Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Wrinkle In Time

I've always flocked to authors who are known for being different and have an element of fantasy in their work: Bruce Coville, Roald Dahl, E. Konigsburg and Madeline L'Engle. It's not often I talk about writing as a craft or discuss literature of other authors. I tend to devour books more than I discuss them, absorbing the imagery and knowledge before moving on to the next. If I could, I would do nothing but read and write all day.

When Madeline L'Engle passed away last week, I immediately felt a pang of shock. Then I felt the urge to write about her. Nah, I thought to myself. It's arrogant to presume you knew this woman better than her friends. There are countless obituaries about her, dozens of writers on children's literature blogs are wailing, there's no need for you to join them.

But the thought has been stewing in my mind for days, and I spent a good part of my lunch break vicariously reading through dozens of articles and interviews with L'Engle. The more I read, the more I felt like not only did I like this woman--I felt like I understood her. It was seconded by Libby, who claimed in an e-mail: "I think this is your future. You will be this woman! Brilliant, strong minded, and fabulously crude!! I love it!"

At first, I shrugged it off. But the more I read, the more I began to believe. It seemed that we both share a quirky sense of humor and wit.

"So what?" the Invisible Friends sigh. "We all think like that. Get over it. Where's the lizards, the addicted birds, the puppies?"

It was this statement where L'Engle discusses how she gets her ideas in an interview that finally hit home:

"Why, when I get up in the morning, it’s all I can do not to trip over them.” And that’s how ideas are; they’re just everywhere."

As Libby pointed out, that is exactly how I am.

I still remember the day I picked up my first copy of A Wrinkle in Time. I was in the bookstore, running my fingers over the gold Newberry Winner stamp and examining the cover art carefully. Years later, my beloved ballet teacher, who was friends with L'Engle, would give me an autographed copy. The statement read simply: To Miranda. Tesser well.

Unlike many, I have read many of L'Engle's books--including the novels following A Wrinkle in Time, as well as the ones featuring Vicky Austin and Polly, Meg's daughter. I've even read some of her early work, such as And both were young. And I loved it. Each book spoke to me at a different time in my youth. Early in the morning before I hit the gym, it's very likely you'll find me searching for one of her novels. L'Engle makes you think about the important and grander aspects in life without being too heavy or presumptuous. Each of her novels is strangely comforting, like reading on a porch warmed step in a cool wind. The subject matter shouldn't be so comfortable, so soothing--but it is.

At the same time, I can't be like L'Engle. L'Engle deals with heavy theology and philosophy and weaves science into her fantasies. I rely on whimsical concepts, zany humor and cheesy emotion.

It's easy to say that I am simply trying to point out the similarities between L'Engle and myself because I aspire to be like her, to be as great as her. While I would love to say I am that self-involved, it's not entirely true. Everyone aspires to be like someone they like and admire. However, the real point of this entry is that L'Engle made thousands of children feel that way. She had a way of making children feel they could trust her, understand her. Adults think children's literature should be simple and dull, that children can't handle intelligent conversation or understand the hard things in life. Children are all too aware of the darkness, or evil, that exists in life. They're simply better at dealing with it than adults are.

L'Engle was a great author whose imagination and style will never be matched. While I can aspire to be as prolific as she was and touch a fraction of the lives she did, it would truly be an honor to have anyone ever tell me my writing reminded them of hers. For like dozens of writers have said, she truly has left A Wrinkle in Time.