Welcome to S. Howlett-West Books

 

Below is an article I wrote for Firsts Magazine which was published in 2008
 (this particular version differs from the final version due to some editorial changes made)


Madeleine L'Engle: Time, Space and the Tesseract


When I think of Madeleine L’Engle, the first thing that pops into my mind is the award winning first book in her Time Trilogy series – A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1962). This book, and the series that follows, are landmark books that helped transform the characteristics of not one but two genres: Science Fiction / Fantasy, and Young Adult fiction. While this article will cover this amazing, Newberry award winning series, the main purpose is to familiarize readers with the many, many other works created by this prolific author which might not be as well known to the general public.

First off, raise your hand if you have heard of or read A Wrinkle in Time. Chances are, a good percentage of you have at least heard of this short but immensely powerful work. Now raise your hand if you have heard of A Wind in the Door (Farrar Straus Giroux, NY, 1973) or A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Farrar, Strauss Giroux, NY, 1978).  These titles are probably almost as familiar. Then how about Meet the Austins (Farrar, Straus Giroux, NY, 1960)? For young adult readers, there will probably still some, but not nearly as many. And my bet is that very few readers have heard of Camilla Dickinson or The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas. Madeleine L’Engle (pronounced Len –gl) has, in her sixty years as an author, racked up an impressive number of books published. More so, she has been published in areas as diverse as poetry, playwriting, children’s literature, young adult fiction, religion, science fiction / fantasy and memoirs.  Her subject matter is also quite diverse, and yet, there is an intimacy in that many of the books interweave, either through characters that travel from one series to another, characters who are related, or by her underlying religious beliefs which subtly (or not so subtly, depending on the reader’s viewpoint) enhance every piece of work that she has produced.

I’ll be begin with the basics.  Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born on November 29, 1918 in New York City. Her parents, Charles Wadsworth Camp and her mother Madeleine appeared to be middle-of-the-road socialites—Madeleine spent little time with her parents during her youth and was batted around between boarding schools when she was old enough to go to school. Madeleine’s father was a journalist who, according to Madeleine, had damaged his lungs during World War I due to mustard gas exposure.  There is some discrepancy regarding this last bit of information, but whether true or not, it was the excuse given for Madeleine’s family leaving the United States for the more accommodating climes of Europe. Before leaving the US, young Madeleine was subjected to an educational system that not only did not foster, but was, to her way of thinking, actively detrimental to her education.      In A Circle of Quiet: The Crosswicks Journal Book One she says: “I spent three years when I was very young in a school which was, as far as I was concerned, a foretaste of hell. It was a private school with a fine reputation, academically and socially. It was one of the “proper” schools for a New York child to attend. It did not occur to me that I could tell my parents that I was unhappy. I assumed that it was something to be gone through, and that if I was unhappy I had no one but myself to blame.” (page 142)     Madeleine was (and is) quite tall and as a girl considered herself to be ungainly and uncoordinated.  The school she attended prized athletic ability –she was not athletic. Disdain at her lack of prowess soon grew into the notion that she was rather thick-witted too. Madeleine recalls incidents (generally in vague terms, though behind the vagueness, the hurt is obvious) where both teachers and fellow students made her feel small, insignificant, and as if she was somehow non-human. Having an experience of this nature happen when she was a very young child unfortunately set her up for future difficulties in school here in the United States and abroad. Madeleine’s schooling continued to be difficult for her— it was depressing, was a waste of time (to her mind because she felt that she did more learning outside of class than inside) and at some points, humiliating. For Madeleine, the time she spent outside the classroom was used very productively in reading (she read voraciously and widely – L. M. Montgomery was a favorite, as was E. Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and George MacDonald (Presenting Madeleine L’Engle by Donald R. Hettinga page 2)), and especially productively for writing. Madeleine wrote all the time. She scribbled, worked, learned, perfected, thought. What came out of that thought and scribbling is an array of published materials that is varied and captivating. 

