Study Guide

Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle Essay - L'Engle, Madeleine

L'Engle, Madeleine

Introduction

Madeleine L'Engle 1918–

American novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist. L'Engle's works are characterized by their spirit, optimism, and subtle religious undertones. Her novels for young adults couple traditional action and adventure with modern philosophical and scientific problems and discoveries. A central concern is the importance of a secure and caring family life; this theme is fundamental to A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle's best known novel. Nurtured in a loving atmosphere, the Murry children find inner strength as they conquer the paralyzing forces of evil and mass conformity in order to save their father. It is in part the thematic universality of A Wrinkle in Time that brought it the distinction of several awards, including the 1963 Newbery Medal. It is also the first science fiction novel for young people to be considered a part of the mainstream of children's literature, and it spawned several sequels. The solidarity of the Murrys was anticipated by L'Engle's popular books about the Austin family. Although more conventional and less intricate than her other series, Meet the Austins and its sequels presented a close-knit family who solved their problems together. L'Engle was criticized for creating a too-perfect family with the Austins, for cluttering her other novels with an overabundance of character and incident, and for overemphasizing her themes. She does not consider herself a didactic writer, and claims to be only a storyteller. Although her abilities as such are unquestionable, her books give her readers deep thought provocation, which attests to her statement that she writes for young people when the subject is "too difficult for grownups." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)

Mary Ross

[The charm of "The Small Rain"] is its naturalness as a record of childhood and youth….

Miss L'Engle tells the story straightforwardly, without sentimentality, but with quick insight into the keen and contradictory emotions of the years when a girl is struggling to find out what she is and what she wants. In this her picture of the girls at boarding school is notable….

"The Small Rain" is in no way the too common story of unhappy and misunderstood childhood which many novelists seem impelled to write. Miss L'Engle gives you Katherine and her family and friends with an objectivity that makes you respect and like them as individuals. The setting and the events of the story are in themselves interesting. Its distinction, however, arises from the clarity and naturalness with which it recaptures the protean course of youth, reminding you that what has happened by age twenty is neither simple nor important. (p. 2)

Mary Ross, in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), March 11, 1945.

Nina Brown Baker

Katherine [of "The Small Rain"], despite her quite special environment, seems typical rather than unique. Her heartaches and raptures, her yearning for "someone you can really talk to," her high resolves and black despairs, are nothing but the old achingly familiar process of growing up. And yet, the young (and those who have not forgotten how it feels to be young) should find this a moving story…. "The Small Rain" gives evidence of a fresh new talent.

Nina Brown Baker, "Storm-Tossed Adolescence," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1945 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 11, 1945, p. 8.

Edward Weeks

Madeleine L'Engle is a newcomer and I mention her first novel, The Small Rain, because in it she succeeds in creating the character of a young artist, one of the most difficult assignments in the whole range of writing. This is the young and refreshing story of a musician growing surely with self-dedication in the midst of Bohemian New York, a realm which can so easily be cheapened, sentimentalized, or exaggerated. Her novel is written with good taste and clear understanding, and while she has much to learn in the pointing up of conversation and in the natural cutback of introspection, the undeniable vitality of her writing is good to discover. (p. 125)

Edward Weeks, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1945 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), June, 1945.

Eunice Holsaert

Miss L'Engle's second novel ["Ilsa"] does not warrant the enthusiasm with which her first offering, "The Small Rain," was received. The novel is told in the first person by Ilsa's perennial admirer, a sapless youth of the old South, whose sensitivity and humility do little to relieve the tedium of his perpetual, unspoken devotion….

[L'Engle's characters] would probably not survive on a soap opera.

Eunice Holsaert, "Hollow Lives," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1946 by The New York Times Company: reprinted by permission), April 28, 1946, p. 14.

Ellen Lewis Buell

There are poignant overtones in ["And Both Were Young"], for the time is today, and the shadows cast by the war give depth and veracity to Philippa's enlarging perspective. The ending seems a little anticlimactic, following as it does a dramatic and significant episode. But teen-aged girls will find this a satisfying story, sensitive, understanding and stimulating.

