Madeline L’Engle was one of the biggest influences on me in my early teens and high school. I discovered Wrinkle in Time one day in my junior high library. In elementary school, I had devoured fairy tales and mythology but her book was one of my first exposures to science fiction. Not the only one to be sure, but the first one I can be sure I read that had a female protagonist. While I’d read Nancy Drew in grade school, I had yet to encounter that a female in science fiction. And it was a revelation.
Meg was nothing like the other heroes I’d read. She was anything but confident, unlike Nancy Drew. She was insecure, unsure of her place in the world but smarter than she realized. And the only one who could be the savior in this book. She is the one who ends up with the insight that is needed to rescue her father and keep her brother from falling to the darkness. She, despite her doubts and fears, with the help of the Teachers around her, is able to put herself on the line and keep the darkness at bay. Can you imagine finding out in your teens that not all heroes are sure of themselves and better yet, that girls can be the hero too? I hadn’t even imagined such a world but Madeline L’Engle brought it to life for me.
Beyond Meg, beyond the characters, though, there is a nature to Madeline L’Engle’s work that has captivated me. It is in the very nature of her words and the concepts she presents in her stories, a blend of science fiction and mysticism that appeals strongly to the dreamer in me, to the hopeful in me, to the faithful in me. And lest you think I mean faithful in terms of christianity, let me correct that assumption.
While it is true that Madeline L’Engle was Christian, Episcopalian to be precise, it is the universal nature of the concepts that she builds on in her worlds that managed to resonate with me, a non-christian. And that is a phenomenal ability, to be able to touch and connect with someone so far from her own path.
One of the ideas she touched upon in “Wrinkle in Time” was the theme of conformity. In the story, there is a point where the characters arrive on a world where everyone does everything in synchrony and no one does anything outside the group. Meg breaks her brother and the others free of this conformity, convinces the others to be themselves, to love. What a powerful idea, that we don’t all have to be alike to love and to be united.
I also found inspiration in her other books in the quartet. “Wind in the Door” introduced the concept of Namers and Teachers. Namers work in the Universe to love and Name parts of creation. Teachers help them realize their gifts. The power of love is key to saving the universe and preventing the unnaming of creation. Every name, every act of love keeps the Universe from dying. Those ideas were big for someone young but helped to shape a life where I believe in helping those around me and teaching others to make a difference. I spent some time as a teacher and I know both books helped shape that part of me that desired to influence and guide the young children I taught.
L’Engle also has a way of explaining science and physics in a unique way, in a way that even I without strong skills in those areas, could grasp the concepts and understand. Her true genius was in tying how physics shape how the universe is built, that all living beings are connected and made up of the matter of stars but we all can influence the universe from the largest creature to the smallest. One person can make a difference and shape the universe or one tiny event can ripple into the future to create light and love in our world.
Madeline L’Engle’s words have had that profound effect on me. Her words helped me understand that I could spend my life helping others, that I could make even the tiniest of changes to influence hope and love in those around me. If her words had such an impact on me, I know that they have shaped generations with those same ideals. I wonder if the films can begin to encompass all that she brought to readers but I hope that her themes, her concepts can resonate with a new generation through the newest creation, the upcoming film “Wrinkle in Time” and I hope that Madeline L’Engle is pleased with the love and light that she brought to the world. I know I will revisit her worlds and her words whenever I can and remember her message.
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