The Time Quartet as Madeleine L'Engle's theology.
My focus in this paper is the interplay of these two discourses seen particularly in L'Engle's attempt to integrate the claims of modern science with the insights of the Christian spiritual tradition she identifies with. What L'Engle seeks to find is a response to the tremendous challenges facing humanity--and Christianity--in the increasingly technology-permeated world. Although she does so in a way that speaks particularly to American realities of the post-Cold War period, the issues she raises--the search for a form of spirituality (or universalist Christianity) fully relevant to modern life and the quest for principles which may help humans learn to use science and technology to eliminate rather than aggravate economic exploitation and ecological damage--have not been solved yet. On the contrary, since 1962 when A Wrinkle was published, they have become even more urgent. And it is this urgency that may explain, at least in part, the Quartet's lasting popularity. (1)
I believe there are strong reasons to classify the Time Quartet as mythopoeic fantasy, a genre in which the existence of the supernatural is assumed with all seriousness and whose stories provide an imaginative experience of a world in which metaphysical concepts are objective realities. The name mythopoeic fantasy was first used in relation to L'Engle's works in Diana Waggoner's 1978 The Hills of Faraway, and then I adapted it in my 2005 "Prolegomena to Mythopoeic Fantasy." Although this classification is by no means absolute, I think that in view of the generic confusion about L'Engle's Time series it is as legitimate as others (2); in my opinion it seems, in fact, perhaps the best generic tag to characterize L'Engle's thematic proclivities, her attitude to the subject matter, the moral thrust of the narrative, and her strong affinities with the tradition of Christian mythopoeia. Indeed, although the critical assessment of L'Engle's writings is not large, most sources identify L'Engle as a Christian mythmaker and mythopoeic storyteller for whom the fantasy form is, in the words of Martha Sammons, "the 'fictive analogue' for [her] Christian world view" and a way of presenting "as real and credible the supernatural world outside our perception" (2).
L'Engle's work also fully qualifies as an example of the genre that Colin Manlove in his 1992 Christian Fantasy from 1200 to the Present defines as Christian fantasy, and in his 1999 The Fantasy Literature of England--following on Brian Attebery's "fuzzy set" concept--subsumes under a larger category of metaphysical fantasy: "a fictional effort to preserve the metaphysical view of life in a world where belief in it is fading" (England 4). Although I think Manlove's perspective is a bit skewed in his persistent insistence that "Christian fantasy seems a dying form [...]" (Christian 10) and that its whole history should be seen as "the journey towards loss" (302), (3) he admits that "Christianity provides the dominant and most developed form of metaphysical fantasy for most of the modern period" and lists a number of important characteristics of Christian/metaphysical fantasy all of which apply to L'Engle's work (England 78). The emphasis on "the immanence of God in this universe, rather than His transcendence beyond it" (72), the stress on imagination as a source of spiritual truth, the epic dimension, the "transfer of spiritual issues to the collective" (73), and "a sense of the power of wider myth" which throws new light on the mythic narratives of the Bible (85)--all those are elements integral to L'Engle's work. Rolland Hein in his 2002 Christian Mythmakers is perhaps the most recent voice: "The mythopoeic tradition [that] runs through the work of George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis," he says, "finds engaging expression in [...] Madeleine LEngle [...]" (13). Her work, Hein adds, is "singularly successful in achieving the level of myth" (263). (4)
The fact that L'Engle's Time novels are mythopoeic and that, consequently, a major thrust behind what constitutes L'Engle's deeper narrative-theological endeavor is Christian mythopoesis suggests intimate connections between mythopoesis and belief. One of the best definitions of mythopoeic art, clearly suggestive of its theological underpinnings, can be found in C. S. Lewis's 1946 "Introduction" to George MacDonald's Phantastes. Having called it a genius, gift, or talent which cannot be fitted into the confines of any single discipline, Lewis goes so far as to assert that mythopoeic art
may even be one of the greatest arts; for it produces works which give us (at the first meeting) as much delight and (on prolonged acquaintance) as much wisdom and strength as the works of the greatest poets. [Mythopoeic art] goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though as we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and "possessed joys not promised to our birth." It gets under our skin, hits us at the level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives. (ix--x)
While this metaphoric description of mythopoeia--the activity of reimagining myths or mythic components such as plot structures, topoi, characters, and so forth by weaving them into new stories--may sound a bit too ecstatic and Elysian (or perhaps Lewisian), it has been the literary-spiritual aspiration, if not the achievement, of a number of fantasy writers since George MacDonald. "As the thoughts move in the mind of a man, so move the worlds of men and women in the mind of God," MacDonald asserts in his 1867 "The Imagination: Its Functions and Its Culture" (par. 6). The offspring of God's imagination, a human being should use the faculty of imagination to see truly. In art the aim is, MacDonald adds in his 1893 "The Fantastic Imagination," to "work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise"--and do that through a tale that "seizes you and sweeps you away" into "the region of the uncomprehended" (pars. 18, 17).
The tradition of such fiction stretches through such theologically inspired Christian fantasists as G. K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and on to, among others, Madeleine L'Engle. Their works, writes Jared Lobdell in The Scientifiction Novels of C. S. Lewis (2004), "deal with what we call the supernatural, and particularly [.] with the Christian supernatural" (169--70). In this sense, Lobdell adds, "we might define mythopoeia as the equivalent of 'believing fantasy,'" and specifically as "believing religious fantasy" (170). Though the form is not necessarily Christian, much of the so-conceived mythopoesis has, indeed, been by Christians. MacDonald in "The Fantastic Imagination" admitted to aspiring at giving "new embodiments of old truths" (par. 5); Tolkien, in his 1947 "On Fairy Stories," said that fantasy offers Christians a way to assist "in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of the creation" (73); also Lewis, in his 1956 "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said," suggested mythopoeic stories as a path to "steal past watchful dragons" of custom and Sunday school associations that "had paralysed much of [his] own religion in childhood" (47). This more or less explicit intentionality is the reason why the "believing fantasists" can be, and indeed have been, spoken of as a specific quasi-theological literary tradition. For example, theologian John Milbank in his 2005 "Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative" calls this school of fantasy "the MacDonald tradition" and argues that works within that tradition allow a continuation of "a public theological debate of a kind" through its essentially mythopoeic "re-envisag[ing of] Christianity altogether, in terms of the categories of the imagination, the fairy realm, and of magic" (141, 142). As Milbank explains,
The fictionalization of Christianity in imaginative children's literature is not a sign of the post-Christian but a harbinger of a new and truer re-imagination of Christianity as such. And it may be time to bid farewell to the monotheism of the grown-up, disenchanted cosmos--the grown-ups it produces are called bin Laden and George Bush, who invoke the sacred only as a crudely positivised apologia for their operations in a drained desert of money, machinery, and electronic signals. But most people, aside from Biblical fundamentalists or analytic philosophers of religion (who have rather similar outlooks) cannot understand--and with good reason--a worldview where one acknowledges no mysteries until one suddenly stumbles upon the ultimate one of the one God. [...] By contrast, belief in God and in the triune God can perhaps only be revived if we re-envisage and re-imagine the immanent enchantments of the divine creation which appropriately witnesses to the transcendent One through a polytheistic profusion of created enigmas. The new tellers of fairy-tales to children and adults open out just this real horizon. (167-68)
As a Christian mythopoeic fantasist, L'Engle belongs with this tradition. Essentially theological, like the fantasy novels of her British male predecessors, LEngle's Christian mythopoeia in the Time Quartet is, however, different from theirs in tone and focus. Rather than relocating the story to some quasi-medieval, usually otherworldly setting, L'Engle speaks of the here and now of 1960s America; rather than suggesting the need to outgrow the natural in order to experience the supernatural, she brings the supernatural to this world; rather than showing the chasm between the material and the spiritual, she asserts their compatibility; finally, rather than aiming at the purely spiritual, she reimagines a Christian myth so that it remains attractive spiritually and intellectually. Thus, although the Quartet may be placed alongside the Chronicles of Narnia and other mythopoeic fantasy works in a larger intellectualartistic current aimed to redefine Christianity in terms of its core principles, hers is markedly unlike the work of earlier, mainly British, fantasists.
