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.]