This time of year is perfect for long stories read by the fire – stories like A Christmas Carol, now defiled at a theater near you. Despite being Jewish, my family had a tradition of reading Dickens’ ghost story aloud, and my father did different voices for each character. He would get so involved with acting it out, it would be a good half-hour before he’d realize my mother and I had fallen asleep – which we did every time. It was hard for him not to take it personally; it was like he’d put Quaaludes in the literary eggnog.
Dickens isn’t the only game in town when it comes to toasty fireside fairy tales. You can always recur to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are ghastly and terrifying and terrifically popular. Aesop’s fables are slight, but might provoke some good Ethicist-style dialogue. Or you can read Hans Christian Andersen’s folktales, which are charming and inoffensive.
If, however, you’re looking for something more sophisticated (though not too much), try Linda Medley’s graphic novel Castle Waiting, which is a thick hardbound volume that bespeaks Victoriana more than anime-cool. With a satin-ribbon bookmark and creamy parchment-y paper, it feels just right for a wing chair and a cuppa.
Medley’s drawing style is well-defined and straightforward. There’s nothing unconventional: Panels are sequential in a competent, workmanlike fashion. It’s actually quite refreshing. The story and character arc is utterly lacking in cynicism. In fact, I kept expecting nice characters to turn into dark, evil witches, but a cigar really is just a cigar in this castle. Characters include a fussy, effete stork; a burly, hunky horse; a weird sort of duck-doctor; an ugly green baby whose taken care of by a sprite-fairy who looks like a slug and wears a hat; and a residence designed specifically for bearded women. There’s more, of course, and the dialogue can sometimes sparkle with contemporary elements. But basically, it’s the sweetest graphic novel you’ll ever read.
For a darker portrait of family life—a more realistic one—try Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a superb graphic memoir that’ll make your holiday family tensions seem mild. But don’t read it by fireside. You might be tempted to jump in.