One important aspect of L'Engle's theological-fantastical re-envisaging of Christianity that makes her work unique is her endeavor to recover a more profound vision of the Christian spirituality in the context of modern scientific thought--something only Lewis attempted, to an extent, in his space trilogy. L'Engle, however, was the first mythopoeic fantasist to make it a founding concept of her entire work. (5) The fact has continued to challenge critics, even those who responded to the books enthusiastically. (6) The concern about whether scientific concepts can be accommodated in what was felt to be fantasy was exacerbated, in Wrinkle's case at least, by the problems of generic classification and other ways in which the book was unconventional for 1962: "too complicated" for children and "too progressive" in its portrayal of women. (7) Nor was the representation of Christian spirituality in the Quartet free from controversy. Although by Martha Sammons's and Colin Manlove's criteria the books qualify as Christian fantasy, they have also been criticized as distortions of Christianity or even as literary "neopaganism" (O'Brien 97). What all these generic, cultural, and religious controversies suggest is that with her Quartet L'Engle has inserted herself in at least three important debates, topical during and since the sixties: that about children's literature, that about sex roles and their literary representations, and that about science versus spirituality in general and Christianity in particular.
It is in the last of these that L'Engle's work continues to be especially relevant, both in intellectual and theological terms. It is pertinent because--as Kath Filmer has demonstrated in her 1992 Scepticism and Hope in Twentieth Century Fantasy Literature--at the bottom of "a deeper structure operating in fantasy literature" is "the articulation of hope for humanity" (iii, iv), and L'Engle does precisely that "by emphasizing the spiritual power of love between human beings" (116). The theological dimension of that articulation is obvious for anyone who accepts Filmer's claim that in modern, secular society, fantasy has, to a certain extent, replaced religion, that it "speaks religion," "operates in the same space and uses the same devices as the discourse of religion [.]" (iii). The affective quasi-religious potential of fantasy to nurture hope and belief that things will get better is, Filmer says, sometimes even higher than that of religion, which has often been divided and dividing, judgmental and authoritarian. As a type of discourse that can reach the religious and non-religious alike and is able to address "[t]he angst of this secular, nihilistic age" while remaining "a form of religious discourse, with all the features of didacticism, persuasion, and emotive language which have tradition ally been associated with the discourse of religion" (4), fantasy--perhaps especially in its mythopoeic version (8) --"makes available the symbolic forms by which ontological and metaphysical concerns might be addressed." In that, Filmer says, fantasy may be seen as "affirmative metaphysics" (5).
If L'Engle's narrative theology of the Quartet, in its expression of hope, qualifies as affirmative metaphysics, I believe it is also pertinent to the late twentieth and early twenty-first century because of how this hope is expressed. Three main reasons may be given here. One is that L'Engle's narrator speaks from a Christian universalist position (9) which is much more acceptable to modern audiences than any denominational or explicitly religious narratorial presence. (10) Two is that L'Engle constructs her affirmative theology in relation to tangibly real--American yet universal--modern problems and concerns, such as a missing parent, child abuse, being different, bullying, dangerous disease, nuclear threat, environmental damage, and unintended consequences of scientific experiments. Three is that she presents the spiritual quest as fully compatible with the quest for knowledge, albeit in its scientific, practical, and morally responsible guise rather than in its Faustian knowledge for knowledge's sake.
While these three facets of L'Engle's appeal cannot be separated and add up to form the what of L'Engle's narrative theology, a brief consideration of the why of her theology as emerging at a specific historical time period--the second of the aspects mentioned above--may be helpful to set the what in a proper context. When A Wrinkle appeared, an increasing number of Americans were growing uneasy about their consumer society, about where its economy was going, and about the political, environmental, social, and psychological costs of affluence available only to some. After the ecological protests of the 1950s--most spectacularly successful among which might have been the blocking of the construction of the Echo Park Dam on the Colorado River--it became clear that the consumer economy and the environmental imbalance it caused was jeopardizing not only the countryside, but also, as Rachel Carson argued in her bestselling 1962 Silent Spring, the health and survival of humans. Widespread poverty was harder to ignore, especially after Michael Harrington's 1962 The Other America made it clear that many Americans remained poor not because of personal failings but because of exclusion and segregation. Segregation was, of course, another major issue that was being contested. If these problems at home were not enough, Americans still lived in the shadow of the Communist nuclear threat. The fact that the Soviets managed to orbit Earth in 1961 while the Americans did so only in 1962 did not alleviate these fears. On the contrary, it seemed to suggest that the threat was very real; that the Soviets, seemingly more advanced in space technology, might also have been more advanced militarily. (11) All those urgent issues--environmentalism, pollution, poverty and abuse/segregation, space race, and nuclear threat--do relate to a bigger question: whether science and technological progress can be made to assist humans in building a better world or will prove their doom. In this context it may not be too far fetched to see A Wrinkle as addressing the same concerns as those brought up in Carson's and Harrington's books, and those generated by the first American orbit, the launch of the first communication satellite Telstar, and the Cuban Missile Crisis--all of those, synergistically, happening in 1962. Although Kennedy's and Johnson's administrations promised to address some or all of these challenges, the sixties were a time of powerful uncertainties.
