Mar 21, 2011

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword & Castle Waiting Vol. 2

Hereville

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch is the story of 11-year-old Mirka Hirschberg, who lives in the Orthodox Jewish community of Hereville and dreams of being a dragon slayer. Mirka’s siblings are often embarrassed by her eccentricities, and they consider her new-fangled claims that she’s being attacked by a vindictive talking pig the last drop. But Mirka knows what’s happening to her, and she also knows that this just might be her chance to become a real heroine with a sword of her very own.

My favourite thing about Hereville is the rich cultural detail, as well as the fact that Mirka identifies so closely with her Orthodox Jewish background. Very often stories about girls struggling with limited gender roles find solutions that involve the wholesale rejection of a huge part of their identity, but not so with Mirka. She knows what she wants, and it involves both dragon-slaying and observing Shabbos. The book’s feminist elements unapologetically exist within an Orthodox Jewish context, which I found very interesting and refreshing.

Hereville

The ending of Hereville gave me pause – I can see how it might be read as disappointing, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Without giving everything away, I’ll say that it involves Mirka finding a new contentment in traditionally feminine occupations she has struggled with in the past. There’s a very fine line here between portraying her as finally behaving “properly” and doing what Young Ladies Should Do, or simply showing that she’s helping out at home and doing what her community expects her to do without giving up who she is. I think Deutsch does manage to get the latter across, but obviously this is up for debate. (Though apparently there will be a sequel, which indicates that Mirka’s adventures are far from over.)

I imagine that it’s difficult to end a story like this in a satisfactory manner, particularly without the aforementioned rejection of an entire culture/background that so many stories go for. And mind you, I’m not saying this kind of solution is a bad thing in itself – it might be necessary and even the only possible honest choice for some people’s lives, and therefore for some stories. Nobody is under any obligation to Embrace Their Background, Or Else. But I imagine it to be quite a painful process, so if you can find a way to balance where you come from and the person you want to be, all the better.

Hereville

There’s also another danger stories of this kind often face: the danger that the heroine’s unconventional preferences will come hand in hand with an implicit derision of traditionally feminine occupations, thus turning them into Excepto-Girls. I really loved the fact that Hereville didn’t go down this road. Mirka herself is unconventional, but her stepmother, for example, is a model of tradition, and she’s still referred to as “the smartest person in town”. Most importantly of all, both Mirka and her stepmother are extremely capable, competent, and fully human characters (and incidentally, I absolutely loved their relationship).

Hereville

As you can probably tell, Hereville gave me plenty to think about. It’s a story that can be enjoyed on many different levels, and that’s my favourite kind.

They read it too: The Boston Bibliophile, The Book Smugglers, Bart’s Bookshelf, 1330v, Book Nut

(Yours?)

Castle WaiingCastle Waiting Vol. 2 by Linda Medley is, obviously enough, a sequel to the first Castle Waiting – and yes, they do have to be read in other. The concept behind both books is the same: in a Sleeping Beauty—type castle, a group of outcasts form a community. While the traditional fairy tale heroes are off having epic adventures, these character deal with everyday but no less interesting events. What Linda Medley does here is tell the ordinary, domestic stories of the inhabitants of a fairy tale world, and the results couldn’t be more charming.

Castle Waiting is not a neat story – there are subplots and side stories and loose threads that don’t really reach a conclusion – but I love it all the same because it’s so homely and character-driven. I love the characters Medley created, and I love how their stories are filled with constant warmth, humour and humanity.

Castle Waiting

I also loved all the fairy tale inside jokes, even the ones with a sad side to them. For example, one of the inhabitants of the castle was once married to a giant, but her husband was killed by one of those epic fairy tale adventurers who in Castle Waiting belong on the sidelines for once. When her son is telling the story of how he lost his father to a friend, he says the man who killed him called himself a giant-killer. To which his friend says disgustingly, “You mean like a hobby? Or a job description?!”

As is often the case with graphic novels, before being collected in a single book Castle Waiting was serialised in single issues. Because the story is somewhat episodic, there isn’t much of a dominant plot arch, and so at the end of this volume nothing much has been wrapped up. But unfortunately I found out recently over at Memory’s blog that this inconclusive ending is likely to be the ending, period. Creative differences between Linda Medley and the rest of the team behind this series mean that there no further issues of Castle Waiting are currently planned. If you need your stories to have a neat ending, be forewarned. But hopefully you’ll feel as I did, and find the time spent with these characters worth it all the same.

Castle Waiting

(I apologise for the clumsy photo, but I just had to share this panel, as it captures the spirit of Castle Waiting so well. This is exactly what Medley did, of course - she made her own legends.)


Other points of view: Stella Matutina

18 comments:

  1. Deutsch book in particular sounds right up my alley.

    It will go nicely with another graphic novel i plan to read this year involving the Judaism: The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfa.

