Madeleine wrote the first in her fantasy series for Young Adults in 1959-1960, and withstood over forty rejections before it was finally published in 1962. I remember reading in one of her books that she received so many rejection slips she could have wall papered her office, and perhaps this is one of the reasons that this book has become so meaningful to me. It shows her fierce determination not to give in when she believes in something.
But, there are many other reasons why I love it.
Interspersed throughout its pages are profound quotes from famous writers and philosophers, first in their own language, then translated to English. For example, one of the mystical woman, Mrs. Who said, “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. French. Pascal. The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing.” (p. 35)
On the following page we find: “It’s getting near time, Charlsie, getting near time. Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret. Seneca. Nothing deters a good man from doing what is honorable. And he’s a very good man, Charlsie, darling, but right now he needs our help.” (p. 36)
Or, “Come t’e picciol fallo amoaro morso! Dante. What grievous pain a little fault doth give thee!” (p. 54)
Who writes like that anymore? Is there such substance in children’s books today? In my opinion, not nearly to the extent that Madeleine writes. And this isn’t the “worst” of it.
As I closed the novel, I saw for the first time how many scripture verses are included. Scripture from the Bible. In a public school. Phew, it’s no wonder this novel has had such eyebrows raised:
“L’Engle’s liberal Christianity is unsettling to some. This novel is on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number 22. Reasons given include the book’s references to witches and crystal balls (although the characters are not in fact witches, and the crystal ball is a science fictional one), the claim that it “challenges religious beliefs”, and the listing of Jesus “with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders.” (Wikipedia)
Last night I was reading paragraphs filled with quotes from the Bible and stopping to look them up in mine because there is no reference to chapter and verse. She just subtly throws them in, like here:
“Mr. Murry bent over her, massaging her cold fingers. She could not see his face. “My daughter, I am not a Mrs. Whatsit, a Mrs. Who, or a Mrs. Which. Yes, Calvin has told me everything he could. I am a human being, and a very fallible one. But I agree with Calvin. We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (p. 172) Hello! That last sentence is Romans 8:28 straight out of the King James Version.
Or this: “Mrs. Who took the spectacles and hid them somewhere in the folds of her robes. ‘The virtue is gone from them. And what I have to give you this time you must try to understand not word by word, but in a flash, as you understand the tesseract. Listen, Meg. Listen well. The foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.’ ” This is 1 Corinthians 1: 25-28.
I don’t mean to give a Sunday school lesson here. I’m just amazed that Madeleine L’Engle wove the philosophy of her belief, Christianity, into a fantasy story. One which shows us that ultimately, evil will be defeated because love overcomes hate. And she did it using fantasy as her genre, a fact which really ticks off some Christians I know. But, not me.