Ellen Lewis Buell, "Boarding School Days," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1949 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 22, 1949, p. 28.

Rose Feld

When does a child cease to be a child and stand in the isolation of an individual? When do parents cease being parents and become unknown human beings? These are the questions, fraught with deeply rooted emotional complications, that Madeleine L'Engle explores in her new novel, "Camilla Dickinson."

Camilla, herself, fifteen years old, is the narrator of the story. It is through her eyes, her feelings, her fears and her bewilderment that the sensitive, fragile texture of a girl's coming of age takes form and pattern….

Perceptively, with a tender understanding of the vulnerability of a growing girl lost in the confusion of intuitive but formless knowledge, Miss L'Engle portrays the...

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Trudie Osborne

Like many a gossip who, in talking about others, chiefly reveals herself, this novel about adolescence ["Camilla Dickinson"] throws its strongest light on adulthood—a state which, if this book is correct, can only be described as a mess. (p. 14)

Most of the cast bespeaks hopelessness and futility and generally leaves a bad taste in the mouth. All the characters intrigue, but not all are clearly realized. In two cases the author has resorted to annoying tricks of speech to supplant inadequate characterization. They are Camilla's mother, who never ends a sentence, and David, a young veteran, who never properly begins one.

Camilla herself passes the fictional test of growth. In the...

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Harrison Smith

A month ago J. D. Salinger told the story of what happened to a sixteen-year-old boy in the three days' interval between his dismissal from a private school and his return to his parents' home in New York's Park Avenue, ill and in a state of mental and physical shock. "Catcher in the Rye" is rapidly climbing toward the top of the best seller lists, and now it seems likely that Madeleine L'Engle's latest novel, which is concerned with two weeks in the life of a fifteen-year-old Park Avenue girl, may follow in its steps. There is a remarkable similarity in these two diverse books. Both are told in the first person, and both are concerned with the problems of a sensitive adolescent faced suddenly with the necessity of...

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Ruth Hill Viguers

Anyone who has traveled with four children, or even less, over thousands of miles, camping nearly every night in a different spot, knows how much can happen. "Adventures" become almost commonplace. Perhaps no one family could have had all the variety of experiences that the Austins had on their journey [in The Moon by Night], but not one of the events is impossible or even unbelievable. From time to time I found myself thinking, "Oh, why didn't they stop there long enough to see …" and then remembered I was reading a story. If a veteran reviewer could be so convinced of the reality of a book, it will surely be alive for young readers.

Vicky matures to the point of feeling life is...

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Alice Dalgliesh

[The Moon by Night] is another, and independent, book about Vicky and her family, who first appeared in Meet the Austins. [The Austins are] as real a family as you find in a book….

Vicky, the narrator, meets a boy who interests her because he is so different—but he is disturbing to her family. His effect on Vicky's slightly uncertain but really firm faith in God—and in life—makes a good story, one that may, in so far as it is possible, give reassurance to girls who need it. But occasionally they may wish that Vicky and Zachary did not take themselves quite so seriously. (p. 77)

Alice Dalgliesh, in The Saturday Review (Entire issue...

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Ruth Hill Viguers

I have often wished it were not necessary to review a book immediately upon publication. Children's reactions and acceptances are always important and there should be time to be aware of them. The critic's own perspective on a book is often clearer months after it is read. I felt that way about Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I reviewed it favorably upon publication. Months later the book's extraordinary power began to show itself in the way incidents kept coming to mind, in the hold it had taken on my imagination.

I cannot forget the personalities of the children: precocious little Charles Wallace; Meg, whose faults alone—anger, impatience, stubbornness—could save her; the three...

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Carolyn M. Light

Following the theme which characterizes her last two books, that of young protagonists who make travel and an interest in science the roads of maturity, Madeleine L'Engle has created a … novel [The Arm of the Starfish] demanding a place on all young adult bookshelves….

[It presents] that type of smooth running plot which immerses one to its end in story alone, and only then delivers in brilliant flashes a shower of meaning and application. Some handlings of situation are overdrawn, being perhaps too intense pockets of the author's perceptive sensitivity. Usually the tone is even and natural, suspense building up through the clash of events upon the perplexed and wary minds of both boy and...