No wonder that, as Robert Ellwood argues in his 1994 The Sixties Spiritual Awakening, the period also saw an intensive, widespread, and multifaceted spiritual search which forever changed America's religious consciousness. The sixties were, Ellwood says, a time of "profound social transition" (10), and of paradigm change as described in Thomas Kuhn's extremely influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions--published, incidentally, the same year as A Wrinkle. "My contention is," Ellwood declares, "that the religious and political sides of the Sixties [...are] bands in a single spectrum. Both are spiritual in that they touch on values of ultimate significance," and both can be understood "through categories from out of the phenomenology of religion--mythology, apocalyptic, transcendental symbols of community, and the like" (9). By asserting religious terms and mythological concepts as the most appropriate means to understand the narratives of politics and religion during and, in many cases, since the sixties, Ellwood not only implies that those, and perhaps other narratives of the period (such as literature), were constructed in a religious/mythical idiom, but also reinforces Filmer's arguments about the unique appropriateness of religious terms and mythological concepts in modern narratives, such as those offered by fantasy literature. As Ellwood repeatedly stresses, "the story of religion, and of religious consciousness, in that decade" is
an indispensable key to understanding changes wrought by the Sixties in society as a whole. Why? Because in America religion has generally been the most available language for that which is of unconditioned importance. The ultimate level of significance is especially highlighted in moments of transition from one consciousness era to another. (10)
If Ellwood's claims about the uniqueness of the sixties and Filmer's claims about the uniqueness of fantasy are taken to be the background of L'Engle's situatedness as, in her first capacity, an American woman writer, and, in her second capacity, a pioneering American Christian mythopoeist of the sixties, these two positionings seem to explain both why her work may be seen as inherently theological, and how this theological endeavor fits in with the dominating concerns of the period.
The what of L'Engle's narrative theology is, essentially, complementarity of scientific and spiritual perspectives, asserted with a recognizably Christian universalist slant. Contrary to Christian mythopoeists such as Lewis or Tolkien, who were wary of or explicitly skeptical of technological progress and scientific advancement, L'Engle never condemns these. Convinced that human reality is constituted by stories, the most affective among which are best described as myths--true stories, or narratives of truth--L'Engle acknowledges the mythic dimension of Christianity and recognizes that to be a living one, a myth must be relevant to both the present knowledge and spiritual intimations of people in a given society. (12) The theology she thus constructs blends L'Engle's own Christian spiritual intimations with ideas and hypotheses of modern science. The result, at least in two instances, is a subversive theology: by suggesting the possibility of existence of other civilizations and species in space/time, L'Engle breaks with Christian earthly anthropocentrism, of human beings especially beloved of God; by asserting energy and matter as interchangeable, L'Engle abolishes the traditional distinction between spirit and matter and thus, indirectly, questions the absolute transcendence of God. It is not that L'Engle is trying to upgrade Christianity or scientifically prove it in her narratives; she is, nevertheless, struggling to express what she believes in the context of certain tensions that have been part of science-religion debate and does so by asserting that at least some of those tensions can be transcended. One among them is the spurious incongruity of spiritual and scientific outlooks; L'Engle's passionate argument for the full compatibility of those informs her plots, her construction of characters, her settings, and her overall theme in the Quartet. It is, perhaps, best revealed by a look at the status L'Engle accords to science in the Quartet, supported by a reflection on what important concepts of modern physics, biology, astronomy and psychology the Time fantasies illustrate.
That scientific knowledge enjoys a high status in the series is clear from L'Engle's choice of protagonists and from the fact that on the most basic level the Time fantasies are stories about an extraordinarily scientific American family. An astrophysicist father, Dr. Alex Murry--"a Ph.D. several times over" (Wrinkle 50)--researches the mysteries of the space-time continuum and specifically the issue of traveling in the fifth dimension. A microbiologist mother, Dr. Kate Murry, a PhD in biology and bacteriology, and a Nobel Prize laureate for isolating farandolae within mitochondria, works in a lab at home. Although Alex and Kate are not the protagonists proper, they are "never too far in the background" (Hettinga 22). They also stand as models of spiritually minded scientists--or scientifically minded spiritual people--and are suggested as such explicitly in Wrinkle when Mrs. Whatsit reveals the names of some of "the fighters" against the Powers of Darkness. The list encompasses Jesus and other spiritual leaders such as Gandhi, Buddha, and St. Francis, but also all Earth's "great artists"--such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Bach--as well as scientists, such as Euclid, Copernicus, Pasteur, Madame Curie, Einstein, and others (Wrinkle 89). If those names are, as L'Engle has admitted, her "cultural heroes" (Wintle 255), this is so because she sees the spiritual endeavor as akin to the scientific one in that both drive away the darkness of ignorance. Against ignorance which both is and causes human misery, material and spiritual, the bearers of the light of the spirit and those of the light of knowledge are, for LEngle, fighters for the same cause, whose "light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not" (Wrinkle 89).
The Murry parents and their friends such as Dr. Louise Colubra are not the only scientifically minded characters in the Quartet, for the entire family "is extraordinary in its high concentration of unusually gifted individuals" (Hettinga 22). Meg is exceptionally gifted in math and--not a strange combination in L'Engle's world--is capable of extrasensory perception. Thirteen at the time of Wrinkle, and twenty-two at the time of Swiftly, Meg is pregnant--rather than in college--when the series ends, but this does not mean that she will not start an academic career, especially since her mother did successfully combine the two. The twins, Sandy and Dennys--aged ten in Wrinkle, fifteen in Many Waters, and nineteen by the time the series ends--are "the pragmatists of the family" with no special gifts (Waters 23). Rational, intelligent, and endowed with an acute moral sense, they also turn into "fighters" when they grow up: Sandy becomes a lawyer who defends the environment and battles multi-national corporations on behalf of underdeveloped nations, and Dennys becomes a medical doctor. Charles Wallace, aged six throughout Wrinkle and Wind and fifteen in Swiftly, is gifted with unusual psychic powers and remains a somewhat mysterious, though major protagonist. Nothing is said about his adult career, but the hints about Charles as a "new" human--someone different "in essence" (Wrinkle 47)--and about his crucial role in "the balance of the entire universe" (Wind 98) leave no doubt that he has a role to play as a fighter too. The last child protagonist, Calvin O'Keefe--fourteen in Wrinkle and twenty-three in Swiftly--grows to be a highly regarded marine biologist, whose research in the regenerative abilities of starfish is applied to experiments in limb regeneration in mammals. All of those careers reveal L'Engle's high regard for knowledge and science and her awareness of their life-enhancing, spiritual potential.
Science and the scientific concepts "hover in the air" on the level of plot, too (Egoff, Worlds 190). Although every book focuses on the adventures of different protagonists--Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace; Meg and Calvin; Meg and Charles Wallace; Sandy and Dennys respectively--scientific concepts are implied in all of their secondary world settings. The outer space in Wrinkle, the inner space of Charles Wallace's bodily cells in Wind, the parahistorical past in Swiftly, and a Biblical past in Many Waters are locations as scientifically thought-provoking as the stories themselves: a brother and a sister on an intergalactic search for their lost father in Wrinkle; a girl desperately trying to heal her small brother's molecular, mortal sickness in Wind; a boy dreaming an alternative historical scenario in order to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Swiftly; and teenage brothers lost in a time-space continuum and looking for their way home in Many Waters. While the plots, interspersed with numerous references to Mrs. Murry's ongoing experiments, are thus rooted in science fiction conventions, L'Engle's characters are clearly on a spiritual quest and Egoff is right when she says that "the fantasy in all the books soon takes precedence over both science and reality" (Worlds 190).
