Category Archives: L’Engle, Madeleine

Throwback Thursday 11.11.2021

I’ve been tracking my reading on the internet since approximately 2013 more or less continuously, and if you look on my sidebar, you will find 8 pages that are titled Book List with a designated year.

On occasional Thursdays I will use a random number generator to point me to three books from the lists (leaving out 2021), and then I’ll post about them – what I remember (if anything), whether I would recommend them – probably not, if I don’t remember anything about them – and if they have stuck with me in the years since I read them.

2015, Book 161:

Many WatersMany Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
Rating: ★★½
Series: Time Quintet #4
Publication Date: September 1, 1986
Pages: 369
Genre: classic, fantasy, YA
Project: throwback thursday

Some things have to be believed to be seen.

Sandy and Dennys have always been the normal, run-of-the-mill ones in the extraodinary Murry family. They garden, make an occasional A in school, and play baseball. Nothing especially interesting has happened to the twins until they accidentally interrupt their father's experiment.

Then the two boys are thrown across time and space. They find themselves alone in the desert, where, if they believe in unicorns, they can find unicorns, and whether they believe or not, mammoths and manticores will find them.

The twins are rescued by Japheth, a man from the nearby oasis, but before he can bring them to safety, Dennys gets lost. Each boy is quickly embroiled in the conflicts of this time and place, whose populations includes winged seraphim, a few stray mythic beasts, perilous and beautiful nephilim, and small, long lived humans who consider Sandy and Dennys giants. The boys find they have more to do in the oasis than simply getting themselves home--they have to reunite an estranged father and son, but it won't be easy, especially when the son is named Noah and he's about to start building a boat in the desert.

A few years ago, I started a Madeleine L’Engle project. I planned to read all of her books – I got somewhat sidetracked, but I did manage to read the entire Kairos series (the Murry family novels) and all of her Austin series, as well as a few others. This one was probably the weirdest of all of them, and that is definitely saying something. In Many Waters, the twins – who are typically depicted as the most “normal” of the Murry kids – disrupt time and end up in the Old Testament, during the Flood. Yeah, that flood – the one that involves Noah. I’m not sure if it was my least favorite of L’Engle’s books, but it definitely competes. If you are interested in a L’Engle YA, read either A Wrinkle in Time or A Ring of Endless Light. Do not read this one until you’ve read at least four or five of her other books first.

2019, Book 72:

Touch Not the CatTouch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: April 28, 1976
Pages: 384
Genre: gothic romance, magical realism, romance, suspense
Project: throwback thursday

After the tragic death of her father, Bryony Ashley returns from abroad to find that his estate is to become the responsibility of her cousin Emory. Ashley Court with its load of debt is no longer her worry. But there is something odd about her father's sudden death . . . Bryony has inherited the Ashley 'Sight' and so has one of the Ashleys. Since childhood the two have communicated through thought patterns, though Bryony has no idea of his identity. Now she is determined to find him. But danger as well as romance wait for her in the old moated house, with its tragic memories . . .

This book was so problematic for me, and yet I still really liked it. What I remember about it is that the main heroine was named Bryony and there was some bizarre telepathy thing. In addition, Bryony referred to her cousin, with whom she can communicate telepathically, as “lover.” I loathe word “lover” and cousin-love doesn’t work for me at all. Given that those were the main points of the book, along with the suspense because someone is trying to kill Bryony, of course, I would have expected to hate it. But, Mary Stewart is such an exceptional writer, that I still enjoyed it. So, if you want a book that will carry you gently away, with evocative prose, to crumbling manors where beautiful young women who communicate telepathically with their cousin-lovers are being stalked by a would-be murderer (who may also be the cousin-lover), this book is for you.

2018, Book 124:

In the BalanceIn the Balance by Patricia Wentworth
Rating: ★★★
Series: Miss Silver #4
Publication Date: January 1, 1941
Pages: 342
Genre: mystery
Project: throwback thursday

His first wife died suddenly—and his wealthy new bride may be about to meet a similar fate . . .

