Completed: Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

Cover: Many Waters by Madeleine L'EngleMany Waters
Madeleine L’Engle
(1986, US)

Dennys raised his face to the stars, and their light fell against his cheeks like dew. They chimed at him softly. Do not seek to comprehend. All shall be well. Wait. Patience. Wait. You do not always have to do something. Wait. Chapter 12

There were over two decades between the publication of A Wrinkle in Time and Many Waters, the fourth book in the loose “Time Quintet.” And in a way, it feels it. The magic that I felt with Wrinkle and its second sequel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, seems to be gone.

The ties between Many Waters and the earlier books are by way of the Murry twins, Dennys and Sandy, who compared to the rest of the Murry family, are “normal” and more skeptical than their siblings: Meg and Charles Wallace may believe in unicorns, but they don’t. And yet it is these two who, whether through accident or divine intervention, find themselves in a pre-flood world, sharing a tent with (Biblical) Noah’s father, Lamech, and befriend Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and his daughter, Yalith. The Genesis story doesn’t give names to the women, nor does it tell us if Noah had daughters–or any other living family, for that matter–and so this becomes an interesting exploration of a familiar story: what is the story of the unnamed women? What would it have been like for Noah and his sons and their wives to know that others they loved and cared for would die in a devastating flood? What if Noah had a daughter?

It is a strange book, in a way. One part Bible story retelling, one part fantasy, one part sci-fi time-travel – I’m not sure what to make of it. There seems a disconnect between fleshing out the story of Noah and his family, pre-flood, while also introducing unicorns and manticore of later European story-telling and adding in time-traveling boys from centuries later.

Additionally, while the earlier novels seem to focus on the emotional growth of the main characters–learning to defeat darkness by overcoming their own flaws or learning to love and share love–here, it seems that the twins’ story is more about their sexual awakening rather than any emotional growth. Indeed, the sexuality seems so frank, that I would be inclined to classify this as YA, while still thinking of the earlier novels as mid-grade books. Though, to be fair, I first read this in elementary school and anything that might have been more “grown up” went straight over my head!

I was a bit disappointed in this novel compared to the earlier books–I was hoping for more of the magical world I found in A Wrinkle in Time. I still have one book left in the series, but knowing that it was written after this last one, I admit, I’m approaching it with a bit of trepidation – will it be a return to form, or will the magic be gone?

Completed: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Madeleine L’Engle
1978, US

They moved through the time-spinning reaches of a far galaxy, and he realized that the galaxy itself was part of a mighty orchestra, and each star and planet within the galaxy added its own instrument to the music of the spheres. As long as the ancient harmonies were sung, the universe would not entirely lose its joy. (Chapter Four)

Unfortunately, it’s been many months since I reread A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and I simply don’t remember it as well as I would wish–not merely to write about, but because, going back through passages I marked, it is a beautiful book.

A beautiful book for a dark time, a book of hope and joy, A Swiftly Tilting Planet was published in 1978, and so written in a time, in the US at least, of great cultural upheaval, political turmoil, economic fears and environmental concerns. And it reflects these concerns. Opening as the Murray family is preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner, the catalyst for the plot is a phone call from the US President to Mr. Murry: the leader of a small (fictional) South American country, “Mad Dog Branzillo” is threatening nuclear war. What follows is an interesting mix of Celtic and American myth and L’Engle fantasy as fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace and the unicorn Gaudior travel back in time, seeking out the “Might-Have-Been” that they can change and so avert disaster. Meg, married to Calvin by now and expecting their first child, joins in remotely, “kything” (a sort of mind-reading) with Charles Wallace so that she knows what is going on, and providing a connection for the reader between his story and the present day. All the while, the enemy, the true Enemy, is not Branzillo, but the Echthroi, who seek to destroy the world’s harmony and will attempt anything–including killing Charles Wallace–to have their way.

