Missing Madeleine L’ Engle

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Missing Madeleine L’ Engle

Madeleine L’ Engle, author of 60+ books, died in New York last week at the age of 88.

For those of us who care about faith the art, it is impossible to overstate her significance as a fiction writer, but also as an interpreter of faith in the arts.

Her fame began with “A Wrinkle in Time,” which was both a literary triumph and revealer of a major faultline between Christians for whom thoughtful literature is a lifeline, and those who see it as a threat to faith.

Douglas Martin of the NYT observed this in his obituary, “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” has been one of the most banned books in the United States, accused by religious conservatives of offering an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurturing in the young an unholy belief in myth and fantasy.”

Monica Hesse (WA Post) adds. “A Wrinkle in Time” was not the sort of book you were assigned in school; with its New Testament quotations and witchy supporting characters it was at once too Christian and too blasphemous.”

Her willingness to write what she saw, say what she thought and do so succinctly, provocatively and imaginatively made her a hero for those for whom faith seemed a set of manacles instead of a source of encouragement and inspiration.

Fantasy literature is truth applied in an invented world in ways that help us understand truth’s meaning in our world. This realization prompted L’ Engle to describe children’s literature as “literature too difficult for adults to understand.” Laurel Snyder of Salon reports, “L’Engle once said, ‘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.'” For fantasy to perform this function it needs to have a cohesive underlying basis, a connection to what Lewis and Tolkien referred to as “the one true myth.”

L’Engle believed this and it was the basis of her critique of Harry Potter. In a 2006 Newsweek piece she said of the one Potter book she read, “It’s a nice story, but there’s nothing underneath it. I don’t want to be bothered with stuff where there’s nothing underneath.”

For those who need reminders of her thoughtful observations of faith and art, here is a sampler from the classic must-read “Walking On Water” and other sources.

¢â‚¬¢ We don’t want to feel less when we have finished a book; we want to feel that new possibilities have been opened to us. We don’t want to close a book with a sense that life is totally unfair and that there is no light in the darkness; we want to feel that we have been given illumination.

¢â‚¬¢ To talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing, and it means attempting to share the meaning of my life¢â‚¬¦It is what makes me respond to the death of an apple tree, the birth of a puppy, northern lights shaking the sky, by writing stories.

¢â‚¬¢ We have much to be judged on when he comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are the symptoms of our illness and the result of our failures in love. In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, and not one of us is going to come off very well, and were it not for my absolute faith in the loving forgiveness of my Lord I could not call on him to come.

¢â‚¬¢ I don’t envy those who have never known any pain, physical or spiritual, because I strongly suspect that only those who have suffered great pain are able to know equally great joy.

¢â‚¬¢ “We are all made of stardust.”
¢â‚¬¢ The promise has never been safety, or that bad things would not happen if we were good and virtuous. The promise is only that God is in it with us, no matter what it is.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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