The Passing of Inspiration
September 7, 2007
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I’ve written before that Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time” is the first non-picture book I remember reading. With the recent news of her passing at age 88, I thought I’d say a few more words about her impact on my life and my work.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from her works, even just the ones I read. “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” wins a lot of points for its time-travel and “threads of fate through time” concepts, both of which are favorites of mine. “A Ring of Endless Light” is a beautiful tale of growing up and coming to terms with death and love. Those two would be at the top of any list, but I can’t leave out “A Wind In The Door,” “The Young Unicorns,” or “The Arm of the Starfish.” In a field of simplistic stories, L’Engle never talked down to her readers, trusting them to handle theoretical science as easily as complex human emotions. Meg’s anger at her father in “A Wrinkle In Time” is genuine, understandable, and loving; the relationship between children, teens, and adults, and the boundaries that separate them, was a recurring theme through L’Engle’s books, and I would have to search for a long time to think of someone who handled them better.
She taught me that the fantastic could be as terrible as it was wonderful (IT and the Echthroi versus Mrs. Whatsit, Proginoskes, and Gaudior); that people are real, complicated beings capable and deserving of love; that there were secret doors all over the real world that it took nothing more than a story to open. She was my first exposure to urban fantasy (Susan Cooper the second) as a novel, with character arcs and themes and imagery. She made me want to tell stories of my own. Her books were also one of the first ones I discovered I had in common with friends, when we started reading science fiction in high school. That was a huge step, finding out that these worlds that I’d thought were mine alone (the rest of my family had little interest in them) were actually shared by other people who loved them as much as I did.
It is hard not to be sad at her passing, but we should not be. She lived a full life and was recognized in her lifetime for the brilliant work she did. While her books are being read (and I know few people who haven’t read at least one), she will never really be gone. May our grandchildren’s grandchildren still be able to open a copy of “A Wrinkle In Time” and discover her world as we all did: with wide eyes and unfettered joy.