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Alice Dalgliesh

The qualities that made A Wrinkle in Time popular are all [in The Arm of the Starfish], though the plot and characters are kept under better control. At first the story seems a cloak-and-dagger affair: it teeters on the edge of melodrama, becomes mystical in tone, and, if you read the note in the front matter, appears also to be science fiction. There is a "message," which is more skilfully presented than that of the former book. The characters are alive and possible—including the Jesus-like Joshua, who proclaims his non-belief in a personal God, yet cares about humanity even to the fall of a sparrow. (p. 45)

Alice Dalgliesh, in Saturday Review (© 1965 by...

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Carolyn Horovitz

A most popular and original book is A Wrinkle in Time. The book sparkles with the author's vitality and imagination and proceeds at a fast pace with recognizable character types. Her contributions are ingenious but not deep. The climactic scene in which Meg stands crying before Charles Wallace bothers me for two reasons. First of all, I find it hard to understand why she could not have done this before; secondly, if Mrs. Whatsit could tesser her and Charles Wallace away from IT, why couldn't she have been with them before and saved them from their father's inept tessering? Here, it seems to me, the ground rules of the plot have been violated. In the previous visit to IT, the children had to go alone; now Mrs....

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Elaine Moss

Madeleine L'Engle's Meet the Austins … deserves notice because it takes one small step towards filling the yawning spiritual gap in novels for the young. As unfashionable as covered knees, it explores, from the secure anchorage of a happy American family, the meaning of life and death. (p. 702)

Elaine Moss, in The Spectator (© 1966 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), June 3, 1966.

[Meet the Austins] might perhaps be sub-titled "The Family That Never Was." Nevertheless, there is a refreshingly wholesome feeling about this New England doctor's family who weather a report of...

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Jean C. Thomson

[The bizarre story of The Young Unicorns] turns on a power-mad brain surgeon's discovery of the stunning potential in a micro-laser to control men's minds. What's most fun here is the author's outrageous imagination coupled with her ability to characterize so many people adequately; the sheer number, however, will occasionally leave readers bewildered. Dave, a troubled youth, begins and ends the book, but in between the action sways away from him, and nearly all the characters receive equal time. Surprisingly, the supernumeraries and suspense-gorged plot are so integrated as to add up to a carnival show for young readers in a giddy, mind-stretching book. (pp. 149-50)

Jean...

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Paul Heins

[The Journey with Jonah, a dramatization of the story found in the Old Testament Book of Jonah,] amplifies the humor of the original and retains its basic meaning. Jonah, the somewhat pompous prophet, may be at odds with God and man, but he is not left alone. On every step of his way he is confronted by animal creation. His motives are probed by a pedantic Owl, a silly Goose, and a pert Jay—among others; the Rat family witness his ejection from the ship; and he engages in a conversation with the Whale. Through the prose and the verse, the rhymes and the puns, is witnessed the animal world's revelation of the incomprehensibility of God's mercy, which Jonah finally acknowledges. (p. 184)

...

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GERALDINE E. LaROCQUE

The Journey with Jonah abounds with delightful puns and saucy animals that reflect their common characteristics such as the wise old owl and the foolish goose. I am inclined to say that everyone will love The Journey with Jonah because I am so taken with it and because I find it impossible not to pile orchid after orchid upon Newbery Prize winner L'Engle; but experience impels me to moderate that "everyone" in spite of myself.

So compelling is the play that students reading it may want to read the story of Jonah in the Bible. Because the subject matter is open to treatment in depth or to understanding on a literal level, I believe the play can be read anywhere from Grades 7 to...

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GERALDINE E. LaROCQUE

A very unusual novel, both frighteningly realistic and highly imaginative, The Young Unicorns … maintains Madeleine L'Engle's reputation as one of the finest of the present day authors writing for young people. (p. 296)

Because the manner of the telling and the sense of confusion and mystery created by the unknowns are integral to the enjoyment of the book, recounting the plot here would be a real disservice; but it is important to say that the book deals with profound questions of philosophy and psychology. A special novel, which can be read by some junior high school boys and girls but which, because of the intricacies of plot and philosophy, might be recommended more successfully to older...