Besides suggesting the high status of science through plots and construction of characters, the Quartet refers to a number of important concepts of modern physics, biology, astronomy, and psychology. Some of those concepts L'Engle absorbed from her 1960s science reading and used consciously; some others--postulated or demonstrated by scientists decades later--she intuited or inferred from what she already knew. These concepts are used in the series, if not unconsciously, then as a "fantasy" component which--throughout the four decades since Wrinkle was written--has proven to triangulate surprisingly well with recent theories and discoveries in many disciplines.
What L'Engle knew from her reading I can only guess, but among her scientific sources she mentions Sir Arthur Eddington, Albert Einstein, and J. W. N. Sullivan (13)--authors whose excellent works were already classics before she wrote Wrinkle and have remained in print since then. Although she does not give specific titles, L'Engle might have read Einstein's 1916 Relativity: The Special and General Theory, Eddington's 1920 Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory, and Sullivan's 1930 The Limitations of Science--all three comprehensive introductions to modern physics which foretell the imminent emergence of a holistic, unified science that will be able to describe the nature of mind, life, and matter much better than the mechanistic, reductionist one. Whatever the sources, however, the Time Quartet reveals L'Engle's familiarity with the basic concepts of the theory of relativity and quantum theory. Although both theories deal with subatomic levels, their implications for the human world and for science as a whole have been profound. The fact that, among other things, they have revealed interconnectedness and inseparability of all levels of the universe, confirmed the existence of higher dimensions, and demonstrated that reality depends in some crucial way upon human consciousness makes them especially attractive conceptual springboards for fantasy and science fiction writers. In L'Engle's Time Quartet the use of quantum concepts is both obvious and ubiquitous. (14)
The relativity of space and time is implied whenever characters travel between the primary and secondary worlds or encounter beings from other dimensions or universes. In Wrinkle the relativity of time becomes apparent when Mrs. Which talks about herself as "a paltry few billion years" younger than the two other angelic psychopomps (54) and considers herself "very young," being only "2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, 3 days old [...] according to your calendar" (84).15 In Wind, Proginoskes, Blajeny, and Sporos are beings from outside of time as humans conceive of it. "Age, for cherubim, is immaterial," Progo explains to Meg. "It's only for time-bound creatures that age even exists" (56). In Swiftly the relativity of time is what Gaudior repeatedly explains to Charles Wallace about their traveling not to any "wheres" but to different "whens" (53). It is also the crucial concept for the entire plot, structured as it is on five major visits to different "whens"--Harcels' antiquity, Maddoc's 10th century, Brandon's 17th century, Chuck's 1940s, and Matthew's 1865. If Swiftly subverts thus the absoluteness of time in its obvious suggestion that the past is not unchangeable (267), so does Many Waters through its extended reflections on how changing the past may produce time paradox, but also acknowledging that the twins did change things by their presence. A time-space travel story, Many Waters explores the relativity of time through the ageless seraphim and the nephilim--with the former seeing "time in pleats" and as a spatial dimension that can be associated, in a nonlinear way, with certain characteristic events (101-2). The novel also employs a number of relativity-of-time-related concepts: the twins are "young" but fifteen, whereas Yalith is young but "not nearly a hundred years old yet" (46). Throughout the book, the twins also repeatedly speak about quantum leaps--"traveling without the restrictions of time" (148)--and actually take several such leaps within the Biblical oasis, which is the principal setting, but also from and back to their own time.
The relativity of space, location, and size is stressed just as much as that of time. In Wrinkle children are shown how an exploding star eliminates the seething darkness of "the Thing" in space and later understand that rescuing Dr. Murry and then Charles Wallace from the hold of IT is an equal victory. In the great cosmic battle against the powers of darkness, every engagement--over a human being, a planet, a star, or a galaxy--is equally important. "I know it's hard for you to understand about size," Mrs. Whatsit tells the children, "how there is very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy" (88). "A star, a child, or a farandola--size doesn't matter," similarly asserts Progo in Wind (98). With the entire plot evolving around the challenge to save one little boy--who, at that particular time, happens to be "the point of equilibrium" of the entire universe (147)--Wind is, in fact, one extended argument for the relativity of the spatial dimension. Not only do the protagonists move between the worlds of the microcosm and macrocosm--learning, every time, that "variations in size [...] are, in reality, quite unimportant" (129)--but they are also taken to Merton Ariston, "a postulatum [which] makes it possible for all sizes to become relative" so that any being can converse in it with any other being, even if their "actual" sizes or locations are more disproportionate than that of a bacteria to a galaxy (128). In Swiftly Charles Wallace changes size whenever he goes within different human hosts, and in his final journey becomes both "as tiny as a dragonfly" and "as large as a constellation" before he finds himself again in his "real" body (270). As Gaudior tells him, "Size is immaterial" (166). This is also implied in Many Waters in which the boys are giants in comparison to the inhabitants of the oasis, but--before they realize they are still on earth--feel dwarfed by the awareness that they might have been quantum-leaped to any planet in the universe (12) as much as they feel dwarfed by the deep humanness of some of the characters they meet--even though those characters' spatial thinking is limited (85, 145). Size is also totally irrelevant to the capacities of unicorns, nephilim, and seraphim; and space is spoken of throughout as an inseparable space/time continuum (103).
Einstein's claim that mass and matter are forms of energy, interchangeable with one another, is hinted at every time a character materializes and dematerializes or the structure of matter is temporarily altered. In Wrinkle Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which assume different physical forms depending on the need, and treat those as humans do clothes. The first two usually appear as old ladies, whereas Mrs. Who does not like to materialize completely and is usually a shimmering in a circle of silver except for once when, for sheer fun, she solidifies into "a figure in a black robe and a black peaked hat, beady eyes, a beaked nose, and long gray hair [whose] one bony claw clutched a broomstick" (60). On Uriel, Mrs. Whatsit transforms into a centaur-like flying creature, so beautiful that Calvin falls to his knees, and the children are perplexed about how to call this new "She? he? it?" being. "You can't go on changing my name each time I metamorphose," Mrs. Whatsit tells them, implying that a material enfleshing of a living being is a form of energy which can be changed without affecting that being's self (65). The same is the case with the cherubim Progo in Wind who usually is "a wind or a flame" but decides that "he'd be more reassuring to earthlings if he enfleshed himself" (63). In contrast to the star-angels from Wrinkle, Progo, when he materializes, always assumes a physical form which resembles a "drive of dragons" (53). As he explains, "I am a cherubim, and when a cherubim takes on matter, this is how [we look]" (118). In Swiftly Gaudior is presented as "a beam of light" and "radiance" which takes on form and "enfleshe[s] itself into the body of a great white beast with flowing mane and tail" (44). Also the idea of St. Patrick's rune, whose recital has an immediate physical effect on elements, suggests that energy, even such as a sound wave, and matter are interchangeable. The unicorns--described as virtual creatures exactly like virtual particles which "tend to life" rather than "just are" (256)--as well as the seraphim and nephilim in Many Waters further illustrate the convertibility of energy and matter. "I suspect that you [.] understand that matter and energy are interchangeable," seraph Adnarel explains to Sandy when asked why he sometimes appears as "himself" and sometimes as a scarab beetle (134). Whenever seraphim or nephilim take their animal hosts or convert into humanoid shapes, "a vivid flash of light" accompanies the transformation (39). Whereas the nephilim "flicker [...] in and out of their animal hosts in a show of power" (166) and the seraphim "do not like to waste power when it is not necessary" (165), for both "it takes a considerable energy to transfer" (165) and both do it "in bursts of primal energy" (166). The interchangeability of energy and matter is also brought up when Adnarel doubts the boys could survive "the transition from matter to energy and then back again to matter"--the way seraphim move in the time/space continuum--and remarks that the quantum jump that the unicorns take is a better way for the twins to travel for they will be in one place and then in another "but not in between" (304). The many instances of how matter and energy are interchangeable are crowned, in the last chapter of the book, with the seraphim quantum jumping the twins back home and erasing their nine months' tan (309).
