Nov. 29, 1918 – Sept. 6, 2007
Madeleine L’Engle was best known, perhaps, for her wonderful series of books that began with the Newbery Award-winning A Wrinkle In Time. But she was also a cherished writer of poetry, plays, autobiography and books on prayer. Her deeply held Christian beliefs were never a barrier to her love and respect for all people of faith. Indeed, she often criticized the intolerance of some Christians:
“If we fall into Satan’s trap” she once wrote, “of assuming that other people are not Christians because they do not belong to our own particular brand of Christianity, no wonder we become incapable of understanding the works of art produced by so-called non-Christians, whether they be atheists, Jews, Buddhists, or anything else outside a frame of reference we have made into a closed rather than an open door.
“If I cannot see evidence of incarnation in a painting of a bridge in the rain by Hokusai, a book by Chaim Potok or Isaac Bashevis Singer, in music by Bloch or Bernstein, then I will miss its significance in an Annunciation by Franciabigio, the final chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, the words of a sermon by John Donne.”
Excerpted from her 1987 acceptance speech upon receiving the Margaret Edwards Award (American Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing In The Field Of Young Adult Literature), she noted:
“I’ve always believed that there is no subject that is taboo for the writer. It is how it is written that makes a book acceptable, as a work of art, or unacceptable and pornographic. There are many books circulating today, for the teen-ager as well as the grown up, which would not have been printed in the fifties. It is still amazing to me that A Wrinkle In Time was considered too difficult for children. My children were seven, ten, and twelve while I was writing it, and they understood it. The problem is not that it’s too difficult for children, but that it’s too difficult for grown ups…”
“What a child doesn’t realize until he is grown is that in responding to fantasy, fairy tale, and myth, he is responding to what Erich Fromm calls the one universal language, the one and only language in the world that cuts across all barriers of time, place, race, and culture. Many Newbery books are from this realm, beginning with Dr. Dolittle; books on Hindu myth, Chinese folklore, the life of Buddha, tales of American Indians, books that lead our children beyond all boundaries and into the one language of all mankind.”
The St. James Guide to Children’s Writers has called Ms. L’Engle “one of the truly important writers of juvenile fiction in recent decades.” Such accolades did not come from pulling punches: A Wrinkle In Time is one of the most banned books thanks to its treatment of Deity.
“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once mused. “It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”
Thank you, Ms. L’Engle, for the treasures you gave to a bookish little fourth grader many decades ago. I know I am but one of countless millions who have been touched by your creative vision, your passionate mysticism, and your deep respect for children and adults alike.
Your voice has mattered, mattered cosmically.