“Has the world lost its joy? Is that why we’re in such a mess?” (Meg, Chapter Three)

It struck me last summer when reading the novel, and again today rereading the passages I’d marked, how timely the story felt, how applicable to the world now. And while perhaps that is an indictment on the world we humans have created, and our failures to create an environment in which we interact with love and joy and peace, it is also a reflection of the timelessness of L’Engle’s work and her ability to illuminate the types of concerns that have been present throughout human history. It is the beauty of the novel that it doesn’t create a limited world in which the evil element is defeated and all is well, but that it acknowledges a continual battle while giving hope for victories ever to come.

Her father said, “You know, my dears, the world has been abnormal for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” (Chapter One)

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness
(Chapter one and throughout)

Completed: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

When I was poking around my drafts the other day, I realized that I has never hit “publish” on this post from back in June. Better late than never, I suppose!

Cover: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'EngleA Wind in the Door
Madeleine L’Engle
(1973, US)

“My children,” Blajeny said gravely, “my school building is the entire cosmos. Before your time with me is over, I may have to take you great distances, and to very strange places.” (68)

Unlike its immediate predecessor The Arm of the Starfish, A Wind in the Door is of a kind with the style and tone of A Wrinkle in Time. Here, we return to the world of Meg and Charles Wallace Murray and Calvin O’Keefe, to cosmic battles and fantastic beings, to playing with time and space—and, now size. For while in A Wrinkle in Time the three children traveled the cosmos in search of Mr. Murray and to defeat the IT, in A Wind in the Door, it is Meg and Calvin who must travel into Charles Wallace–or more precisely, into his mitochondria. As the book opens, Meg is just starting to realize that not only is her little brother being bullied at school, he is deathly ill, a mitochondrial illness. The only hope is for Meg and Calvin, the cherubim Proginoskes, and, quite unexpectedly, Meg’s past nemesis, principal Mr. Jenkins, to journey into Charles Wallace in a desperate attempt to save his farandolae from being “x-ed” or “unnamed.” (While mitochondria are real, farandolae are an invention of L’Engle’s.)

“It isn’t just in distant galaxies that strange, unreasonable things are happening. Unreason has crept up on us so insidiously that we’ve hardly been aware of it. But think of the the things going on in our own country which you wouldn’t have believed possible only a few years ago.” (96)

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming—making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.” (111-12)

As with Wrinkle it is a cosmic battle, but one that plays out on a microscopic scale. Good vs. evil. This illness is not of germs or viruses, but the deliberate creation of evil beings, the Echtroi, the unnamers. Naming, being named, given the full sense of self and not falling prey to the nothingness of being unnamed–this is the theme of A Wind in the Door. It is a theme I have seen elsewhere in L’Engle’s work, most notably (that I recall) in her nonfiction meditation on creativity, Walking on Water. And so it must be important to her. But it is not necessarily easy to fully understand. Indeed, A Wind in the Door is quite a conceptual novel. Farandole is to mitochondria as human is to galaxy. Kything and communing vs communicating. And so many scenes where no one actually sees or talks (kything only). Truly, this novel seems that it would be unfilmable!

But there is great wisdom here. It is not enough that we talk at or even merely to each other; we must commune together. It is not enough to know someone on the surface, we must know them well enough to name them and we ourselves must be open to being named. And just as love played a central role in A Wrinkle in Time, none of this is possible, neither Naming nor defeating Evil, without Love, either in L’Engle’s fictional world, or in ours.

“Yes. The Echthroi are those who hate, those who would keep you from being Named, who would un-Name you. It is the nature of love to create. It is the nature of hate to destroy.” (149)

Read as part of the 2018 TBR Challenge and my Classics of Children’s Literature project list.

Completed: The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle

Cover: The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L'Engle The Arm of the Starfish
Madeleine L’Engle
US, 1965

In terms of the order of events in L’Engle’s wider story universe, The Arm of the Starfish is not the next book after A Wrinkle in Time. That would be A Wind in the Door (1973). But in terms of publication, The Arm of the Starfish was the second, and on a whim I decided that I would read all of the books, not just in the Time Quintet but in the Poly O’Keefe stories as well, in the order of publication. (This does have the negative consequence of delaying my return to my TBR list by a bit, but only a bit. I’ll be back in TBR-land shortly!)

