Madeleine L’Engle – beauty in children’s literature

Madeleine L’Engle, who lived from 1918 to 2007, was anything but common. In A Wrinkle in Time, the first and most popular book of The Time Quintet, L’Engle’s fanciful nature cannot be missed. She believed that “you have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Her heart for young people is clear to see in this quote. Through imagery, tone, and development of characters, her works for youth continue to inspire people of all ages.

In A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle’s masterful imagery paints a picture with the words “It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud. Was it cast by something? Or was it a Thing itself?” She is describing an evil taking over the universe, slowly enveloping planets. Further into the book, Meg must battle an entity only called “IT.” She faces the words of her own brother who has been, in some way, possessed by this being. Understandably, this brings on a dark, depressing tone. Each of her books are permeated with darkness, but there is always a glint of hopeful light. While the books are for children, they certainly contain a lot of evil.

This is not to say that the books are not quaint or fanciful. To counteract the looming shadow, L’Engle maintains a whimsical tone. This is seen particularly in the dialogue of L’Engle’s instructing side characters. In A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle writes the words of a motherly, helping character, Mrs. Which. “Llett Mrs. Whatsitt expllainn. Shee isss yyoungg annd thee llanguage of worrds iss eeasierr fforr hherr thann itt iss fforr Mrs. Whoo andd mee.” Simply by adding letters, she lets the reader hear the character in his head. A quote from the second book in the Time Quintet, A Wind in the Door, adds to this beautifully eccentric feeling. A cherubim named Proginoskes explains why not every human can see him, saying “I’m real, and most earthlings can bear very little reality.” This is how Madeline L’Engle saw the world. A Teacher called Blajeny instructs in A Wind in the Door, “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” Instead of looking for logical answers to everything, L’Engle created fantastical theories for what she saw (supplemented by scientific theories of others in her time) and wrote them into her books.

L’Engle’s characters are perhaps the most endearing part of every book. Meg, of course, was quite ordinary, but gave a lesson nevertheless. In the words of the author, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” Meg was certainly fragile at the beginning, but she grew through her adventures to be strong. When her feelings are described, readers feel as though they have been placed directly into her brain and body; every thought or sensation faintly tugs at them. As Meg is taken into another world, L’Engle writes “She screamed out, ‘Charles!’ …The word was flung back down her throat and she choked on it.” The second main character in A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door is Charles Wallace. This young genius has the unnerving ability of practically reading the minds of almost anyone he cares for. He always knows when his older sister is hungry, tired, or needs someone to talk to, and he did not speak at all until he was almost four years old, when he began speaking in complete sentences. Whenever the rest of the cast is in worrisome trouble, Charles Wallace is kind, quiet, and calm. While other fantasy authors seek to astound readers with their world building, L’Engle uses the simple method of deep, thoughtful characters.

Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s books are treasure troves for the thoughtful, the fearful, and the hopeful. By beautiful taste in words, ability to cast an image in the reader’s head, rich development of characters, and whimsical, yet wise tone, she will be remembered as a great author of fantasy.

(Note: this is ANOTHER one of my writing class papers. Hope you enjoyed it!)

One response to “Madeleine L’Engle – beauty in children’s literature”

  1. […] Note: I wrote an analysis on L’Engle’s writing, you can read that here. […]

Join the conversation and comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s