In 1941 Madeleine graduated from Smith College and immediately headed for New York City. There she felt closer to her true nature. By 1943 she had trod the boards of Broadway as an understudy in the play Uncle Harry. By 1945 she was actually on Broadway in The Cherry Orchard. It was during this adventure that Madeleine met her future husband, Hugh Franklin (best known as Dr. Tyler on the soap opera All My Children). Madeleine continued to write through all of this and published her first novel, A Small Rain (Vanguard Press, NY. 1945) which was not autobiographical in its entirety, but largely based on incidents in her life during her teen years. A Small Rain is technically her second published work--her first published work of any kind was the play “18 Washington Square South: A Comedy in One Act” (Baker’s Plays – Walter H. Baker Co.- Boston MA, 1944) of which not much is really known. The play was first produced in Northhampton, MA in 1940. Chances are the plot centers around a group of young women who share an apartment in Grenwich Village as they vie for acting jobs on and off Broadway (this surmise is due to the fact that Madeleine shared an apartment in Grenwich Village with three other aspiring actresses as she was searching for jobs as an actress.)  Needless to say, pricing on this particular item is a guess at best.
Getting back to The Small Rain, while not autobiographical, it does discuss events similar to those Madeleine faced as a teenager. The protagonist, Katherine Forrester, is a gifted young woman who has to deal with a number of emotional issues which occur during an eight year span of time. The book starts with Katherine as a ten year old girl. Her family situation is not in the least ordinary; Katherine’s mother is badly hurt in an accident and Katherine is sent to her aunt’s care for several years. Katherine appreciates her aunt very much and feels strongly about her, but she misses her mother & wishes that she could return home.  Time passes and Katherine is allowed to go home again. While some of the longing for parental love is solved by this change of venue, Katherine finds that her life isn’t as peachy as she hoped. She must navigate the off-beat world of the New York drama crowd and its bohemian, free-style life which includes an affair between her father and the aunt who has been caring for her. Not too long after returning home, Katherine’s mother dies.  As a sop to her grief Katherine spends her time alternately furiously studying piano to work through her grief and pain and whirling through high society in an effort to numb herself the possibilities of any further chance of pain and disappointment.  While there are romantic tendrils threading throughout the book, the main plot is a basic coming-of-age story which takes Katherine from being a very unhappy, off-balance young girl to a poised, wiser, more self-aware person.  There are several themes seen in THE SMALL RAIN that will extend throughout L’Engle’s body of work. These are themes which resonate not only within her writing, but also in her life.  Within this particular story, death is a strong theme, as is the wonder of the natural world, and of course, a strong steady belief in religious conviction and morality. All of these are themes which echo again and again in L’Engle’s writing.
When it came time for L’Engle to go through the process of publishing, she made a conscious decision not to use her last name, instead choosing to use her middle name (and her mother’s family name). Apparently her father had connections to the publishing world--Madeleine wanted to get into the business on her own terms, not because of her father’s connections--and the name change was one way of stepping away from her family influence. After her marriage, L’Engle was willing to change her published name to her husband’s name, but her publisher felt that changing it would be detrimental to the start she had already made using the name L’Engle. 

The next book L’Engle published was the novel ILSA (New York, Vanguard Press, 1946). It is the story of a doomed love –a romantic novel somewhat in the vein of Wuthering Heights with none of the cruelty of the Bronte classic. The two main characters, Ilsa Brandes and Henry Porcher, fall in love but their parents are completely at odds and the love is destined to fail. Ilsa and Henry pine platonically for each other for many years. Their love is never fulfilled. It is a rather gloomy story overall with touches of both Wuthering Heights and Romeo & Juliet (without the tragic endings). For one reason or another, this title has not been reprinted and is, rather undeservedly, one of the more expensive titles to find due to its scarcity.

Next up is AND BOTH WERE YOUNG (New York, Lothrop Lee & Shepard, 1949) which is the first actual young adult / children’s book L’Engle published. In this novel, Philippa “Flip” Hunter is stuck in a European boarding school where she is miserable and lonely. Philippa is packed off to boarding school at the request of the woman who, after her mother’s death, would like to be the next Mrs. Hunter. Philippa feels as if she has been abandoned by her father and that most of it is due to her father’s new love interest. At school, Philippa feels confined, morose, and picked on for her lack of athletic ability. School rules say that she is not able to date (only seniors are allowed that privilege) but Philippa meets a young Frenchman named Paul and falls for him. Now Philippa has something to look forward to each day. Not only does Paul help her get through the agonies of boarding school life, but he also helps her learn to ski. Philippa wants to compete in a ski tournament and with Paul’s help and encouragement she hones her skills and wins the tournament – thereby proving herself in front of her classmates.

CAMILLA DICKINSON (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1951) is another of the early romance stories where boarding school, young love and parental problems come together to help a young girl become a young woman.  In this particular coming of age story, the protagonist, Camilla Dickinson, deals with adultery again, but this time, it is her mother who is caught in flagrante delicto. Camilla’s father proceeds to divorce her mother, but horribly, uses Camilla as a pawn in the process. Worse yet, so does her mother, and even the lover Jacques tries to butt in and show Camilla just how much her mother needed love and affection from someone who cares. Camilla’s mother, unable to bear the situation, attempts suicide, which muddies the water for Camilla even further. At the height of Camilla’s emotional turmoil, she meets a hero – Frank who is, in most ways, the conventional Romantic hero of the 1940’s and 50’s. He is moody, dark and brooding and he has a past which, naturally, comes to play in making Camilla think he may not really love her. Throughout the story, there is an underlying riff regarding life and death, suicide and the nature of God. In the end, Camilla and Frank are parted, with the expectation that they will be together again at a later time, when both are older and more ready for a lasting relationship.

In between And Both Were Young and Camilla Dickinson was a play by the name of “How Now Brown Cow” (Co written with Robert Hartung, published by A. and N. Tokar, Newark, NJ 1945) which was first produced in Mohnton, PA at the Green Hills Theatre in August 1974 and in New York in 1949.  Of this play, I have virtually no knowledge of the plot. Prices on this item are speculative at best, but most likely would be upwards of $500.00.

There is another play which, while it was produced experimentally, was never actually published. The play is called Little Hell (again, co-written with Robert Hartung and produced April 1946 at Brander Matthews Hall, Columbia University, with regular performances in November). This play is not the last of the non-prose works of L’Engle, but it does round out the period of time where Madeleine focused her energies on the New York drama scene and her own acting career.  After her marriage to Hugh Franklin, he requested that she give up her acting career…a request to which she acceded with apparently little regret.