Despite only three years between publication, The Arm of the Starfish seems a world away from A Wrinkle in Time. Not only is this because the two returning characters–Meg O’Keefe (née Murray) and Calvin O’Keefe are now married adults with seven children, but because unlike A Wrinkle in Time, The Arm of the Starfish seems much more grounded in the world we the readers know–there are no fantastic beings, no otherworldly travels, no giant evil IT to defeat. Indeed, the evil in this book is only too human–but surely as destructive and enticing for all that. The only element that really sets this novel in the realm of science-fiction is the depiction of Dr. O’Keefe’s science experiments involving starfish regeneration.

Our protagonist in The Arm of the Starfish is Adam Eddington, a young, but clearly intelligent and destined-to-be successful, man who is spending his last summer before college working for Dr. O’Keefe in his Portuguese island-based lab. However, things start to go awry before Adam even lands in Portugal, from the fog-delay at the airport to his mysterious encounter with the young beauty, Kali, to the airplane’s diversion to Madrid and Adam’s first encounters with Canon Tallis and Poly O’Keefe (the oldest of the O’Keefe children). Entrusted with seeing Poly safely to Lisbon and her father’s arms, Adam finds himself trapped in a larger conspiracy when Poly disappears from the plane and no one on board seems inclined to believe Adam’s story of her very existence.

While the Time Quintet books are more firmly in the realm of science-fiction, exploring cosmic concepts and universe-wide battles of good and evil, The Arm of the Starfish sits closer to the thriller genre, always steering towards a final, dangerous, confrontation. Its themes are of the darkness that lust for power or money or prestige can drive one to and of the small battles of individuals, both within themselves and against others.

Although a very different reading experience, diverging as it does in both style and story from its predecessor, The Arm of the Starfish, like Wrinkle, centers around a young protagonist with faults and self-doubt, whose failings sometimes may frustrate the reader, but who learns from his mistakes and grows over the course of the novel. In turn, the reader learns from Adam, and from his struggles.

My one piece of discomfort with The Arm of the Starfish was its portrayal of a native village on the fictional island of Gaea. L’Engle’s native characters feel as if they venture a little too close to stereotype (along the lines of “noble native”) for comfort, although they are only ever seen in a positive light. Also—and I admit here, I don’t know anything about actual Portuguese islands—the village, and its inhabitants, seemed more like something I would expect to read of in the South Pacific or Latin America than off the coast of Portugal. Stereotype or not, it threw me off mentally, every time it was described. In contrast, L’Engle’s depictions of Lisbon felt (and again, I can’t speak to personal experience) as if they were written by someone who has seen Lisbon in person.

All-in-all, a fast-paced enjoyable book, though perhaps not as enchanting as the better-known A Wrinkle in Time.

 

Completed: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L’Engle
(US, 1962)

Her mother carefully turned over four slices of French toast, then said in a steady voice, “No, Meg. Don’t hope it was a dream. I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.” (Ch 2)

I admit I approached A Wrinkle in Time with some trepidation. Although I had fond memories, it had been so long since I last read it, that I was afraid the magic might be gone.

I needn’t have been afraid. Not only did A Wrinkle in Time maintain the sense of magic I remembered from so long ago, I found much more insight in it than I would have as a child. L’Engle does not condescend to her reader, and so she creates a story that is not merely enchanting, but that imparts seamless lessons for living that extend to any reader.

“But nobody’s ever happy, either,” Meg said earnestly. “Maybe if you aren’t unhappy sometimes you don’t know how to be happy.” (Ch 8)

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of three children—Meg and Charles Wallace Murry and Calvin O’Keefe—who are tasked with the rescue of Mr. Murry, who went astray in space in a lab experiment gone wrong. It is a story of fighting against darkness—inner, outer, spiritual, here given form as “the Black Thing.” And it is a story of family and friendship and individuality and finding one’s place and learning one’s strengths. It introduces us to the fifth dimension, a tesseract, a “wrinkle” in time. And so Wrinkle is a science-fiction story. It is that rare science-fiction story—to my familiarity, at least—where a girl is a hero. And L’Engle makes Meg a marvelous, well-rounded hero. She is allowed not only her strengths, but her faults as well, indeed is told to use her faults. She is allowed to be both strong and weak, smart but a struggling student, determined and impatient and stubborn and angry and full of love.

