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2.27.2013

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

I can't remember the first time I read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, though I have read it since at least half a dozen times. It feels new every time I pick it up, and for that reason alone it belongs in the category of Great Books.

It is a great book for other reasons, though I'm not entirely convinced it's a good book. I don't want to be confusing about this distinction. What I mean by this is that the book contains a lot of faults. There are awkward moments, hiccups in dialogue that should have been scribbled over by a good editor. And the very premise has a certain degree of obviousness to it that's only forgivable because of the book's age - and it's not really that old.

But the book has magic. I suspect in part because the author believes in the world she creates - and we do too. Our vision of the universe expands even as we read it.

At the moment, I've begun reading the book again along with my book group from Grace. It's the largest group I've had so far, and everyone seems very responsive. I'm looking forward to their thoughts, especially as we're reading it along with L'Engle's Walking on Water.

Don't concern yourself with that book quite yet. A Wrinkle in Time should first be read in childhood, with the anticipation and curiosity of an explorer. Then again in adulthood, and then again following Walking on Water. The latter gives insight into L'Engle's creative inspiration, its subtitle being "Reflections on Faith and Art." Most of it will feel familiar somehow if you've first read the Time Trilogy, not the least because of her talk of angels and believing in them. It may be new to you, but it will not feel new. If first you have read her novels, it will feel as though she affirms many things you've suspected for a long time.

Madeleine L'Engle donated all her papers to the library at Wheaton College. I was there when they were sorting through them, though I never went upstairs into the archive rooms to take a look. I would have loved to, but I had no academic excuse. I suspect L'Engle hoped to someday be incorporated into the Wade Center across the street (more or less) from Buswell Library. The Wade Center contains one of the most significant collections of C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and George MacDonald of any library in the United States. I tried to work there as often as I could while at Wheaton, but again, my excuses were few. I only have one clear memory of curling up in the large armchairs by the bay window, looking out on a snowy landscape. I'd been assigned some reading for Modern Mythology and decided to use their catalog instead of purchasing the book myself.

It might take a revision of the Wade Center's criteria for L'Engle to be included, as the seven authors it features are strictly British. In all other respects, she belongs among them. Her novels, too, are deeply Christian, and her non-fiction is richly perceptive of the correlation between art and faith. It would not be remotely surprising, should I find that excuse I needed to peruse her papers, if I found she had developed her creative creed from the Wade Center's own masters.

Most importantly, like them, she felt one ought to approach her work first with the heart of a child. Which is the first reason A Wrinkle in Time (along with the Narnia books and MacDonald's fairy tales) is considered a children's story. This is also the reason I say to read the Time Trilogy first in childhood and then again as an adult. You will be amazed by how much of the rich theological truths you understood in your youth, and how much of it you needed to be reminded of as an adult. 

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