Former schoolteacher Miss Maud Silver is on her way back to London when, with a violent shudder of the train, a young woman is thrust into her compartment. She’s beautiful, well dressed, newly married, and wealthy—a lethal combination.

In a state of shock, Lisle Jerningham explains that she fled her home in a hurry after overhearing a sinister conversation. Her new husband’s first wife died in an apparent accident, and the resultant infusion of cash saved his family home. Now, he’s broke again—and attempting to engineer a second convenient mishap. Miss Silver is unsure whether the drama is real or a figment of Lisle’s imagination—but if this frightened young lady is a target for murder, the killer will have to deal with the governess-turned-sleuth first.

I have read a lot of the Miss Silver books. I remember NOTHING about the plot of this book, so my rating is basically based on the fact that my baseline enjoyment of Miss Silver is 3 stars, except for Grey Mask, which I hated.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle In timeA Wrinkle In time by Madeleine L'Engle
Series: Time Quintet #1
Publication Date: November 7, 1962
Pages: 218
Genre: sci fi, YA

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

I decided to reread A Wrinkle in Time again because I am also going to reread the remainder of the Murry/O’Keefe series and I am one of those people who needs to begin at the beginning. I don’t have anything to add to this review, except that I remain in awe of Madeleine L’Engle’s extraordinary humanity. She was a remarkable woman, and I’m not sure that we deserved her.

I read the book as a child of the 1970’s – probably a bit more than decade or so after the initial 1963 publication, around 1977, when I was 11. I fell in love with the book then, seeing much of myself in Meg Murry, the ordinary, often grumpy, young woman. I revisited L’Engle in 2015, and found that, while some of her books had not held up with reread, many of them did.

This book is part of my personal canon, one of the books that shaped my childhood and had a part in making me who I am today.

A Wrinkle in Time is a bit of a period piece, to be sure. Girls today are stronger, more self-aware, more cognizant of the pressures of an often sexist society, and more willing to buck convention in order to be authentic to themselves. Not all girls, of course, but some girls. Our culture, today, at least struggles to understand these pressures and to acknowledge that they exist, even if we often fail to genuinely confront them.

A few notes on the the DuVernay adaptation from 2018: The adaptation succeeds in a way that, after reading a lot of L’Engle, and a fair amount about L’Engle, I believe that she would appreciate. Casting Storm Reid, a biracial young woman was, as Meg Murry, was an inspired decision, the relocation of the plot to a more diverse location in California, the addition of Charles Wallace as an adopted child, to me really work to illuminate some of the themes that L’Engle was writing about – alienation and dangers of extreme social conformity in particular.

There are parts of the book that are quite different from the movie, of course. In the book, the Murry’s have two additional children, a set of male twins who are effortlessly socially competent. They are capable of fulfilling society’s expectations with little work. Meg, on the other hand, is prickly, defensive, occasionally angry, and fearsomely intelligent – all things which 1963 America couldn’t really cope with in girls. Heck, we still struggle with girls who are prickly, defensive, occasionally angry and fearsomely intelligent.

L’Engle’s central message, as always, revolves around love. For L’Engle, love is the thing that sets humans apart – our capacity to love overcomes darkness, our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for love is what enables us to prevail over our adversaries. This is her spirituality, writ small – L’Engle was a deeply religious woman, and her faith informs her writing always (a fact which makes the presence of A Wrinkle in Time on banned book lists based upon religious objections to the text quite frankly odd).

I am not a religious woman, but the fact that someone like Madeleine L’Engle, brilliant and thoughtful, found a way to integrate her Christian faith with her love of science and her extraordinary tolerance gives me hope that American Christianity can step back from the dark place that it is in right now and find a way forward that is more affirming of the ideals held by women and men like her – that of equality and supporting the vulnerable among us. I can only imagine that L’Engle would have deplored much of what is going on in the evangelical Christian religion related to the persecution of LGBTQ people and the continued embrace of misogyny as a bedrock principle.

A Wrinkle in Time shines light into dark places. For that alone, it’s worth reading.