Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Wind in the Door takes L'Engle

The genius of Madeleine L'Engle's Time series was the combination of the most homely and ordinary things with something totally unlooked for, fascinating, unsettling, and somewhat wierd. The illustrative image is Mrs. Murry interrupting experiments to cook spaghetti for Meg and Charles Wallace and the Twins over the bunson burner and discuss school as every mom and kid do; or, well, the first line of A Wind in the Door: "There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden," who actually turn out to be much more than dragons.

What perhaps does not get said often enough about her, and many other remarkable 'children's authors', is that she wrote very, very well. I refer you to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, 16. Use definite, specific, concrete language. "... the surest way to arouse and hold the reader's attention is by being specific, definite, and concrete. ... the significant details are given, and with such accuracy and vigor that readers, in imagination, can project themselves into the scene."

"... It was a still, chill pre-dawn. The grass was white with spider web tracings of dew and light frost. A thin vapor moved delicately across the lawn. The mountains were curtained by ground fog, although in the sky she could see stars." (Square Fish, 2007 reprint, Wind,p. 85).

The mountains were curtained by ground fog ... a perfect, memorable phrase of a vision that someone like me would have obscured with "... were so covered in fog it was as though they were draped in heavy curtains." [1]

L'Engle pushes a deep theology of love and mercy in a scientific mysticism, to a degree that I would not quite personally endorse, but it equipped her to embed piercing Christian truths in the midst of fantastic stories. Meg's challenge in Wind is to look at Mr. Jenkins (her principal) and name the true him simply based on her ability to know, and thus love, the real Mr. Jenkins. In the six months since I read the story, these scenes have stuck with me as I try to know and name those around me, especially those who are not exactly my favorite friends. Who are they, really; and how does Christ know them? Because knowing, naming someone is loving them sacrificially, for who they are -- its Christ on the cross saying, "... they know not ...". See, you know she gets it when every time you look up you see Jesus.

I say "she gets" in the present because despite the immediate loss, I trust that Madeleine L'Engle is singing the eternal song in company with the Cherubim, her feathered dragons.

[1] "One time a woman handed me a story she had written about her rather interesting childhood, a kid's story. I read it and said, "It's very interesting. But now I'd like you to rewrite it-only not for children this time. Write it for the people here in this group." She gave it to me the next morning. I told her, "That's how you write for children-not the way you first handed it to me." People think they need to write differently when they write for children. But they don't." (

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