The implications of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, as well as the influence of observer's consciousness on what is perceived, exemplify yet another quantum element to be found in the Quartet. The relationship between fact, reality and truth, the still very relevant issue of certainty and science (evident, perhaps, most clearly in our modern discussions about the global warming, in which the same facts are taken by the two debating camps to support mutually exclusive theories) receives L'Engle's attention in a number of episodes. In Wrinkle Meg realizes how narrow her idea of reality is when she tries to describe it, in terms of things seen, to Aunt Beast who knows no sense of sight. "We do not know what things look like [...]," the beast replies. "We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing" (181). Much as Meg loves seeing, she then has to admit that "the beasts in some way saw, knew, understood [reality] far more completely than she" (182). The fact that we can never know anything completely also surfaces in the many discussions on what is real, an important theme of Wind. Faced with the unexplainable, the characters often say that they must be having a dream, that what they see happening cannot be real. "What is real?" answers Blajeny (57). As he explains, "You have simply been faced with several things outside your current spheres of experience. That does not mean that they--we--do not exist" (125). On the same principle, Progo asserts that, although he is real, "not everybody is able to see [him]" for "most earthlings can bear very little reality" (81). This idea is reiterated when Gaudior in Swiftly introduces himself in a Heisenbergian way as "not real" but at the same time "that which is the only reality" (45), and when Adnarel in Many Waters suggests to Sandy that seraphim are not seen in the boy's "time and place" because they "are either forgotten or denied" (134). In Swiftly the theme of observer's conscious ness also comes up when, for example, Bran sees pictures of reality beyond his time, and concentrates so intensely that "he became part of all that was happening in the pictures" (224), and when Charles Wallace--later assisted by Matt Maddox--achieves the "dreaming out" of an alternative reality in which the nuclear holocaust does not happen. The influence of consciousness on reality is equally obvious in Many Waters in which the virtual unicorns' flickering in and out of existence demonstrates the principle that "some things have to be believed to be seen" (256). That "an observer seems to be necessary to make quanta real" becomes a problem for the boys when they are planning a quantum jump home and need someone to observe their materialization back from the past (270). Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle underlies the seraphim and nephilim reactions whenever--although presented as knowledgeable--they are surprised by the twins' visit, and when the seraphim finally agree that the boys were neither sent by El nor were they prevented by El from coming. "The pattern is not set," reflects Adnarel in a Heisenbergian mode. "It is fluid, and constantly changing" (304).
Besides quantum concepts, the Time Quartet embodies numerous nonquantum scientific ideas--some of them used consciously and some intuitively; and the latter often accurately spell out some of the claims made by holistic sciences years after L'Engle's books were published. In this sense, L'Engle's series may be seen as employing, though not naming, elements of theories proposed in physics, biology, chemistry, and psychology over the past four decades. Although not all of those theories and concepts have been fully accepted by the scientific community, they are part of the current search for a scientific explanation of phenomena happening in a universe which is no longer seen as a mechanistic and fragmented one, but as holistic and interconnected. A similar but literary search for a holistic representation of the universe and human experience of it that L'Engle undertook in the Quartet may explain why she intuitively resorted to similar concepts and placed them in the service of her narrative theology.
L'Engle builds her idea of tessering, "wrinkling" through time and space, which allows the protagonists to travel across the universe in Wrinkle, upon the assumption that any place and time in the universe--multidimensional, infinite, and expanding as it may be--is "always reachable" because it is, and always remains, part of a larger whole. In its implication of this kind of deep unity and order underlying the universe, as well as in its idea of folding and enfolding time and space, the concept of tesseracting fits well with David Bohm's theory of the implicate order proposed in his 1980 Wholeness and the Implicate Order. The essence of Bohm's theory is that the universe is a dynamic whole which continually enfolds and unfolds surface reality--the one we experience through our senses and theorize about with our intellects--in and from a deeper reality which he calls "enfolded or implicate order" (149). In Bohm's terms the explicate, visible reality is orderly and determined by the implicate, invisible reality which enfolds matter and consciousness. Although Bohm did not postulate anything about space/time travel, his ideas of spatio-temporal reality as "foldable" and of matter and consciousness as blended in the implicate order are not unlike L'Engle's when she imagines wrinkling time and space to move through them and conceives of tessering as not a mechanical process but an intention- and love-determined one (Wrinkle 201). L'Engle even sounds like Bohm when her narrator speaks of "[a]ll the raging of creation, the continuing hydrogen explosions on the countless suns, the heaving of planetary bodies," as "enfolded in a patient, waiting love" (Waters 280).
This idea of a universe as not mechanical and entropic but orderly, alive, and teleologically unfolding is, obviously, organicist. On this level L'Engle's Quartet embraces a "butterfly effect" perspective (LEngle, Stone 42), which makes the books resonate well with Rupert Sheldrake's theory of formative causation, James Lovelock's Gaia theory, Lynn Margulis's serial endosymbiotic theory, Ilya Prigogine's theory of dissipative structures, and Claude Shannon's information theory. L'Engle is close to biologist Sheldrake's postulate of the existence of a non-physical and non-energetic formative power responsible for the organization of matter at all levels of complexity; to chemist Prigogine's idea of self-organizing systems, which is his name for "a hitherto unrecognized principle that pushes those systems toward states of greater complexity" (Owen 54); and to mathematician Shannon's idea that information is "buried in the heart of matter itself, giving it commands, instructing it how to behave" (52) when, throughout the Quartet, she employs the concept of all-pervading, purposeful energy which permeates, energizes, links, and organizes the entire cosmos. Because L'Engle's dominant metaphor for this energy is dance, she refers to it as "music" (Wrinkle 66) but sometimes also as "joy," "bliss" (67), "the cosmic rhythm" (Wind 149), "the song" (180), "the ancient harmony," "the Old Music" (Swiftly 45), "the singing" (Waters 223), "love song" (280), and finally "the wind" (Swiftly 111)--and she uses the concept to construct a universe in which moral virtue consists in being part of the harmony, part of the dance.