After Camilla Dickinson was published, Madeleine’s second child was born (her first child, Josephine, was born in 1947). Bion, her second child made his appearance in 1952, which is also right around the time that Madeleine and her husband decided to quit New York for more rustic country. Now, Madeleine didn’t just go to live in a suburb of the City, she and her husband (who at the time decided that he no longer wanted to be an actor) bought a general store in northwest Connecticut. Early in their marriage, they had bought a two-hundred year old farmhouse named Crosswicks (Crosswicks was named by L’Engle after a village in which her father spent his youth) in the same community. Early on, the house was used as a retreat from New York, but it was too far away to make an adequate commuter home. When Hugh decided to break from acting they determined to live at Crosswicks year round. Hugh wanted to get a job in the area – nearly by accident, the pair ended up as the owners of the town’s only general store. For nine years Madeleine and her husband ran the store, building it up to a thriving business. During that time, Madeleine would scribble books out in spurts between customers and whenever she could. Between mothering young children and working at the store, Madeleine wrote. She wrote quite a lot, considering the dearth of concentrated time, but, unfortunately for Madeleine, this was a time period when she truly desired to be a published author and nothing materialized except a steady string of rejection notices. Madeleine had had the good fortune to be published fairly quickly when she started. Now there was a drought of offers for contracts. She continued to send off manuscripts nonetheless. While it was not a complete famine (her next novel was published in 1957), it was a near thing and Madeleine became dejected, feeling she was not doing enough to help out her family financially.

The one book published between 1951 (Camilla Dickinson) and 1960’s Meet the Austins was A Winter’s Love (New York, J. B. Lippincott, 1957). This book is, again, a  romance but a completely adult novel this time, with adult themes  including adultery (not necessarily acted upon, but definitely thought about) and divorce. The protagonist, Emily Bowen is going through a very rough patch in her marriage. Coincidentally, an old flame of hers comes back into her life – Abe Fielding is his name – and during a long, cold winter of hardship and tribulation involving her husband, her daughter and their farm, Emily must decide whether to work out her marriage or turn away towards a new life with Abe. A Winter’s Love was good, but it was not good enough to take her to the next level of being a published author.

 Madeleine L’Engle published no more works in the decade of the 1950’s. Her next published title came with the next decade. In 1960 Meet the Austins was published (New York, Vanguard Press, 1960) and this book was the peg that, once pulled, unstoppered an ocean’s-worth of award winning titles.  The biggest change that can be seen is in the genre L’Engle chooses for her books. Switching from erudite romances to young adult adventures (with peripatetic intellectual meanderings throughout), L’Engle finally finds the voice which will take her in the direction she needs to go. In Meet the Austins, the Austin family takes in a 12 year old orphan named Maggy (a daughter of friends of the family, whose character was based on a real life child taken in by L’Engle and her family) and help her become part of their family. The Austins, especially Vicki, wend their way through numerous adventures that summer from a family attack of measles, to which the youngest child nearly succumbs (remember in the 1960’s the measles were still considered a deadly disease) to a physical attack against the oldest son, to a serious bike accident that befalls Vicki herself. Through adversity, the family learns to trust in themselves as a family, to trust in God’s plan and to face the reality of death head-on.  Meet the Austins is the first of the novels revolving around the Austin clan and a dandy start it was.

Next up is the book upon which Madeleine L’Engle’s reputation was built. Newbery award winning title A Wrinkle in Time (New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1962) was rejected numerous times by publishers who just didn’t seem to get it – a problem that held up Meet the Austins for a time also.   What the publishers didn’t seem to get was the proper place to put A Wrinkle in Time. Was it for youth, was it for adults? Was it fantasy or religious? Was it science or adventure?  According to L’Engle, the answer to all those questions was a solid yes. It was all of those things.  This story in particular was an “Everyman” story, a story that should transcend all genres and be read by everyone on a multitude of layers. First and foremost, there is science. Meg Murray is the daughter of two world class scientists. She has a younger brother who is a genius and two slightly younger brothers who are as average as can be. Normal is something Meg Murray definitely is not – at least that’s Meg’s perspective. She’s an adolescent, she’s tall, awkward, self-conscious, and feels as if she has none of the special genes the rest of the family possess. At the beginning of the story Meg meets a kindred soul in a young man named Calvin O’Keefe. Calvin has had an unfortunate childhood. Calvin also seems to share a flair for telepathy as does Meg’s brother Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace, Meg and Calvin form the basic trio of protagonists in the first book in the Time Trilogy series. This threesome travel using something called a tesseract; a method of time travel discovered by Meg’s father in which time is wrinkled, or folded upon itself, to take people to different times and worlds. Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace meet a trio of witch type beings (there was a huge controversy regarding exactly what these beings were/are) who send them on a mission to retrieve Meg and Charles Wallace’s missing father. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin go through a series of adventures which become increasingly more difficult and more ethically challenging.  Though there are a multitude of underlying themes, the most prevalent are self-sacrifice and love.  In this series, L’Engle falls back on an old classic literature technique of using quotations to help forward the plot and also to convey emotions or underlying themes. In this case, the words of Saint Paul form a strong steady beat to the work.  And though never actually mentioned in the books, the work of Einstein (along with other theoretical physicists) inspired L’Engle through his theories of Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics and astrophysics.  No wonder publisher after publisher refused her book (26 rejections in all before Farrar, Straus & Giroux took a gamble on it).  In the end, once the book was finally published, it was the reading public that made the final decision about the book’s worth. Published in 1962, the book received the 1963 John Newbery Medal, was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Anderson Award, was awarded the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and also the Sequoyah Award. After ten years of pain, frustration and despondency, Madeleine L’Engle had finally found her voice. 

