Friday, September 07, 2007

Farewell to Madeleine L'Engle

I just read that Madeleine L'Engle passed away yesterday. She was 88. I am devastated.

Madeleine L'Engle has been one of my very favourite authors for years, ever since I discovered A Wrinkle In Time and promptly plowed through all of the Murry family books, then the O'Keefe books, and finally the Austin stories. I think I got through them all in a couple of months. And then went back and read them again and again. My copy of A Wrinkle in Time is coming apart at the seams. But that is okay, because it is the copy where I underlined my favourite bits back when I underlined my favourite bits in books. It is an old friend.

I think the thing I love most about her books is their insight into humanity. You can read them again and again and learn something new about the characters who populate them, and about yourself, each time. Yes, I love the time travel and the fantastical adventures. But it is the truthfulness of them that really sticks.

And then there is the poesis of the writing. The creating and tearing apart of the world. The beauty. Reading Madeleine L'Engle turns your world upside down and in on itself, and forces you to a new space, a new time, and new imagining.

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet the story revolves around this poem that I love. It is spoken first by a character of heartbreaking pathos, and repeated again and again throughout the ages of the story. After reading that book I always find myself repeating it.

"At Tara In this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place,
By God's almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!"

Madeleine L'Engle's books for children are rich and deep and beautiful. They speak truth about the world and can be read on so many levels. They never talk down to children, and they never dogmatize thoughts or ideas. L'Engle herself, I think, put it best:

"If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow,
then I will write it in a book for children."
(Circle of Quiet, 198)

I guess the other thing I love about Madeleine L'Engle is that she presents us always with ideas. With possibilities and questions. But she never gives only one answer. She leaves the world open to interpretation, presenting many options, many potentialities. I love that. She allows the reader to create within her world their own world.

"An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy".

"I wrote because I wanted to know what everything was about. My father, before I was born, had been gassed in the first World War, and I wanted to know why there were wars, why people hurt each other, why we couldn't get along together, and what made people tick. That's why I started to write stories."
(Bantam/Doubleday/Dell Online Audio-clip)

"The Birth of Love":

To learn to love
is to be stripped of all love
until you are wholly without love
until you have gone
naked and afraid
into this cold dark place
where all love is taken from you
you will not know
that you are wholly within love.

"Instruments (2)"

Hold me against the dark: I am afraid.
Circle me with your arms. I am made
So tiny and my atoms so unstable
That at any moment I may explode. I am unable
To contain myself in unity. My outlines shiver
With the shock of living. I endeavor
To hold the I as one only for the cloud
Of which I am a fragment, yet to which I'm vowed
To be responsible. Its light against my face
Reveals the witness of the stars, each in its place
Singing, each compassed by the rest,
The many joined to one, the mightiest to the least.
It is so great a thing to be an infinitesimal part
of this immeasurable orchestra the music bursts the heart,
And from this tiny plosion all the fragments join:
Joy orders the disunity until the song is one.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Yes, a great light has gone out in the world.