I heard yesterday that Madeline L’Engle died on September 6. She is somewhere on my top 10 list of fascinating people I would love to meet… and coincidentally she is the only person on that list that I actually have met. I think this is my list (in no particular order):
1) C.S. Lewis
2) J.R.R. Tolkien
3) Antoni Gaudi
4) Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera
6) Andy Warhol
7) Andrew Lloyd Webber*
8 ) Madeline L’Engle
9) Bob Dylan*
10) Jane Austen
(*people that are still alive today)
Madeline L’Engle was principally a storyteller. Her most well known books were written for young adults:A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
But let me rewind. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I read everything I could get my hands on. The librarians in my small town library probably laughed behind my back whenever I would check out 6 or 7 books at a time. But I really did read them all. And one day, I came upon A Wrinkle in Time, and at once I was able to identify with the awkward and endearing heroine, Meg. My imagination was captured by L’Engle’s ability to weave poetry, literature, philosophy, theology, and real scientific and mathematical facts into a fantastically fictional story.
After that, I started checking out and reading all of her books. Many of L’Engles books contained science fictional elements, but many of them did not. I loved the stories about Meg’s daughter Polly and her travels around the world as she met mysterious characters that sometimes got her into serious trouble. Those books were more about international mystery and drama. In fact, most of L’Engle’s stories let me travel somewhere I had never been, whether it was to outer space, inside a mitochondria, or to Portugal, Spain, Asia, or somewhere else in the world. She always weaved in real ideas about the location, whether it was science, language, poetry, or literature.
By the time I was about 12 years old, I had read all of the library system’s books by L’Engle. I say library system, because most of them had to be specially ordered by my tiny small town library to be shipped in from other branches. Then around that time, I heard that L’Engle was going to come and speak to the Tulsa library, and that every branch of the library got to select one person to be their representative to attend the event. The librarians at my library called me, because they knew how crazy I was about reading all of her books. So, the night of the event, I got to sit in front of the podium during her speech, and afterward we each walked up to present her with a rose. I was elated.
In middle school, I decided to write a story myself. It’s not a suprise to me that my character and the subject of the story reminds me strongly of L’Engle’s stories about Polly O’Keefe. My character went to spend a summer in Spain with her great aunt and uncle at a mysterious mansion they had suddenly inherited from an unknown relative. While there, she met different people who seemed very interested in getting to know her… and she ended up getting kidnapped by one of the men she trusted. I wanted to be like L’Engle in the way that she included reality into a fictional story… and so my story centered around a mysterious poem, the history of the Spanish town, detailed descriptions of the mansion, and a painting. While it was only my feeble middle school attempt at a story, I probably would have never had the imagination to create it if it hadn’t been for Madeline L’Engle’s books.
In August, I re-read A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door and was reminded of the profound influence they had on me. I am glad I was able to thank her in some small way, even though I was only 12. I hope that she has at last found answers to all of the beautiful mysteries that she wondered about in life.