Thursday, November 12, 2009

Madeleine L'Engle wrote more than one book

In case you didn't know it, the title of this blog post is true! Madeleine L'Engle did, in fact, write more than one book. She wrote or co-wrote 63 books and plays. Of those 63, I've read at least 31 and parts of others.

I'm assuming that most of you know of Madeleine L'Engle and that most of you know her as the author of "A Wrinkle in Time." Wrinkle is a science fiction/fantasy book about a pre-teen girl, Meg Murry, and the adventure she goes on with her younger brother, Charles Wallace, and a boy from school, Calvin O'Keefe. Meg and Charles Wallace are trying to save their father and all three children are being led by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who. It's very exciting.

If you did read more of L'Engle, you probably read the sequels to Wrinkle, "A Wind in the Door," "A Swiftly Tilting Planet," and perhaps even "Many Waters."

But L'Engle wrote realistic children's fiction as well, ranging from picture books to books about the complexity of teen relationships and teen pregnancy. Just as L'Engle wrote a series about Meg Murry, she also wrote one about Vicky Austin. Unlike Meg, Vicky lives a normal life, dealing with the pressures of school, family, and relationships, while dealing with her gifts as a writer. L'Engle also has an amazing talent with weaving characters between series, so at one point Vicky's boyfriend works for a grown-up Calvin O'Keefe as a lab technician. As a teenager, Vicky was my favorite of L'Engle's characters.

Now....well. Now I'm conflicted. Because L'Engle didn't stop. She wrote for adults and for adults she wrote both fiction and non-fiction. So, I'll give you tastes of four more L'Engle books. Books that you likely haven't heard of. (If you have, please let me know!) First, we'll stay in fiction. "A Severed Wasp" first enthralled me because it's told in a non-linear fashion, not a simple feat for a book. Katherine is an old woman and a young woman. She is reliving her past and living with the problems of the present. Centered around the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the present and the horrors of post-WWII family life in the past, the book deals with almost every issue you could think of. Seriously. Except monsters, zombies, and the apocalypse. Homosexuality, fertility, marital disputes, the dark arts, drugs, child abuse, cancer, prosthetics, music, concentration camps, death, pregnancy. It's in there. And it's delightful. Primarily because it's not at all predictable.

"A Live Coal in the Sea" is one L'Engle book that I believe I tried to read when it came out and my mom had checked it out from the library. I was 13. My mom wouldn't let me. Now I understand why :) It's the sequel to "Camilla," one of L'Engle's teen novels, but is much darker and deeper than "Camilla," and written 41 years later. Again, it's told by an old woman looking back on her life. But her story in the now is much less a part of the plot than in "Severed Wasp." Instead, it focuses much more on the story of her relationships and her marriage and her family. Not at all the typical family, but in some ways easier to relate to than Katherine's in a Severed Wasp. For Camilla is not a professional pianist in post WWII, but an astronomist in today's world. As a mother she's struggling with getting her Ph.D. and being a mother. With being a preacher's wife and being a scientist, in a place where science isn't taken seriously by the congregation. (L'Engle and her positions on church and science deserve a WHOLE different post. So I'll save that for later.) But again, L'Engle has made a plot and characters who are not predictable. And every time I read "A Live Coal in the Sea," I somehow think that they might change their minds and do something different, because they seem capable of that.

This post is getting long, so I'll turn this into a multi-day L'Engle Extravaganza. L'Engle's non-fiction is up for tomorrow. And if you're in the Twin Cities and want to borrow any of these books, let me know. I have about 15 of them (including the two named above and three of the Austin books) at home.


Simon said...

Wow. That seriously makes me want to read her non sci-fi books.

Katie said...

SIMON! Yes. Read them. They are great. I loved the kids books, but that may have been more cause I was a kid and now for nostalgia reasons. Although I will say that "A House Like a Lotus" deals with lesbianism in great way. Especially for a young adult novel published in 1984. (That was me trying to say that you shouldn't write off the YA novels...)

If you are going to read "A Severed Wasp," you may want to consider reading "The Small Rain" first which is the story of Katherine's pre-WWII life, especially her life as a developing young pianist at boarding school.

Anonymous said...

"A Swiftly Tilting Planet" is my favorite, I think.

Katie said...

That's interesting, klarastan, because that was the hardest of the Kairos books for me to get through. I absolutely adore Wind in the Door and like Wrinkle and Many Waters well enough, but it took me about four tries to make it through Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Christy Luis - Dostoevsky in Space said...

Hello, Katie.
I read your post on Madeleine L'Engle's non-fiction first, because I'm studying her poetry. I so enjoyed reading your thoughts on all her work, that I linked through to this post, too! Very nice job.
L'Engle is one of my favorite authors. Vicky holds a special place in my heart :)
-Christy Luis

Katie said...

Hi Christy,
Glad you enjoyed these posts. Vicky was my favorite as a teen, but now I'm more frequently drawn to Camilla or Katherine. I need to go back to the poetry though.