September 14, 2007

THE IRRITANT:

'A Wrinkle' Ages Gracefully: Reading Madeleine L'Engle as a child and as an adult. (MEGHAN COX GURDON, September 14, 2007, Opinion Journal)

As a heathen child, I missed entirely the biblical references, the significant mention of Jesus and the way a loving God's sovereignty over the universe is understood even as the characters battle an expanding force of pure evil. Meg's father, at one point, urges her to be courageous in confronting IT. "We were sent here for something," he tells her, echoing Romans 8:28. "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."

Clearly, American society wasn't as twitchy about Judeo-Christian content 40-odd years ago. In fact, over the decades "A Wrinkle in Time" has been criticized as insufficiently Christian, a claim that pained its Episcopalian author. The novel is ranked 22nd on the American Library Association's list of the 100 "most frequently challenged" books that agitators seek to ban.

The complaints will sound familiar to anyone who has overheard the controversy about the Harry Potter series (itself No. 7 on the ALA's list). In Ms. L'Engle's most famous work, some have objected to an apparent witch, a clairvoyant and the manner in which Jesus is referred to as merely one of earth's great fighters against darkness, not the Light. In strict religious families, these elements may well interfere with children's religious formation.

But subversion works both ways. For children raised in nonreligious households, as I was, Ms. L'Engle's narrative grit could, it seems, produce years later a kind of pearl. Rereading the book recently, I was amazed at the familiar resonance of the passages whose religious import I had thought eluded me as a child. It will be interesting to see whether Harry Potter leaves a similar spiritual comet-trail in the millions of children who've read his story, now that, with the final book in the series, J.K. Rowling has revealed the wizarding world to be unquestionably Christian--though maybe it's not possible to test the long-term effects of literature the way you can, say, fluoride.

Every book is a product of its time, and so is the way it's read. Ms. L'Engle wrote "A Wrinkle in Time" in the depths of the Cold War, and the horror of totalitarianism is there in her depiction of IT's planet, where Meg's father is imprisoned. In the story, the three children arrive on Camazotz to see endless rows of identical houses, before each of which a small boy stands and bounces a ball in exactly the same rhythm as every other boy. But one child keeps getting it wrong, and when his ball bounces off into the street he's rushed into the house by his terrified mother. Some of my friends were convinced that L'Engle's target was conformist suburbia (there was a lot of scornful talk of that in 1976). But to me, Meg's eventual triumph over IT meant that free people would surely someday be able to push back the creeping menace of communism. A sixth-grader picking up the book today will presumably take away another message altogether.


Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2007 8:20 AM
Comments

Where can we sign up to be banned by Christians? I want to be a best-selling author, too!

Posted by: Randall Voth at September 15, 2007 4:23 AM
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