Once A Wrinkle in Time was published, the flood gates opened wide and L’Engle published book after book (one a year through 1969 with two in 1965).  The next book published was The Moon By Night (New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1963) which continued the adventures of the Austin family as they take a road trip across country. Vicki Austin again plays the major role as narrator and protagonist. In The Moon By Night, Vicki is just turning 15 and in the grips of adolescent angst like any normal adolescent. She has made some peace with the concept of death from her experiences in Meet the Austins, but now she has to deal with the idea of identity, self-determination, adulthood and romance. Vicki finds herself pursued by two young men, the good boy, John, and the adventurous, dangerous, different boy Zachary. This novel is steeped in Christian theology with long passages reflecting on the meaning of God and how God acts. The road trip gives Vicki and her family (including the new adoptee Maggie) a chance to meld more closely together as a real family. It also gives Vicki a chance to learn and grow into adulthood by making her own decisions (good and bad) and most importantly, it gives Vicki an insight into the way God works through the angels and the stinkers of the world. 

In 1964, The Austins appear again, this time, in a short story called The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas (NY, Ariel / Farrar Straus, 1964). The story is a prequel to all the other Austin stories to this date. Vicki Austin is again the protagonist, a cute, precocious seven year old who dearly loves the season of Advent (the titular twenty-four days before Christmas which is part of the Catholic / protestant church calendar and the time for reflection on the upcoming show-stopping season of Christmas).  Vicki Austin is not only excited about the season of Advent, but also the rich traditions of getting ready for the Christmas season during December – from making Christmas cards and cookies to decorating the house and looking for the proper tree. Vicki has been chosen to be part of the annual Christmas pageant and she’s over-the-top about this special treat, however, after overhearing the director of the play call her gawky and awkward, she spends much of her time trying to counter this appearance by walking around with a book on her head.  Of course, to make this a proper story, there has to be some sort of conflict – Vicki’s mother is pregnant and due any time. What if the baby decides to be born at the most inconvenient time and Vicki won’t be able to go on stage?  Or, horrors, what if Vicki should goof up her part? This little piece is mostly a nostalgic bit of Christmas smarm, but it does give some insight into the background of the Austin family and is not only easy to read, but quite enjoyable.


Human frailty and mistrust, along with death and resurrection are the themes (loosely) of the next book. The Arm of the Starfish is an offshoot of the O’Keefe family stories, published in 1965 (Ariel / Farrar Straus, NY 1965). In this story – which is not part of the Time Trilogy series, but deals with characters from that series – Dr. Calvin O’Keefe is now a marine biologist and he and his daughter Poly (Polyhymnia) are on a research vessel working by a remote island called Gaea which is off the coast of Portugal. Dr. O’Keefe is studying dolphin behavior. His daughter Poly is a precocious twelve-year-old. To this research vessel comes a young marine biology student and summer intern by the name of Adam Eddington. This book is another one of those not quite one thing or another types of books for which L’Engle is famous. It is a combination of fantasy, speculative fiction (with the work with dolphins), religious / theological dogma and, adventure / espionage.  This time, L’Engle switches things around – in fact, this is possibly the only book she has written that uses a male as the protagonist.  Adam Eddington is the star of the show, or rather, the hapless man who is trapped between good and evil but doesn’t know which side is which. Again, biblical themes abound – from the protagonist’s name – Adam—(a major whack to the head as far as subtlety goes) to the name of the island –Gaea—to the other characters; The basic plot boils down to a rather middling quality espionage / adventure story with Poly O’Keefe being the victim of a kidnapping for monetary / corporate causes, but it’s the back story and underlying themes of resurrection, trust, and good vs. evil that really pull  the reader in and keep the story moving.