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John Conner

Young readers who remember Madeleine L'Engle for her exciting A Wrinkle in Time may enjoy "The Sea Monster," "Summer City," "The Monkey," "The Dragon," "Song of Simeon," and "The Parrot" in [Lines Scribbled on an Envelope]. These poems present a segment of life in a quasi-humorous way sustained by a youthful point of view. They also represent Madeleine L'Engle's marvelous gift for combining dissimilar elements from opposing historical periods.

But most of the poems in this collection will appeal to older adolescent and adult readers because the poet views her subject matter in retrospect. She is a concrete adult wondering about present day values in terms of birth, death, passion, and...

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John W. Conner

A generation of adolescent readers has been charmed by the many writing moods of Madeleine L'Engle; perhaps the sense of togetherness in Meet the Austins, the mystery and suspense of A Wrinkle in Time, or the romantic adventure of And Both Were Young. Miss L'Engle's new novel, The Other Side of the Sun, is an adult one, but older adolescent L'Engle fans will welcome a new facet of this fine author's talent.

Madeleine L'Engle has a very special way with words. She shapes sentences so that the syntax suggests movement and feeling beyond the descriptive power of the words themselves. Never has this been more apparent than in The Other Side of the Sun. (p. 1154)

...

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Polly Longsworth

Anyone who has read many of Madeleine L'Engle's excellent novels for young people must hanker to know something about her, to find out why beautiful mothers and radiantly warm family life recur in her books, and why her female characters achieve fuller dimension than her male, and how she dares champion the forces of good in these dark times.

The chance to know her comes on like a Newfoundland puppy in "A Circle of Quiet," a long, loosely-structured, personal statement of her convictions, experiences, ponderings, self-analyses and philosophizings in which the reader discovers her discovering herself.

At age 51 Madeleine L'Engle is experiencing what [Carl] Jung called...

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John W. Conner

Madeleine L'Engle is an avid spectator of life. Her word portraits of personalities she includes in A Circle of Quiet reveal a respectable ability to get into the character of another, feeling about until she hits a responsive nerve. (p. 767)

Snatches of A Circle of Quiet keep reoccurring in my memory as I go about the business of daily living. For example, chapters sprinkled throughout the book contain excellent advice for fledgling writers. I find myself explaining how the author uses her journals, or the importance of showing a reader rather than reporting to a reader when writing fiction, or the reality in characterization which comes only from allowing an imaginary...

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MAY HILL ARBUTHNOT and ZENA SUTHERLAND

[Meet the Austins is one of the first family-centered books] since Little Women to handle the death of a loved one so well (p. 462)

The children's ups and downs, a serious brother-sister conflict, some funny and some grave situations—all develop against a background of family love. This is a fine family story, as unusual and provocative throughout the whole book as is its first chapter. (p. 463)

May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland, in their Children and Books (copyright © 1947, 1957, 1964, 1972, by Scott, Foresman and Company, reprinted by permission), fourth edition, Scott Foresman, 1972.

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John Rowe Townsend

The most ambitious of American SF stories for young people is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time…. Heroine Meg Murry, who wears spectacles and has braces on her teeth, sets off with precocious small brother Charles and friend Calvin O'Keefe to rescue her scientist father from the grip of IT; a great brain that controls the lives of the zombie population of a planet called Camazotz. The power of love and the help of three witches who appear also to be angels enable Meg to triumph over evil (evil being the extermination of individuality). There is a luminous confusion about A Wrinkle in Time; it seems to be trying to do too many things at once. But it is an attractive book, splendidly unafraid of...

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Robert Bell

Adult admirers of Miss L'Engle will appreciate [A Wind in the Door], her most virtuoso performance in fantasy to date, but I have a lingering doubt if any but the more virtuoso young readers will be able to escape a good deal of bewilderment. The plot is enormously exciting, though I have the same kind of reservations about the solution as some reviewers had about that in Alan Garner's The Owl Service. The book will not be for every child; a good many will find it puzzling, but for the discerning readers who are able to appreciate the symbolism it will make a lasting impression. (pp. 247-48)

Robert Bell, in The School Librarian, September, 1975....

