Sunday, September 09, 2007

Remembering Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle, possibly my most favorite author of all time, passed away last week. She was 88.

I must have been in elementary school when I first started reading her started with A Wrinkle in Time, of course, her most well-known book, which led to the rest of the Time Quartet (or Quintet, depending on how you want to look at it). But I don't think it was until early high school that I really started to delve into her other books and the rich and wonderful worlds she created. Many of those are out of print now, and I'm happy that I bought them when I did.

It's kind of hard to classify L'Engle's books. I divide them into four rough categories: there's Wrinkle and its sequels, which featured Meg Murry and her parents and brothers, which are definitely fantasy, but also include elements of science and faith. The second category includes the books she wrote about the Austin family, which are very much set in the real world. Most of the books focus on Vicky Austin, a teenage girl, as she grows up in Connecticut and New York, but there's also mystery and thriller in them too. (The fourth book, A Ring of Endless Light, was actually made into a Disney Channel movie a couple of years back, with Mischa Barton of all people as Vicky. It wasn't good, but it wasn't really as horrible as it could have been either.) Then there are the books that feature Polly, Meg's daughter, also as a teenager, which are a mix of reality and fantasy. She's maybe my favorite of all of L'Engle's protagonists. Finally, there are the books she wrote more for adults, which also excellent, in their own, different way.

I think that one of most wonderful things about L'Engle's books is that while they all can definitely stand on their own, each has characters that crossover from other books. My copy of Many Waters has a nice chart in the front of the "L'Engle Family Tree" which lists all the characters and which books they appear in. Adam Eddington and Zachary Grey appear in both Vicky and Polly's lives, and both mention events from other books they've been in. Characters can also pop up later on in their lives. Because of Polly's books, we know that Meg and Calvin married and had seven children, Calvin a brilliant researcher. Sandy and Dennys, Meg's brothers, become a lawyer and doctor, respectively. And we know that Suzy Austin, Vicky's younger sister, ends up becoming a doctor and marrying Josiah "Dave" Davidson, who was the protagonist in The Young Unicorns. I had hoped that we'd get some more books that would hint where Vicky and Polly ended up (there were rumors that L'Engle had been working on a book about Meg as an adult) and it's sad to think that there won't be any more.

L'Engle really had a great voice for the young adult. A Wrinkle in Time came out in 1963, and her last YA book, Troubling a Star, came out in 1994, but through all that time she showed a knack for understand teenagers, intelligent and thoughtful but overall really normal teenagers. I also loved how she combined her themes of science, fantasy, and religion, things that as a teen I'd been having trouble reconciling. Even now in my early twenties I still go back and love and appreciate all of her books, and I'm sure they'll be with me forever.

I think I'm going to go re-read A Wrinkle in Time right now.

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