By the mid 1960’s L’Engle had settled more comfortably into her role as an author. She, Hugh and the children were back in New York – they had left Crosswicks as a full time residence in 1959/ 1960 when Hugh went back to work in television – and life seemed to settle into a pattern that worked well. The children were growing up. L’Engle took up a position teaching at St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's Anglican School in New York from 1960 through 1966; and in 1965, she became the volunteer librarian at the cathedral of St John the Divine. Mostly, she got the librarianship because the former librarian had to leave for a couple of weeks and L’Engle, who had been going into the library to find a peaceful place to write, snapped at the chance to use the librarian’s electric typewriter. Day in, day out, Madeleine wrote, producing books, articles, inspirational pieces and ponderings. It’s rather ironic that a woman who spent much of her spare time sitting in a Cathedral (and one who attended services on a daily basis) would be vilified as anti-Christian, but the tumultuous 1960’s thrived on controversy – including L’Engle’s Time Trilogy series. When A Wrinkle in Time was first published, there were early murmurings against it for many reasons, but as the book continued to sell well and earn more awards (which meant that the book was read by a wider audience and began to see use as a school text), the fact that there were religious undertones to the book, and that the underlying theology had a humanistic, inclusive bent to it became a focal point. When the second book in the series was published in 1973 (The Wind in the Door, NY, Farrar Straus, 1973), the furor just got worse.  While Madeleine’s outlook on life is colored greatly by her religion, her religion is not strictly by-the-book by any means. Madeleine read voraciously on all subjects – including theology, religious history and philosophy. From her readings and from her daily dealings with the church and the pageantry of the Episcopalian version of Catholicism, Madeleine fused her own beliefs and ideals of Christian behavior. Unfortunately, while this open attitude worked well for her in her everyday life, including the attitude in her writing proved to be a touchstone to controversy. A Wrinkle in Time has been banned from schools for reasons as varied as preaching heresy and promoting witchcraft – it even has the dubious honor of being number 12 of the 50 most banned books in the US.

As mentioned a moment ago, The Wind in the Door is the second volume of the Time Trilogy series which continues the adventures of Meg Murray and her brother Charles Wallace. In this book instead of heading into outer space to fight evil, the battle goes inward – Charles Wallace becomes critically ill and it is up to Meg, with the help of a cherubim named Proginoskes to affect a cure. It turns out that there is no simple cure. What is killing Charles Wallace is actually an all out battle between the forces of good and evil involving the entire universe which has been translated into microscopic portions of DNA called farandolae which L’Engle postulates to be within bits of mitochondria.  As with Wrinkle, L’Engle mixes real-life science with imagination – mitochondria are real bits of human innards – farandolae on the other hand, are an invention of L’Engle’s that she uses to propel the story forward.  In The Wind in the Door, Meg, with the help of Proginoskes must face off against beings called Ecthroi (fallen angels) and figure out how to stop them from “un-naming” everything in the universe. As with her other books, there are several layers of thought going on simultaneously in The Wind in the Door – first and foremost, there is the plot to save Charles Wallace from dying (looking at it today, his symptoms sound like a combination Chronic Fatigue Syndrome mixed with Mono and a healthy dose of depression); second there is the religious theme of common humanity and brotherhood; third there is the theme of learning to face one’s fears and to love others, no matter how unlovable they may be. The Wind in the Door introduces a new fantastic element (the tessering from Wrinkle won’t work in this case, so something different had to be invented) called kything, which breaks down to a form of mental telepathy which aids different types of beings to communicate directly. The concept of Kything, according to L’Engle, isn’t one she made up, but is an old term found in her grandfather’s Scottish dictionary – she expanded the meaning to fit her own needs and the needs of the story.

The 1970’s was a period in which Madeleine not only produced numerous children’s fantasy stories, but also some biographical and very personal material— in 1972 the first volume of her Crosswick Journals, A Circle of Quiet (Farrar, Straus, NY, 1972) was published. The Crosswick Journals is a combination of biographical material, philosophical musings and thoughts on writing (both the how-to’s and the background that went into writing her own works).  A Circle of Quiet was followed swiftly by The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Farrar Straus, Giroux, NY, 1974), which details the slow degeneration and death of Madeleine’s mother during one long, agonizing summer.  The Summer of the Great-Grandmother doesn’t simply tell the factual story of the growing senility and eventual death by arteriosclerosis of Madeleine’s mother, it mulls over the vagaries of life and death, family history, and even old stories that have shaped the lives of Madeline, her mother, her children and even her grandchildren. This book (though probably not meaning to) details the upper class background Madeleine grew up with and the sort of lifestyle she is accustomed to living. Madeleine tends to portray herself as an “everyman” type of person: a middle-class style mother, wife, cook  and chief bottle-washer for a clan of boisterous children; but this book gives lie to that idealized view with casual references to hired help, summer cottages, world travel and other privileges of the elite.  The Summer of the Great-Grandmother was followed by The Irrational Season (Harper & Row / Seabury Press, NY / San Francisco, 1977) which uses the season of Advent as a theme and again travels through Madeleine’s personal history, along with her reflections on current issues and concerns. In the final book of the quartet, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, NY 1988/1989) Madeleine reminisces about her life with her husband Hugh from their courtship to his death of cancer in 1986. Two-Part Invention is particularly open in its reflections on Madeleine’s personal life including bits about childbirth and early struggles with fighting against society’s norms to make her marriage work in a way that was meaningful to both Madeleine and Hugh. 