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  2. I just recently read Hereville, too, but I haven't reviewed it. I must see my library has bought the second Castle Waiting. I meant to the other night but when I saw it was out on Memory's blog it was too late at night to check!

    I apologize that our buddy read is going so slowly. I just can't seem to find the time I need to read lately... Lorrie has been coming home from work early a lot, which messes my schedule up.

    Oh, and someone stole The Fox Woman from the library. (I should have just emailed you...)

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  3. Hereville sounds really interesting! I admit that I'm kind of fascinated by Orthodox Judaism, and I love the idea of a girl struggling to find a happy medium between her own desires and drives and the strictures of her faith. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of this one.

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  4. I actually like the points you make about Hereville and accepting your role without making it seem like the less desirable choice. I think it would be interesting to read this one and see what I think of it.

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  5. While I've seen the title Hereville mentioned all about lately, I had no earthly idea what it was about. This sounds really wonderful though. I'm trying so hard not to buy many more books until (if) we move, but if the library doesn't have this one it may have to be an exception.

    Oh, and how very sad that Castle Waiting may be at an end! :( :( :( Though I'm sure I'll love Volume 2 no less because it isn't neatly wrapped up.

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  6. Hereville sounds interesting. Mirka sounds like she has a lot of spunk. You've made me curious about the ending.

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  7. Mirka is such a great name! I love the premise of that book and hope I can come across it soon. As for Castle Waiting- I've wanted to read that for a LONG time!

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  8. I didn't read your Castle Waiting 2 review because I still have to read 1 :p But Hereville sounds AMAZING...and very refreshing. It is nice to here a story about someone NOT running for the hills from their culture and roots. Onto the list it goes!

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  9. Wonderful review, Ana! 'Hereville' sounds fascinating! I will add it to my 'TBR' list. The ending of the book made me remember Dorothea and the ending in 'Middlemarch'.

    'Castle Waiting' looks like a lovely series. Sad that it is going to discontinued. Hope the publishers and the artist and the writer change their minds. I loved both the panels you have posted, especially the last one :)

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  10. Sounds great - especially that Mirka finds a way to combine her culture and her dreams. It makes me sad that the traditional is usually considered backward and dropped wherever possible in favor of progress. I think it leaves a hole in our collective identity, kind of pulls the roots out from underneath us.

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  11. Alexandra: I hadn't heard of The Rabbi's Cat before, I don't think! I look forward to hearing what you think.

    Kelly: I look forward to seeing your review of Hereville! And don't worry about our buddy read. Also, that's too bad! I mean, it's an awesome book and I understand wanting to keep it, but it's not fair :P Sneaky library thieves.

    Steph: I hope it does! The cultural detail was just wonderful.

    Zibilee: I'd love to hear what you think :)

    Debi: It's definitely worth making an exception for. You know you want to ;)

    Kathy: She really does!

    Aarti: I hope you love Castle Waiting when you get to it!

    Chris: You should know by now that I don't do spoilers :P Hereville was awesome and I think you'd love it :)

    Vishy: I think Dorothea's case was more one of sacrifice than Mirka's - but I'd love to hear how you think they compare once you've read it!

    Joanna: It sounds sound painful, having to make that complete cut. It was nice to find a story that went for a more balanced solution.

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  12. Both of these stories sound wonderful and you've reminded me that I've not read any graphic novels in a long time. I don't think my library has a very good selection but I should look at some interlibrary loans and see what I can find.

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  13. ah it's been so long since I've read a comic but these both sound very good.

    I remember really loving love Castle Waiting one, and I wanted to read the next RIGHT AWAY. I can't really remember much of it anymore, but I'll have to revisit it now that there is the second one.

    As for the other, it sounds like something I'd enjoy...has hints of I KILL GIANTS in it to me when I read your descriptions and I LOVED I KILL GIANTS.

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  14. Iliana: Sorry to hear your library isn't great when it comes to GNs! But I hope ILL will help :)

    Rebecca: Yes! It does have a few things in common with I Kill Giants, though the tone is more humorous and light-hearted.

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  15. I just reviewed Hereville this week too! I lvoed so much about that book and I loved how normal Mirka was and the way her stepmother loved to argue / debate.

    I reviewed both Rabbi's Cat books, if you are interested in checking out the reviews.

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  16. Great recommendations Ana! P.S. I want to be a dragon slayer!

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  17. Mirka is such a great character. When I read the ending, it was a nice surprise. I kind of see how the ending could be disappointed to some readers but it shouldn't especially when you think about the fact that she has control over a certain creature and all that it possess. I can't wait for the next book.

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  18. Glad you enjoyed Hereville as much as I did. Such a fun read! :)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.