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Wayne Dodd

[Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door] attempts to get to the spiritual by way of fantasy/science fiction. But she also takes other routes as well: namely both the "dragon" road and that familiar street that runs through the unnoticed gap in the everyday and into the beyond. The result is that, in terms of wonder, we get nowhere. Mrs. L'Engle really can't make up her mind whether she wants the reader to be involved in the realistic dimension of her story (which is rendered with superfluous and unselective detail) or to be caught up in the discovery of the "other" in our lives. The idea for this story is a promising one: the discovery (by the children) of the presence, in the strange illness of one little boy,...

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Barbara Elleman

[In Dragons in the Waters] L'Engle writes a taut, intricately layered novel, charged with suspenseful twists and faceted into a thoughtful yet climactic conclusion. As in her other books, the power of love and cohesive force of caring are underlying themes, and the perceptively drawn characters, some of whom appeared in The Arm of the Starfish, are realistic in their conception, credible in their actions, and extremely human. (p. 1266)

Barbara Elleman, in The Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1976 by The American Library Association), May 1, 1976.

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Cynthia Benjamin

There is enough adventure in "Dragons in the Waters" to make Nancy Drew and her chums squirm: a shipboard murder that could have been committed by any one of the passengers or crew; a kidnapping: an attack by a wild boar; a young boy lost in the Venezuelan jungle…. And much more….

The plot of "Dragons in the Waters" is complex and might be confusing to less able readers. The narrative is an intriguing mixture of contemporary allusions and gothic mystery. But does it work? Will readers find Simon's decision to remain in the primitive Quiztano village believable? It is a credit to the author's skill at characterization that they will. (p. 22)

Cynthia...

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Craig Wallace Barrow

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is a splendid fantasy; … it seldom violates reality. The Murry family relationships, Calvin's relationship to his parents, and Meg's relation to school authorities and the community, as well as the character portraits, are probable and realistic. Envy of the Murrys, gossip about the supposedly runaway father-husband, malice, selfishness, and even Charles Wallace's arrogance, are unflinchingly presented. Tesseracting, a seemingly instantaneous movement in time and/or place, is given a metamorphic fifth-dimension explanation. The witches who were formerly stars dying in the struggle against the evil shadow fight a symbolic battle steeped in classical and Gospel-of-John...

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Rebecca J. Lukens

A Wrinkle in Time [is] a fantasy which uses many of the devices of science fiction, but which does not rely on its machinery to produce story. Space and time fantasy can have fully developed character, and yet retain the ingenuity we find in science fiction. Even though the characters of A Wrinkle in Time have special mental powers, they do not lose their humanness. Father, the brilliant scientist, through sheer human weariness has lost his fight with IT, the huge, disembodied brain. Meg struggles to hold back Charles Wallace, who—arrogantly believing in the superiority of mind—is drawn into IT's control. Meg's human stubbornness helps her rescue her father, but in the process she leaves Charles...

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Jean F. Mercier

The cast from the Newbery-award novel, "A Wrinkle in Time" and "A Wind in the Door" returns [in "A Swiftly Tilting Planet"] with the Murry children now grown…. Shivery and elegant twists of plot ensue as Meg and Charles Wallace employ time travel, telepathy, a Welsh rune and other means to prevent annihilation of the universe by a mad dictator. L'Engle's gifts are at their most impressive here. Her ability to draw attention to familiar details of settings and characters is such that she slips searingly abstract scientific and moral principles into the reader's consciousness, smoothly but surely. (p. 65)

Jean F. Mercier, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 3,...

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Karen M. Klockner

[In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the] author picks up themes from earlier books—time as a relative phenomenon, the interdependency of people and events, the importance of the individual—and presents them in an unusual framework. She considers the possibility of one person's altering the course of history by traveling back in time and entering the consciousness of other individuals: "What happens in one time can make a difference in what happens in another time, far more than we realize…. Nothing, no one, is too small to matter."… On one level the book takes place in the course of an evening; on another it spans centuries. Unfortunately, the different episodes are not well integrated, and the author's...

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