 The Crosswick Journals contain a wealth of information regarding Madeleine’s reasons for her writing – along with very vividly detailed thoughts on her religious beliefs … what they don’t necessarily do is tell the unvarnished truth.  There is some controversy regarding the validity of some of the events Madeleine depicts in her journals. Journals, as with diaries and autobiographies are, of course, dependant on the recollections of the subject, but they are subject to selective remembrance and outright manipulation by the writer—in the case of Madeleine L’Engle, it may not be a desire to deceive the readers but a need to use her life history as an object lesson that taints the recollections. The idea that not all of her journal writing accurately depicts events in her life comes from a surprising source – her own family has come out to say that several of the life experiences she shares are either unsubstantiated or possibly out-and-out wrong.  While there is not much information on exactly what portions of the journals the family takes issue with, there are hints in the first Crosswick Journal that not everything is open, straightforward fact. In fact, there is one smallish chapter that starts out sounding quite plausibly realistic – it’s about a new couple who have moved to the small town where Crosswicks is located and the reactions that the longtime townspeople have towards these newcomers. Unfortunately, the entire story is a complete fiction, which L’Engle admits at the end of the chapter.  Madeleine implies that even though the “sketch” was made up, it did contain elements of real life and real events that happened in her life. The problem becomes, once the author admits to having fiddled with the truth in one portion of the journal—even if she was trying to make a point -- then the rest of the material becomes suspect as well. This is not to say that the Crosswick Journals are complete fiction and thus unusable for biographical information, not in the least. But, as with most biographical material, it’s best to double-check and verify the information with alternate sources.

In 1978 the third of the Time trilogy series was published to the great delight of youngsters across the US. A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Farrar Straus Giroux, NY, 1978) continues the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace Murray as they travel through time to save the world from nuclear annihilation. The action of this story takes place some ten years after The Wind in the Door – Meg is newly married to Calvin O’Keefe and pregnant with their first child. It’s Thanksgiving and Meg is hosting the festivities – one of the guests is her rather gruff mother-in-law. During the meal, the family gathering is interrupted by an urgent call from Washington D.C.—a national crisis is brewing…a dictator from the country of Vespugia by the name of Mad Dog Branzillo has threatened to set off a nuclear strike if his demands aren’t met. Instead of Meg as protagonist, Charles Wallace becomes the focal point of this particular novel. With the aid of Gaudior (a unicorn) who is able to transport him back and forth through time, Charles Wallace is given the task of meeting distant relations and finding the one turning point in each time period that will effect a change in the present and hopefully avert a nuclear tragedy. Though both Meg and Charles Wallace seem a bit more detached in this book than they were in the previous books, the story itself is more solidly forward-moving and it is easier to distinguish the good-vs.-evil themes at its core.  The Ecthroi that constituted the ultimate evil of The Wind in the Door return in A Swiftly Tilting Planet to confuse and confound the situation. In the end, of course, Charles Wallace is able to overcome the darkness projected by the Ecthroi. He is able to push past his own personal needs and desires to do what needs to be done to save the planet with a sense of humility and personal sacrifice. This book won a National Book award for excellence.

Book number four of the Time Trilogy series is Many Waters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, NY, 1986). In this book, the protagonists are the two “normal” children of the Murray family – Sandy (Alexander) and Dennys (Dionysius). These two boys have neither the exceptional intelligence nor social or personal difficulties of either Meg or Charles Wallace. What they do have is an ordinary interest in getting in to trouble – which is how this story starts. The twins accidentally jostle some chemicals in their parent’s workspace and create a “sonic boom” and a blast of heat which magically transports them back into biblical times--The time of Noah and the great flood to be specific.  The twins are much different than either Meg or Charles Wallace in that they are more mathematically and scientifically inclined…and very much doubters of purely faith-based ideas. They are a pair who must see and feel and touch and understand the reasoning behind something in order to fully believe in it. Traveling through time to the “Pre-Flood” world is a great shock to the boys orderly world view. Upon arriving in the desert world of Noah’s time the pair of brothers encounter mammoths, griffins, manticores and even unicorns. The people Sandy and Dennys meet live extended lives (Noah is supposed to have lived to the age of 950), they are able to see and speak to angels, and mythological creatures such as griffins and unicorns are alive and visible to those who believe (here L’Engle is including one of the apocryphal myths that unicorns and their like simply missed the boat—literally).  Belief is a big theme of this book. Another theme of this book is individuality –the twins are separated for the first time in their lives, and they get a good lesson in dealing with themselves as individuals and not as a union.  Good vs. Evil is, of course, a given and in this book, trust in God and God’s plan (even when that plan doesn’t make much practical sense—even Noah at first wonders why God asked him to build the ark) are paramount. This book doesn’t have a task to be completed as the previous books in the series do (the boys aren’t going to save the world through their actions), and frankly, the boys don’t change their overall worldview when they return to modern day so this book is somewhat of an anachronism in the series. This may be why some readers don’t consider Many Waters to be part of the series itself but simply a story set in the same universe.

While Many Waters covers the story of Noah and the Flood. Dance in the Desert (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, NY, 1969) is a children’s picture book (one of a very few picture books L’Engle produced) that illustrates the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt to escape King Herod’s murderous killing spree against firstborn male children. This book was illustrated by award winning artist Symeon Shimin.  Even though there is more than a ten year span between publication dates, The short story collection (can you call a two short story volume a collection? Is there a better word?) The Sphinx at Dawn (Seabury Press, NY, 1982) continues the story started in Dance in the Desert – it contains two stories which relate to Jesus’ years as a youngster living as a refugee in Egypt. 

