedtime rules, but I was outnumbered and the kids were masters of the night-time ritual of negotiation and compromise when it came to story time. Small children never want to go to sleep. It’s always one more book. Read it again. Let’s reread that one page one last time.
The picture books I read to them ran the gamut when it came to plot and style. Some were so silly, we would dissolve into giggling fits just turning the page. There were beautifully illustrated fairy tales and bright retellings of nursery rhymes. We could read tongue twisting Seuss, and quiet, warm, peaceful everyday stories the same night. Some picture books held intense and sad moments, or a scary scene, and the younger ones would cry out that they didn’t like this! Skip this part. Turn the page. Get to the happy end.
Earlier this year, I was dealing with some personal stuff and found it hard to read anything, whether it was novels or my favorite ongoing comic series. This was a feeling I hadn’t experienced before. Stories are usually one of the first places I go to seek comfort and solace. But this time, I found myself closing book after book. I didn’t like that intense scene. This once-fun plot has gotten too sad, too real. Skip this panel. Turn the page. Get to the happy end. So I escaped to some light reads, and that helped a little.
Time passed, life got a bit easier, and I decided it was time I returned to my regular reading life. My novel reading became a combination of old favorites and fluffy books to break up all the serious articles and nonfiction books I was consuming. I was slowly getting back to normal—well, a new normal. For months I had continued to buy all of my pull-list comics but had kept up with only one, so my “to-read” stack had grown tall and overflowed from my bedside table to the floor. I knew I was mentally ready to dive into them. I should want to return to these stories. I loved these characters. But the truth was, as I read and tossed issues into a “read” pile, my heart was not in it. I was reading just to read, because, well, that’s what I do. Something to check off the list and declare life was okay again.
Somewhere in there, I bought a copy of the first volume of Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (thanks to the recommendation of one of my favorite Valkyries at my LCS). It sounded like something I would love, and I wanted to enjoy it, yet I couldn’t bring myself to start it. My heart was still not reading for the simple joy and pleasure of devouring a new story, so I let it sit on my bedside table for weeks and weeks. Eventually, I ran out of other comics to read, told myself to stop waiting for the right moment or feeling, and cracked open the cover of Castle Waiting.
Castle Waiting starts off with Linda Medley telling her version of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale (which is a favorite of mine). But soon that story is over and we are left with the side characters and worlds usually brushed aside or forgotten in most fairy tales and picture books. It was funny, sweet, and occasionally a little sad. I loved every page. I adored each character. The story was simple, accompanied by art so clear and detailed yet never overly complicated, and I would find myself staring at the black lines, loosing myself in the face of the moon smiling back at me from the thick pages. I read a chapter or two in bed before falling asleep. It was like my own picture book I could return to every night and beg myself for just one more page. I didn’t want it to end.
It was comforting. But a different kind of comfort than I had found in those lighter reads of previous months. Those had been like a Hershey kiss—sweet and tasty, but they melt on your tongue too fast and are so quickly forgotten that you find yourself absentmindedly popping one after another in your mouth. Castle Waiting was more like my favorite diner my mom would make when I was young: spaghetti with meat sauce, covered with Parmesan cheese from that green canister I used to think was the epitome of dinner time condiments. It warmed your insides and left you full, but not so stuffed that you couldn’t later enjoy a few homemade chocolate chip cookies straight from the cookie jar with a tall, cold, glass of milk.
In reading Castle Waiting, I broke free from my slump and began reading for the pure joy of it again. I’ve been trying to figure out what about this story touched me so much. Was it something universal that everyone could find comfort in? I don’t really think so (although I am happy to be wrong, so everyone go read Castle Waiting and love it and tell me why). Then I starting wondering why some stories which seem like they would be the perfect thing to help you move on—maybe even things you loved in the past—turn out to be the least helpful thing ever? And in my long, rambling way, this is what I’ve come up with.
It’s not about always finding solace or comfort in one particular story. If you were going through a hard time, I wouldn’t give you this book and say “this will help you get through this.” No. I think everyone has certain stories and books that comfort them for a myriad of reasons. And as we go through life, we will need different kinds of stories. One year we may need the story of the super pilot who knowingly and willingly sacrifices her life and memory to save the world. Another time we might need to read about an all-star superhero taking a moment to tell a kid they are stronger than they think. For others, for myself at this time, we just need to know that life is gonna be okay and normal—well, a new normal. People can escape from danger and find kindness in a forgotten castle with strangers. There is life after an evil spell.
Earlier this week, I finally read the last chapter of volume one of Castle Waiting. I closed the cover, and asked myself for another book. Read it again. Just one more chapter. Let’s reread that one page one last time.