One aspect of this harmony is that throughout the Quartet L'Engle is very much in tune with biologist Margulis's idea of symbiogenesis, of networking and cooperation rather than competition as the basic principle of life. In Wrinkle, with the exception of planets which have "given up," such as Camazotz, or which are "shadowed," such as Earth (177), the universe is shown as one symbiotic, continually evolving body. The remaining books explore what happens when symbiogenesis is denied. The most Margulis-minded among them, Wind, not only presents the human body as a "meticulously organized, sophisticated aggregate[...] of evolving microbial life" (Margulis 14), but also advocates the symbiotic credo that, as Progo asserts, "we're all part of one another," "we all need each other," and "[e]very atom in the universe is dependant on every other" (186, 187). In this respect L'Engle's perspective in the Quartet is also congruent with Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, according to which Earth is a living organism with its flora, fauna, and human species adding up to form, though not to exhaust, an individualized planetary consciousness. In Wrinkle the three Mrs. W's are presented as self-exploded stars. One star, whose name is not given, is shown as sentient and sacrifices itself to dissipate the gathering darkness, and Meg is once allowed to become "planetary," by feeling "the turning of the earth, rotating on its axis, traveling its elliptic course about the sun" (58). The idea of Charles Wallace being "a whole world to a mitochondrion, just the way our planet is to us" (Wind 23), and of the young Earth purifying itself through a natural disaster such as the flood in Many Waters are equally Lovelockian. (16)
Besides its overlaps with modern biology, chemistry, ecology, and physics, L'Engle's dedication to holism--a philosophy which "perceives connections and interdependence of all life [and] asserts that the essence of spirituality is to connect with and experience the wonder and beauty of all life" (Bloom 4)--accounts for the Time Quartet's congruity with numerous claims advanced by modern psychology. On this level L'Engle's representation of psychological realities and processes--grounded as it is in Jung and Fromm--reflects the same intuitions that inform Stanislav Grof's and Abraham Maslow's transpersonal psychology, Lawrence Kohlberg's cognitive moral development approach, Ken Wilber's theory of the spectrum of consciousness, and Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall's theory of spiritual intelligence. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, the Quartet generally chimes in well with most modern non-behavioral and non-Freudian psychological approaches.
Throughout the Time fantasies L'Engle's characters assert a sense of being in and connected to a meaningful universe, a universe which has a purpose, fulfills a larger design--even though humans may not be able to grasp it--and celebrates all forms of life as continually unfolding toward greater self-awareness and higher consciousness. In this way L'Engle thematizes her conviction that human beings are psychologically geared to seek personal fulfillment, part of which involves experiences which transcend their ego-consciousness. In psychologist Maslow's terms, this search for (trans)personal fulfillment reflects nothing less than urges for self-actualization and peak-experience--perhaps the key terms of transpersonal psychology--postulated in his groundbreaking Toward a Psychology of Being. Published in the same year as Wrinkle, this work helped to establish a firm foundation for a psychology concerned with "the spiritual, transcendental, or mystical aspects of self-realization" and "naturalized" mystical experience (Capra, Turning 367). Among other things, Maslow's book posited that peak-experiences--his term for "self-validating, self-justifying moment[s]" of revelation which become an ordering principle in an individual's value system (Maslow 79)--are elements of a common human psychological makeup rather than gifts conferred on some chosen individuals. This capacity for peak-experience, also outside of the religious context, is exactly what L'Engle implies in the many descriptions of her child protagonists' mystical experiences of unity, harmony, and bliss. L'Engle is also very much in line with transpersonal psychology in her presentation of the psychological conditions which hamper or further such transpersonal realizations--life on Camazotz and Uriel, for example--and in her belief that all people should be allowed and encouraged to grow to fullest humanness and to actualize their highest potential.
Transpersonal psychology is not the only overlap of the Quartet with modern understanding of the human psyche, for in her insistence that humans are psychologically geared to seek spiritual understanding L'Engle triangulates well with quantum physicist Zohar and psychiatrist Marshall's claims about spiritual intelligence as impelling humans to seek truth, knowledge, and beauty. (17) In her moral universalism, resistance to the cultural relativity of ethics, and refusal to reduce moral and social development to "internalization of external norms of a given culture" (Kohlberg 155), L'Engle also speaks with the same voice as cognitive psychologist Kohlberg whose work "established moral development as a legitimate field of psychological enquiry" (Walker 68). L'Engle implies the universality of moral principles when she presents the same qualities--selflessness, love, caring, and so forth--as valued equally on Earth, on Uriel, on Ixchel, throughout outer space of macrocosmos and inner space of microcosmos, in the past and in the present. She also, unknowingly, subscribes to Kohlberg's claim "that 'ethical principles' are the end point of sequential 'natural' development in social functioning and thinking" (Kohlberg 155) in her representation of the psychological maturation processes of Meg throughout Wrinkle and Wind, of Progo and Sporos in Wind, of Charles Wallace in Swiftly, and of Dennys and Sandy in Many Waters.
Reminiscent of psychiatrist Grof's and psychologist-philosopher Wilber's maps of consciousness as a spectrum is L'Engle's depiction of the spectrum of sentience which stretches from farandolae through mitochondria, animals, humans, unicorns, alien creatures, angels, planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies and beyond. Grof and Wilber share the conviction that "the psyche--like the cosmos at large--is many-layered ('pluridimensional'), composed of successively higher-order wholes and unities and interactions" and that what can be observed in the outer world as the holistic evolution of nature manifests in the human inner world as psychological growth (Wilber 1). The development, Wilber says, "proceeds, stratum by stratum, level by level, stage by stage, with each successive level superimposed upon its predecessor in such a way that it includes but transcends it" (2). This conception of universal cosmic evolution toward greater complexity and depth has two major implications: one is that consciousness is a spectrum with any number of bands shading into one another, each band or level characterized by a different sense of identity; the other is that consciousness and the quality of "being alive" is not only a human attribute but extends infinitely both microcosm-ward and macrocosm-ward--the whole universe thus being, in a very real sense, conscious and alive. Both insights can be found in the Quartet in L'Engle's assertions about an all-pervading sentience which spans human and non-human life forms and in her ideas about extrasensory perception that her human protagonists are capable of.