Madeleine L’Engle doesn’t generally work in picture book form, however in 2001 she published The Other Dog (Sea Star / Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2001), a picture book illustrated by Christine Davenier. Written from the point of view of the perplexed pooch, it chronicles the family bringing home a “brand new dog” who has very peculiar doggy ways. It turns out that the “dog” is a new baby. The book was written as a humorous aid to help older siblings understand and accept new members of the family.

Madeleine continued to work through the late 1980’s and 1990’s as prolifically as always. Much of her work during this time period is either biographical in nature or non-fiction of a religious bent.  In 1989 she did add another story to the Murray / O’Keefe oeuvre: An Acceptable Time (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, NY, 1989).  And there were one or two more fiction titles through the 90’s including A Live Coal in the Sea (Farrar, Straus Giroux, Ny, 1996) which picks one of L’Engle’s early novels and carries the story forward to a new generation. In 1951 it was Camilla Dickinson who was the heroine. In A Live Coal in the Sea, Camilla’s granddaughter Raffi Xanthakos tries to muddle through the tangled web of her family geneology. Most distressing to Raffi is the possibility that Camilla may not truly be her grandmother.

By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, age and health concerns start to slow Madeleine’s ability to continue writing. In the year 2000 Madeleine was 82 years old. Her husband Hugh had passed away in 1986, and though this was a distressing blow, her writing continued apace. Madeleine was in a serious auto accident in 1991(which she wrote about in the memoir The Rock that is Higher (Harold Shaw, Wheaton, IL, 1993) and though it put her back somewhat, her writing never stopped. 1999 saw the tragic death of her son Bion at the age of 47. In 2002 L’Engle suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and she has had continuing problems with osteoporosis, both of which cut short her speaking engagements and finally slowed her writing to a trickle. L’Engle received a National Humanities Medal in 2004; unfortunately she was not able to attend the ceremony due to poor health. The last two books L’Engle published were 2001’s Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life (with Carole Chase)(Shaw Books / WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO, 2001) and after a gap of four years, a book of poetry called The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle(Shaw Books / WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO, 2005). Both of these books are more or less compilation works that have little or no new writing in them – a telling thing in itself.  It is not certain, at this point in time, whether there will be any forthcoming books. Most likely not.  However, in a career that has spanned six decades and matured from early girlish romantic fiction to poised, thoughtful, award-winning young adult fiction Madeleine L’Engle has made her mark as an author and a person. Her works are loved by a wide variety of readers – from the people who read her books for the very first time in the 1960’s to the third generation readers who check out her books from school libraries in reprint editions (A Wrinkle in Time still sells more than fifteen thousand copies a year and has done since it was first printed which is quite a feat).  What seems to affect her readers most is that they can identify with the characters; Vicki Austin and Meg Murray both face the same insecurities that most teenagers face – and they manage to work through their difficulties and come out better people.  This is the mark of any writer of merit – to draw empathy and personal association to the characters and also to have a long-lasting effect on a reader (some in publishing would crassly say “shelf-life”) that can carry down from one generation to another. The best honor in the world for a writer like Madeleine L’Engle would be having a parent pick up a copy of the Time trilogy series and hand it to their child, sure in the knowledge that the child will enjoy the books as much as they did themselves.


 

Selected Bibliography:
  (The majority of L’Engle’s books have been published by Farrar, Straus (in one incarnation or another). Farrar uses a rather straightforward First Edition notice on the copyright page.

18 Washington Square South: A Comedy in One Act (a play)
 Boston, MA: Baker’s Plays, 1944
  Price: Pure speculation, but possibly in the range of $1,000-$1,500   

 

The Small Rain: A Novel
  New York: Vanguard, 1945
    Price: $100. - $300.
(abridged edition (for young adults) as Prelude New York: Vanguard, 1968 and  London:
Gollancz, 1972)
    Price: $50.00 - $200.00


How Now Brown Cow (a play)
 with Robert Hartung (first produced in New York)
 Newark, NJ: A. and N. Tokar, 1945]
    Price: Unknown

Little Hell (a play)
 With Robert Hartung (1945  -- basic information found through researching Hartung)
   No further information at present
    Price: Unknown
   
Ilsa
  New York: Vanguard, 1946   
   Price: $250. - $600.


 And Both Were Young
 New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1949
   Price: $350. - $500.
  

How Now Brown Cow (a play)
 with Robert Hartung (first produced in New York)
 Newark, NJ: A. and N. Tokar, 1945


Camilla Dickinson
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1951
Price: $100. - $250.

(as Camilla, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1965)
   Price: $50. - $100.


A Winter’s Love
  Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, Co, 1957
   Price: $150.00 - $500. (this is one of the more difficult titles to find)


Meet the Austins
  Illustrated by Gillian Willett.
  New York: Vanguard, 1960
   Price: $75. - $250.



A Wrinkle in Time
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Company, 1962
   Price: $750. and up


The Moon by Night
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Company, 1963
    Price: $50. - $100.


The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas: An Austin Family Story
  illustrated by Inga.
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Company, 1964
  Price: $100. - $250

 

The Arm of the Starfish
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1965
     Price: $50. - $100.