Nor is Meg a “token” female character; Mrs. Murry is allowed not to merely be a mother, but a highly-educated working scientist, and the children are guided by the delightful—and wise—trio of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Nor do these wonderful women come at the expense of males: Charles Wallace and Calvin are essential to the story as well, their strengths and weaknesses playing off Meg’s and providing two more examples of intelligence and individuality and two more problem solving approaches as well; and, like his wife, the scientist Mr. Murry reminds us that even as adults we still struggle with the challenges life may throw at us and with how best to protect those we love.

Refreshingly, A Wrinkle in Time seems at times to be a celebration of the intellectual, while also providing a caution against the pure intellect and a reminder to guard oneself against smugness and superiority. In the end there is a strength greater even than book smarts or wisdom or determination, but this is a lesson Meg (and the reader) must learn for herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed returning to the world of L’Engle’s words and I am even more excited for my 2018 L’Engle reading project than I was even a month ago.

“Do you think things always have an explanation?”
“Yes. I believe that they do. But I think that with our human limitations we’re not always able to understand the explanations. But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.” (Ch 3)

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” (Ch 9)

Read for 2018 TBR Pile Challenge and as a children’s classic for Back to the Classics.

Anyone for a RAL?

It’s inevitable – no matter how lousy the reading’s been, no matter how many books are currently in the TBR stack next to my reading chair – come December (if not earlier), I’m thinking about the next year. What wondrous reading will be then? Admit it – you do it too. All those lovely end-of-year lists/goals/dreams. Truly, one of the highlights of December for me! (Can you tell I’m a planner/list-maker?)

So yes, I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m planning on for next year. And while I usually wait to share until either a) I’m signing up for a challenge I likely won’t actually complete or b) my end of year post, I thought there was one plan that I should mention early. Actually, a non-plan as well: I currently have no plans to continue the Children’s Classic Literature Event for a sixth year. If anyone else wants to host a similar event, please feel free (and I may even read along), but I won’t be hosting one.

A Wrinkle In Time Movie Poster (low res)

However. I am planning some Madeline L’Engle reading for next year, starting with a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. Yes, of course this is because of the upcoming film adaptation. And the fact that I asked for and received a box set of the Time Quintet books several years ago and still haven’t (re)read them. And then I thought, “hey, there’s a movie coming out–maybe I’m not the only one who wants to (re)read this?” So let me know if you think you might want to read along – if there’s enough interest in a A Wrinkle in Time RAL prior to the March release (I’m thinking January), I’d be willing to host. Alternatively, if there’s already a RAL planned/running, please point me that direction as I haven’t found it yet!

Now, just to clear the deck off first…

A Farewell to the Classic Children’s Literature Event

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 300px

Time always flies so fast during the Classic Children’s Literature Event! I can’t believe it’s the end of the month.  Already! I had hoped to get just one more book finished before the end of the month, but I’m still over 50 pages away, so it’s not looking likely. I’m sure that in addition to this last book, I’ll have one more straggler into May. So, if like me, you’re just not quite finished, feel free to share any last reads here over the next couple weeks and I will update the participant list.

Participant List:

Carissa at Bookshelves and Daydreams:
Mary Poppins Comes Back
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
The Borrowers
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Carol at Jouney and Destination:
My Friend Flicka
Devil’s Hill

Cleo @ Classical Carousel:
Finn Family Moomintroll
Cyrus the Persian

Emma at Words and Peace:
Charlotte’s Web

Faith at Household Diary:
The 101 Dalmatians
Children of the New Forest
Bed-Knob and Broomstick

TJ at My Book Strings:
Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon

Amanda at Simpler Pastimes:
Beauty and Other Variations on La Belle et la Bête
Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Charles Perrault Fairy Tales)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Participants:

Cirtnecce @ Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices
Amanda @ Simpler Pastimes

Please let me know if I’ve missed your post!

Happy Reading!