What L'Engle's spectrum of sentience suggests is not only that the universe is filled with an infinite variety of life forms--as different and perhaps as incomprehensible as farandolae and stars, miniature mammoths, and virtual unicorns, tentacled beasts of Ixchel and winged centaurs of Uriel, each with its own intelligence, purpose, and place in the cosmos--but also that any being's consciousness can expand to embrace holistically, in a Wilberian idiom, more "bands" and thus become able to communicate with more life forms, even those forms of consciousness which represent the radical other. The possibility of such universal communication is a central tenet of the Quartet, and L'Engle represents it through different forms of thought-talking. Perhaps most advanced among them is kything, which links the communicators across space and time. As Progo explains the concept, "mental telepathy is the very beginning of learning to kythe," for there are beings in the universe, such as cherubim, whose language is "entirely kything--with you, with stars, with galaxies, with the salt in the ocean, the leaves of the trees" (Wind 96). The ability to kythe is repeatedly presented as contingent on the ability to love--not only to recognize sentience of a being one wants to "talk to," but actually to love this being through recognizing him/her/it as part of oneself. This is why Meg is able to kythe best with Charles Wallace and Calvin; this is also why Calvin, in a moment of inspiration, speaks of kything not as communication but as communion--an understanding which does not need words (170). L'Engle's kything thus resembles Wilber's idea of consciousness at the transpersonal, super-conscious level, which identifies and "love-communes" with the entire universe and all its life forms. Her many representations of extrasensory perception and paranormal phenomena--seeing the past or the future, moving within another mind, reading other people's thoughts, "streaming" consciousness through time and space, and so forth--are presented as latent in all humans and are also entirely within human transpersonal capacities as outlined in Wilber's and Grof's models.
Now, obviously, many of those concepts were not new in the sixties, and even those that were new do not make L'Engle any kind of science prophet. Her achievement, however, is that she was perhaps the first author to pack so many concepts in a children's series, and the first mythopoeic fantasist to expand the genre's perimeters to include so many modern scientific ideas. Inasmuch as each Time sequel is primarily a classic spiritual quest, the embedding of this quest in scientific ambience suggests that science and spirituality, if not forming a continuum, complete each other. In its envisioning of spirituality as a way of life and attitude akin to the spirit of genuine scientific inquiry, L'Engle's Quartet offers a narrative theology which must be taken seriously. Realizing that, Hettinga proposes to understand L'Engle's "my-novels-are-mytheology" statement as
not conveyed in the ordinary connotations of the word theological, but in its literal meaning of words about God. Though they are not systematic or rational in the manner of conventional theologies, the fantasies offer her a literary vehicle for apprehending the mysteries of God in the universe. Such an imaginative vision [...] sees angels and unicorns, the possibility of other worlds and the mysticism of theoretical physics as being as much a part of God's revelation as the birds of the air and the trees in the field. What she seeks to do in her fantasies is what in her view all mythic writers do--to affirm that the gods are not irrational, that there is structure and meaning in the universe, that God is responsible for his creation. (11-12)
This is a good answer but one that fails to take into consideration the implications of L'Engle's narrative theology about a very real, not just imaginative, complementarity of spirituality and science. In my opinion, L'Engle is too serious about her Christianity, too aware of the spiritual reality of human existence, and too reflective as a person and a writer to be dismissed as merely asserting that God is responsible for his creation. She does a lot more: she imaginatively explores, in a story form, a theology which would satisfy the modern reader's spiritual and intellectual aspirations and which may be a viable proposal for a twenty-first century in which the human future will be inextricably tied with the development of science and technology.
In L'Engle's narrative theology God is no longer an ontological Other--forever separated from humans by Nature (18)--but the reality and ground of all things which can be experienced in the dance of galaxies, the joy of flowering humanness, the patter of rain, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is an ineffable God "loving enough to create and care for all of creation--not just a few little Christians on one minor planet in one minor solar system in the backwashes of one ordinary galaxy" (Chase, Herself 77). Made in the image of God, human beings are no longer body-mind composites but greater wholes--sewn through with God and formed of energy and consciousness, "such stuff as dreams are made on" (Wrinkle 81)--whose destiny, in the spiritual-religious sense, is to discover this wholeness rather than be saved from whatever they accept to be human limitations. In this theology, life in all its forms is seen as continuous, joyous evolution toward greater fulfillment which progresses by unpredictable quantum jumps rather than foreseeable linear development; the universe is seen as a multidimensional, organic whole without any fixed center and composed of billions of galaxies rather than a three-dimensional, mechanical, and human-scaled artifact; and reality is seen as unified, not split into matter and spirit, but contiguous with consciousness itself. This blending of a comprehensive view of the continually evolving universe offered by modern science with spirituality understood as an intellectual, emotional, and moral orientation toward a so-conceived universe allows us to see L'Engle's narrative theology as perhaps the greatest source of the continuing appeal of her Time Quartet.
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Zohar, Danah, and Ian Marshall. Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence. New York: Bloomsbury, 2000.
--. SQ: Connecting with Our Spiritual Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury, 2001.
(1) As is clear by now, I will refer to the Time series as a quartet rather than a trilogy as most critics do. This is, perhaps, arbitrary, but I suppose that Many Waters (1986) has come to be seen as a separate work because of the eight-year lapse between that book and the preceding A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978). During that time critics got too accustomed to the idea of the Time trilogy to be willing to relinquish it when the fourth book appeared. Although both Donald R. Hettinga in his 1993 Presenting Madeleine L'Engle and Carole F. Chase in her 1995 Madeleine LEngle, Suncatcher continue to speak of the Time trilogy--excluding Many Waters from the sequence on the grounds that, as Hettinga puts it, "L'Engle's shift in narrative strategy makes it a very different kind of novel from those in the trilogy" (Presenting 112)--I feel that the fourth book, different as it is, belongs more with the series than with other novels by L'Engle. While it can obviously be read independently, it makes more sense to a reader familiar with the first three novels and is closely tied to them with its Murry family setting. It also rounds the series off by its choice of protagonists, Sandy and Dennys, who were skipped over in the previous books as too commonsensical to experience adventures that go beyond the mundane. With Many Waters, however, L'Engle asserts that rationality and lack of special gifts are no obstacles to a spiritual experience.
(2) Egoff called Wrinkle and Swiftly "science fiction fantasy" (Worlds 188), then qualified Swiftly as a "past-time fantasy" (191); Molson placed the first two books among ethical fantasies ("Ethical Fantasy for Children" 98), but seven years later described Wrinkle as "science fiction" ("Madeleine L'Engle" 572) and the remaining two as "juvenile fiction" (573); Sammons referred to all of them as "Christian fantasy" (2); Pflieger called them "high fantasies" (305); and L'Engle spoke of Wrinkle as "science-fantasy" (Chase, Herself 80). The apparent difficulty in compartmentalizing the series and its generic straddling of boundaries may also be one of the reasons why the Time Quartet is so unevenly represented in general reference books. While Pflieger's 1984 Reference Guide to Modern Fantasy for Children deals extensively with all three fantasies published to date, Lynn's 1995 Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography refers only to L'Engle's Acceptable Time and Many Waters, suggesting that the first three books "tend more toward science fiction than fantasy" (481).
(3) On the other hand, one can find in Manlove fragments in which he expresses "a stubborn wonder that great works of this type are no longer written, and unwillingness to believe that they can no longer be created" ( Christian 11).