 The Love Letters
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1966
    Price: $75. - $150.



The Journey with Jonah (A play)
  illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher (produced
  in New York, 1970 )
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1967
  Price: $35. - $75.
     

The Young Unicorns
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1968
    Price: $75. - $125.


Dance in the Desert (A children’s picture book)
  illustrated by Symeon Shimin.
  New York: Farrar,
  Straus & Giroux, Inc. (and London: Longmans Young Books, 1969)
   Price: $35. - $85.

Lines Scribbled on an Envelope and Other Poems
  New York:  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1969
   Price: $35.- $150.


The Other Side of the Sun
   New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc. 1971
    Price: $50. - $175.


A Circle of Quiet (memoirs)
  New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1972
  Price: $75. - $200.



A Wind in the Door
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1973
  Price: $50. - $125.


Everyday Prayers
   illustrated by Lucille Butel. New York: Morehouse, 1974
   price: $20. -$45.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1974
   Price: $25. - $75.


Dragons in the Waters (sequel to The Arm of the Starfish)
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1976
   Price: $25. - $45.

The Irrational Season (Book three of the Crosswick Journals)
   New York: Seabury Press, 1977
   Price: $25. - $75.


 A Swiftly Tilting Planet
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1978
  Price: $45. - $125.

The Weather of the Heart
   Wheaton, Illinois:  Harold Shaw Publisher, 1978
   Price: $20. - $45.


 The Anti-Muffins
   illustrated by Gloria Ortiz. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1980
    (issued as part of a  monograph series on The Education of the
     Public and the Public School)
     Price: $25. -$100.  Most likely issued without a dust jacket.   
 

 A Ring of Endless Light
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1980
   Price: $25. - $100.


 Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
   Wheaton, Illinois: Shaw, 1980
   Price: $25. - $45.


 A Severed Wasp (sequel to The Small Rain )
    New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1982
    Price: $25. - $50.


 
The Sphinx at Dawn: Two Stories
 illustrated by Vivian Berger.
 New York:  Seabury Press, 1982
 Price: $25. - $45.

 
And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings
  Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1983
  Price: $20. - $45.


A House Like a Lotus
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1984
  Price: $20. - $45.


Trailing Clouds of Glory: Spiritual Values in Children's Books (with
Avery Brooke) (non fiction)
   Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985
   Price: $20. - $30.


Many Waters
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1986
  Price: $25. - $45.
 

A Stone for a Pillow: Journeys with Jacob
  Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1986
  Price: $20. - $45.   

A Cry like a Bell (poetry)
  Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1987
  Price: $20. - $35.


Two Part Invention (Book four of the Crosswick Journals)
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.,  1988
   Price: $20. - $40.



 An Acceptable Time
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1988
   Price:  $25. - $45.


Sold Into Egypt: Joseph's Journey into Human Being (non fiction)
  Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1989
  Price: $25. - $40.


The Glorious Impossible (children’s picture book)
  illustrated by Giotto.
  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990 
  Price: $15. - $45.



Certain Women
   New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1992
   Price:  $20. - $30.


A Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth
   Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1992
   Price: $20. - $45.


Anytime Prayers  (non fiction)
  photography by Maria Rooney.
  Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994
  Price: $20. - $30.


Troubling a Star
  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1994
  Price: $20. - $35.


Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
  New York: North Point Press, 1995
  Price: $20. - $45.



Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections (with Carole F. Chase)
   San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996
   Price: $20. - $30.


A Live Coal in the Sea
  New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1996
  Price: $15. - $30.


 
Wintersong: Christmas Readings (with Luci Shaw)
  Colorado Springs, CO: Harold Shaw, Publisher, 1996
  Price: $15. - $30.



Mothers & Daughters
  Photography by Maria Rooney (L’Engle’s adopted daughter)
  Colorado Springs, CO: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1997
  Price:  $15. - $25.

 
Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation
   Colorado Springs, CO: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1997 
   Price: $15. - $25.


Friends for the Journey: Two Extraordinary Women Celebrate
Friendships Made and Sustained through the Seasons of Life 
  (with Luci Shaw)
   Ann Arbor, Michigan: Vine Books/Servant Publications, 1997
   Price: $15. - $25.


Miracle on 10th Street
  Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1998
  Price $15. - $25.
 

My Own Small Place: Developing the Writing Life
   Wheaton, Illinois: Harold. Shaw Publishers, 1998
   Price $15. - $25.
 

 
A Winter's Love
   Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998
   Price: $15. - $25.


A Full House 
 Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1999
 Price: $15. - $25.


Mothers and Sons
 With Maria Rooney (L’Engle’s adopted daughter)
 Colorado Springs, CO: Harold Shaw Publisher, 1999
 Price: $15. - $25.


The Other Dog
 San Francisco, CA: Sea Star/Chronicle Books, 2001
 Price: $15. - $25.

Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life
  (compiled by Carol Chase)
  Colorado Springs, CO: Harold Shaw Publisher, 2001
  Price: $15. - $25.

The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle
   Colorado Springs, CO: Harold Shaw Publisher, 2005
   Price: $15. - $25.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

cookie