A Girl Who Read Madeleine L’Engle When She Was Small

17 Sep

dark and stormy l'engle

I got an inkling that I might want to write this blog when I read this New Yorker profile of the late great Madeleine L’Engle, written by Cynthia Zarin.

The article keeps coming back to the point that L’Engle’s personal life influenced her writing and vice versa (and a little too much, in both cases). The friends and family that Zarin interviews make the claim that L’Engle had a hopeless habit of confusing truth and fiction – that her autobiographical work is full of misleading half-truths, but that her sci-fi YA books actually hit closer to home.

I’d never even stopped to consider that a book like A Wrinkle in Time, complete with a fifth dimension called a tesseract and a character named Mrs. Whatsit, would be based on real people and places (to be fair, I was probably in grade 2 and instead busy considering whether I could con my friend into sharing her fruit roll-up). In this instance, the fuzzy line between life and art was very hard on L’Engle’s family, but I can’t help but love the idea of the everyday making its way into the fantastic. It makes me wonder about the real-life stories and quirks behind my other favourite reads. Does Nick Hornby have to write his drafts in 14-point Comic Sans? Does Margaret Atwood ever use dictionary.com to find a cracker-jack synonym? What’s Goodnight Moon really about?

As a side note, Zarin writes that she remembers an old college friend saying:

“There are really two kinds of girls. Those who read Madeleine L’Engle when they were small, and those who didn’t.”

This little edict really appeals to my inner snob. And yeah, if someone also grew up reading A Ring of Endless Light and Camilla, we probably share a few other similarities. Although, the main one would probably be: nerdy liberal teacher parents who bought you stacks of books, told you that you were a very smart little girl, and eventually encouraged you to major in English Lit.


[artwork by Taeeun Yoo for the Wrinkle in Time quintet boxed set.]

10 Responses to “A Girl Who Read Madeleine L’Engle When She Was Small”

  1. Sonja September 19, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    =) I like the fact that I’m one of the girls who read Madeleine L’Engle when I was small. Hmm maybe it’s something to do with the nerdy liberal teacher parents.

  2. LisaG September 21, 2009 at 5:29 pm #

    I kinda remember that book…but for some reason I was really into “The Unicorn” when I was in grade two-three. Probably because it was about a unicorn : )

    • Lija September 22, 2009 at 12:26 am #

      Hah – you were all about unicorns back then! Pretty sure you had a few scholastic book fair unicorn posters.

  3. LisaG September 22, 2009 at 10:02 pm #

    Yeah…I had this framed picture of a unicorn foal and it’s mom…I saw the same picture used as a prop on Trailer Park Boys a couple years ago : )

    Hey, what is that a picture of, exactly? I can’t figure it out, and I don’t want to drive over to the school. Well, actually I do, but I probably should do some work : )

    • Lija September 27, 2009 at 11:34 pm #

      It’s a picture of a book called Language Exercises (Grade Three). Is the school always open?

      • LisaG September 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

        Yeah, it’s locked, as far as I know. At least not during the summer. They might lock it up in the winter.

        This year’s local graduates signed the chalkboard with big bubble letters. But they misspelled “GRAD” – spelled it “GARD.” I didn’t even notice until Jordan H pointed it out after half an hour. Not sure what that says about my editing skills!

  4. Fred H September 29, 2009 at 4:51 am #

    Hi Lija – Heard about the birth of this site from your dad who finally feels he’s a grandpa of something. Recognized the origin of “Language Exercises (Grade Three)” and the desk immediatly. Yes the school is open to public year round – Jordan takes all his friends there year round.

  5. Lu November 25, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    Saw your blog over at FarmLaneBooks in the comments and wanted to stop by and say hi! I was one of those girls who read and loved and had my life changed by Madeleine L’Engle and I’m always baffled by the girls who didn’t.

  6. Lija November 26, 2009 at 1:19 am #

    Hi Lu, thanks for commenting. As for people who haven’t read L’Engle yet, I say it’s never too late! (especially for a YA book – it only takes, what, an afternoon?)

  7. hyacinthsnbiscuits December 11, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    “There are really two kinds of girls. Those who read Madeleine L’Engle when they were small, and those who didn’t.” …love this quote. Reading the New Yorker profile now, and your blog came up in my search for it!

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