On this day in 1918, science fiction author Madeleine L’Engle was born. She is best known for her Time Quintet, especially the first novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Born and raised in New York City, L’Engle began writing at the age of five and never stopped, despite discouragement from her teachers. As an adult, the temptation to quit writing returned after A Wrinkle in Time received over thirty rejections. Thankfully for us, L’Engle never gave up on this novel, and it was finally published in 1962. It remains her most well-known work.
What I like most about L’Engle is that she was a children’s writer who made me feel that she trusted me as a child reader. A Wrinkle in Time is, in a word, bizarre. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. There was a group of women who talked so strangely, a bodiless telepathic brain (yes, a real brain), and the dilemma of describing something to someone who’s never experienced that something before. It was my first time reading a book and thinking, “Hey, this book is weird. It’s really weird, but that’s okay!” L’Engle believed that children approached science fiction and fantasy more open-mindedly than adults, and as a child who read almost exclusively fantasy, I felt respected. She wasn’t just telling me a strange story, she was giving it to me, trusting me to imagine it.
Something else that always stuck out to me was Meg, L’Engle’s protagonist. She is a young girl who doesn’t like herself. She’s good at math but not so much other subjects. She’s awkward, doesn’t get along with others, and feels like the misfit of her family. And yet the things she doesn’t like about herself, such as her stubbornness and rudeness, are what help her prevail over the evil brain (again, what?) in the end. I’ve read plenty of books where the heroine was independent and plucky from the start, using her wits or magic powers to overcome her adversary. Instead, L’Engle presented me with a girl who was more like me. She feels uncomfortable with herself, with her place in her family, and among her peers. She has no magic powers. Yet she stands up to the brain (the literal brain) and beats it by being her old stubborn self. As much as I liked fantasizing about magic and pretending I went to Hogwarts, reading about an ordinary girl in a highly unorthodox situation was just as captivating.
In honor of this cherished author’s birthday, why not head to your local library and pick out some of L’Engle’s other novels, such as The Arm of the Starfish, The Small Rain, or The Other Side of the Sun? She also published a few poetry titles, such as A Cry Like a Bell. Or, brush up on A Wrinkle in Time in preparation for the movie coming out in 2018! It’s got an all-star cast, including Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Oprah. Yes, that’s right, Oprah. I’m looking forward to seeing how the cast works with this strange and wonderful tale, and I hope the result is something Madeleine L’Engle herself would be delighted by.