“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.
“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.”
Writer Madeleine L’Engle died Thursday of natural causes. The NYT obituary is here.
I could say so much about her books, but every compliment seems inadequate. When I first read A Wrinkle in Time, and encountered Meg Murry’s mother cooking stew over a bunsen burner, I did not know what a bunsen burner was. I’d never met a scientist or a professor. And although I understood too well the isolation felt by strange little Charles Wallace, I’d have to wait until high school to realize that mitochondria and Saint Patrick’s Breastplate were real, too. And the first line of Wrinkle is a quote from Bulwer-Lytton! Such delight, when a children’s writer is unafraid to draw freely on her liberal-arts education, to fill her books with deep, rich, real things. She must have known her young readers would not encounter them again for years – if ever.
No other children’s author has so easily mixed science through her books, nor so successfully captured the very large and the very small, that dizzying leap between cosmology and cell biology. I still think of L’Engle every time I encounter the word tesseract, or mitochondria, or anandamide. Ananda is Sanskrit for bliss, but I prefer L’Engle’s lyrical definition: “the joy in existence without which the universe will fall apart and collapse.” L’Engle’s books are all about joy – the joys of the mind and the joy of being loved. Somewhere along the way, the large, open, loving families of scientists and thinkers that she created became my ideal – a dream of the family I would like to have for myself.
Official announcement from L’Engle’s family (and where to send memorials). There will be a public memorial service TBA in New York City.