Sunday, September 09, 2007

Farewell, Meg Murry

It is 6am, and I write this with tears streaming down my cheeks as I've learned of the death of the brilliant writer Madelaine L'Engle, author of my favorite book, "A Wrinkle in Time." It will not have escaped discerning readers that this blog, Tesseractive Pictures, derives its name from that book and the tesseract that allows Meg and her baby brother Charles Wallace to time travel as they try to save their father. I remember myself as a child, arguing vehemently with my own father, an eminently practical engineer who had no use for science fiction or fantasy. I insisted that the idea of time as the fourth dimension, accessed by "wrinkling" time, was certainly true. It had to be. The way L'Engle wrote about it in the book was so logical and compelling, I was certain that it could be proven to be true (as indeed it still may be). And besides, Mrs. Whatsit said so.

The last time I cried over Madeleine L'Engle was eight years ago, when I was reading "A Wrinkle in Time" aloud to my daughter Jules, then a second grader. We got to the part at the end when Meg is steeling herself to take on the all-powerful IT, who has captured the brain of her beloved little brother, Charles Wallace. Meg knows she has to go, but is terribly afraid, as she cannot imagine how she can overcome his power. She is a crusty underachiever who is struggling with self-esteem issues - hardly the person who is likely to be a hero, and she knows it. The stubbornness that often infuriates the people who know Meg is an asset at this moment - she simply refuses to give up.

As I was reading, I started to cry. My daughter looked at me curiously. "Mommy, why are you crying so hard?" she asked.
"I am crying because I am being Meg, and she is very afraid," I replied, and kept on reading aloud and crying.

Meg gets closer and closer to the moment of truth, still not able to think of anything that she could possibly have that would defeat IT. "WAIT! I know...I KNOW!" Jules said excitedly. "It's LOVE." Which of course, made me break down in sobs.

The climax of the final Harry Potter book turns on this same realization, as Harry defeats Voldmort through the power of love. J.K. Rowling has been widely praised for creating a mythology based on a rich and nuanced presentation of the battle between good and evil, even touching occasionally on theology. I like this very much about her writing. But, Madeleine L'Engle did it first, and she did it better.

I once attended a reading by L'Engle, in the old Brentanos Bookstore, on Fifth Avenue. I perched on the edge of a bookcase in the children's section, behind the kids sprawled all over the floor, listening to her read from her latest story. When she finished reading she talked to the children about the process of writing, and described an incident that is quoted in today's NY Times obituary. She was in the habit of reading aloud to her son whatever she had written while he was at school each day. On this particular day, she was reading the chapter from "The Arm of the Starfish" in which the character Joshua dies. Her son started to cry, and insisted that she needed to go back and re-write it so that Joshua wouldn't die. She told him that she couldn't - "that was simply what had happened, and there was nothing I could do to change it."

L'Engle's writing had a searing, enduring impact on my way of thinking about myself, first as a young girl who was often as complicated and prickly as Meg, then as a woman and mother (Meg's mother, a beautiful scientist absent-mindedly cooking dinner on a bunson burner, has long been my idealized role model!). She also inspired me to continue to be a dreamer, a woman of faith, and to eventually become a writer. As I learn of her death, I thank her, once again, for these gifts.
Madeleine L'Engle - New York Times Obit

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully told and and written from the heart. Would that the importance of good writing for children survive the last Harry Potter book and that kids continue to read despite the lack of media attention.♦