(4) L'Engle is referred to as the most important contemporary mythopoeic fantasist in Waggoner's The Hills of Faraway (35), a book which may have begun the tradition of comparing L'Engle, in her Christian mythopoeic capacity, to Lewis and earlier Christian fantasists. Those parallels are explored in studies such as M. L. Carter's "The Cosmic Gospel: Lewis and LEngle," Francis J. Molson's "Ethical Fantasy for Children" (both 1982), Nancy-Lou Patterson's "Angel and Psychopomp in Madeleine L'Engle's 'Wind' Trilogy" (1983), Sheila Egoff's Worlds Within, Bruce Alan Wilson's "Madeleine L'Engle: Christian Storyteller" (both 1988), Kath Filmer's Scepticism and Hope in Twentieth Century Fantasy Literature (1992), Donald R. Hettinga's Presenting Madeleine LEngle (1993), and Carole F. Chase's Madeleine LEngle, Suncatcher: Spiritual Vision of a Storyteller (1995). Carter examines structural and thematic parallels between Lewis's space trilogy and the first three books of the Quartet, suggesting that L'Engle's fantasies convey the essentially mythic and religious message that "[o]ur life on Earth is shaped by a vast struggle between cosmic forces of Good and Evil" and that "small choices made by seemingly insignificant individuals can have incalculable consequences" (10). Patterson draws attention to the rich mythical background behind the first three novels, stating that all of them employ elements "drawn from the deep sources of Western and Eastern mythology" (201). Egoff notes that besides parallels to Lewis's work, "In their mystical sense, A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door have an affinity with Charles Williams's adult religious fantasies [...], in that L'Engle's fantastic element is used as a springboard to reveal a vision of the ordered dance of the universe in the praise of the Creator" (191). Also Wilson, Filmer, Hettinga, Chase, and, obviously, Hein place L'Engle together with MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, Williams, Lewis, Sayers and other authors in the long line of "modern expositors of the long tradition of Christian Humanism" (Wilson 29).
(5) See, for example, Filmer 115.
(6) While almost all critics acknowledge the eclectic and innovative dimension of the Time fantasies, few agree on what to make of it. Egoff avers, for example, that with the scientific dimension L'Engle "strengthened the realistic component [of fantasy] to an extent not known before [...] and changed the face of fantasy" (Worlds Within 213-14). Molson, on the other hand, comments that with its "futuristic mode of space travel" and speculations about "possible life elsewhere in the universe" Wrinkle is "a historically important book" as "the first juvenile SF novel not only admitted into the mainstream of children's literature but also honored in a significant way" ("Madeleine L'Engle" 572). The publishers were confused too: Wrinkle was rejected over 40 times in two years before L'Engle found Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who were willing to risk publication (Hettinga 21).
(7) Among those who touched upon this issue is Katherine Schneebaum who, in her 1990 "Finding a Happy Medium: The Design for Womanhood in A Wrinkle in Time," asserts that the book "presented a view of women which was ahead of its time" and that "L'Engle's portrayal of women was truly progressive for the era, foreshadowing the women's liberation movement, which would not explode with its full force until the latter years of that decade" (30).
(8) See Filmer 16-19.
(9) Although Hettinga calls L'Engle an "evangelical Christian" (16), he admits that "while some of her comments say 'no' to universalism, others say 'yes'" (17). In fact, he even defends L'Engle's universalist ideas by pointing out "L'Engle's emphasis on the loving nature of God" and her "unwillingness to limit God in any way" (18). Personally, I feel that L'Engle's idea of an inexhaustible God of the entire cosmos--a God, as she says, "loving enough to create and care for all of creation; not just a few little Christians on one minor planet in one minor solar system in the backwashes of one ordinary galaxy" (Chase, Herself77)--is inherently universalist and cannot be limited to a particular denomination, religion, or even species. Although L'Engle has denied being universalist--a negative label in her community--her fiction, her deep humanism, and her comments against denominational establishment clearly reveal her as such.
(10) See, for example, arguments such as those of Pat Pinsent in "Revisioning Religion and Spirituality: Contemporary Fantasy for Young Readers" or Melody and Richard Briggs in "Stepping into the Gap: Contemporary Children's Fantasy Literature as a Doorway to Spirituality." "I would contend that today," says Pinsent, "there is much children's literature written in English which, generally implicitly, has the aim of furthering the spirituality of its readers, whereas there are relatively few books designed explicitly to further religion as such, in contrast to the prevailing emphasis of the past" (49).
(11) For details see, for example, Boydston 770-800.
(12) "It doesn't bother me when people talk condescendingly about the Christian myth," she admits in Glimpses of Grace, "because it is in myth that sunside and nightside collaborate and give us our glimpses of truth [...]. If I speak of the Christian myth [...], I speak of myth as truth" (142-43).
(13) See, for example, Wintle's interview, Forbes's interview, L'Engle's "Childlike Wonder and the Truths of Science Fiction," "The Heroic in Literature and in Living," and her 1990 "Kerlan Award Lecture."
(14) See Forbes 19.
(15) See, for example, Forbes 19, Wind 87, Swiftly 107-10.
(16) See the Wintle interview. Five years before Lovelock came up with his theory, L'Engle sounds quite Gaian when she asserts the universe as alive and says, "I do have the feeling that the earth has its own sentiency, that it is a thinking creature and that paradoxically some of our 'natural' cataclysms are when it gets too irritated at what we are doing. That's a basic myth of the human being, and I believe in it" (260). Comparable fragments in Wind--such as Sporos's idea that "earthlings are important only because they are inhabited by farandolae" (139)--which reveal the limitedness of anthropocentrism and the absurdity of claims that the universe matters only because it is inhabited by humans, may even be taken as a position called today "deep ecology."
(17) See their 2000 SQ: Connecting with Our Spiritual Intelligence, which attempts to account for human yearning for truth, knowledge, and beauty by arguing for at least three types of "thinking systems and their neural organizations": IQ, EQ, and SQ (39). Besides the already recognized serial and associative thinking (50), Zohar and Marshall posit unitive thinking, "our meaning-giving, contextualizing and transformative intelligence" which they call spiritual intelligence and which is responsible for the sense of unity in our perception and our quest for meaning (59).
(18) "Separation is disaster," L'Engle says in Glimpses of Grace. "When we are separated from the stars, the sea, each other, we are in danger of being separated from God" (10). A little further she adds: "God [...] is, and we are part of that is-ness, part of that becoming. This is our calling: co-creation. Every single one of us, without exception, is called to co-create with God. No one is too unimportant to have a share in the making or unmaking of the final showing-forth. [...] [I]f we are to continue to grow in God's image, then we have to accept the responsibility. God's image! How much of God may be seen in me, may I see in others? Try as we may, we cannot hide it completely" (12-13). Then she adds, "When I look at the galaxies on a clear night--when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, then, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged--I rejoice that I am part of it, I, you, all of us--part of this glory" (16).
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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