September 7, 2007


Madeleine L’Engle, Children’s Writer, Is Dead (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 9/08/07, NY Times)

Madeleine L’Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88.

Her death, of natural causes, was announced today by her publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ms. L’Engle (pronounced LENG-el) was best known for her children’s classic, “A Wrinkle in Time,” which won the John Newbery Award as the best children’s book of 1963. By 2004, it had sold more than 6 million copies, was in its 67th printing and was still selling 15,000 copies a year.

Her works — poetry, plays, autobiography and books on prayer — were deeply, quixotically personal. But it was in her vivid children’s characters that readers most clearly glimpsed her passionate search for the questions that mattered most. She sometimes spoke of her writing as if she were taking dictation from her subconscious.

“Of course I’m Meg,” Ms. L’Engle said about the beloved protagonist of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

The “St. James Guide to Children’s Writers” called Ms. L’Engle “one of the truly important writers of juvenile fiction in recent decades.” Such accolades did not come from pulling punches: “Wrinkle” is one of the most banned books because of its treatment of the deity. [...]

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

A Wrinkle in Faith: The unique spiritual pilgrimage of Madeleine L'Engle. (Donald Hettinga, May 1, 1998, Books & Culture)

Madeleine L'Engle's journey has taken her to a rather peculiar array of roadside stops. How many Christian writers speak both from the pages of Ms. magazine and Today's Christian Woman, are invited to speak both by the Library of Congress and the Gaithers' Praise Gathering, and serve as writer-in-residence for Victoria magazine and for Regent University?

For L'Engle, the price of writing candidly as a Christian to such diverse audiences has been steep. She has been perceived as too worldly by some conservative Christian audiences and too dogmatically Christian by some secular audiences. But it is L'Engle's Christian critics who have been by far the most vocal.

Ministers preach sermons against her; books and articles denounce her and any Christians who evaluate her work favorably or even evenly; librarians in Christian schools and churches handle her books as though they carried dangerous heresies, sometimes relegating them to back shelves where patrons must ask specifically for them, and sometimes banning them altogether.

One source of the confusion lies in L'Engle's refusal to be pigeonholed, her resistance to using evangelically correct language. Then there is her frequent declaration that her religion is subject to change without notice. And the legalistic amid her audience are given pause by her assertion that she is not a Christian writer but rather "a writer who is struggling to be a Christian."

But if L'Engle's books seem always to be making someone angry, how are we to understand her popularity? Who are those people lining up at book-signings?

The answer, I think, is that the very unpredictability that some readers find unsettling also accounts for L'Engle's appeal.

-INTERVIEW: Allegorical Fantasy: Mortal Dealings with Cosmic Questions (An interview with Madeline L'Engle, June 8, 1979, Christianity Today)
-ESSAY: Supernatural Sagas of Good and Evil: The foolish things of Madeleine L'Engle (Cheryl Forbes, June 8, 1979, Christianity Today)

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 7, 2007 1:39 PM

The beginning of the wikipedia entry for "wrinkle in time" is astonishingly similar to the beginning of this article.

Posted by: Jim at September 7, 2007 5:22 PM

I meant the New York Times article.

Posted by: Jim at September 7, 2007 5:23 PM

Not technically a copyright violation since the content of Wikipedia is free.

Still tacky though.

Posted by: Gideon at September 7, 2007 5:58 PM