Tuesday Author Discussion: Madeline L’Engle

When I was very young, Madeline L’Engle tricked me into liking science fiction.

This is partly because I had no idea what a tesseract was (and when my dad tried to draw one for me, I just got really confused). I knew on some purely hypothetical level that mitochondria were real, and that farandolae weren’t, but the distinction between speculative science and magical creature wasn’t at all clear to me. In my mind, farandolae weren’t real in the exact same way that dragons weren’t, and honestly, I wasn’t even a hundred percent on the mitochondria. Basically, she tricked me into thinking I was reading fantasy.

I believed that science fiction was Isaac Asimov and Dune and sometimes William Gibson or Philip K. Dick, but only when I wasn’t enjoying them. I believed that it was cold and didactic and highly technical. In this regard, Madeline L’Engle didn’t fit with my preconceived notion at all, because there’s such a complex emotional relationship between her characters and the scientific phenomena they interact with. The science is inseparable from the people. The constant striving is for the fate of the universe, and for the planet, and the individual, because everything is interconnected, everything is circular and intertwined and tesseract-shaped.

Of all the Murray/O’Keefe books, A Wind in the Door is my particular favorite. I’ve always thought that the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm is glorious and fascinating. Antimatter, stars and cells dying in tandem, the rending of galaxies by the flapping, shrieking doppelgängers of elementary school principals—as I’m writing this now, I realize I’m talking about all the things that indisputably define the work as science fiction, but when I was eight, I had no formal context. I truly believed that it was just fantasy with better dragons.

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Author Discussion: Madeline L’Engle

  1. A Wind in the Door is my favorite too, for reasons I will elucidate in my own post.

    So, you were already reading fantasy when you found L’Engle, and she bridged you into sci-fi. Sort of. That’s so interesting, because my experience was almost the exact opposite. I started out a sci-fi reader and L’Engle was one of many to help me realize that those space operas and distopian fictions I loved could be the exact same thing as the fairy tales I adored.

  2. Brenna — you wrote my post! Seriously, this is what I love about L’Engle too. You wrote it beautifully.

  3. So, you were already reading fantasy when you found L’Engle, and she bridged you into sci-fi.

    Well, at least to the extent that my dad hadn’t been able to, because–credit where credit is due–he tried. He’d find stories with elements that he knew would appeal to me, like sandworms and poison and witches, and it all sounded super-cool, but I still wound up not liking Dune. (However, I really, really liked the movie for some reason. Don’t ask me why–I was five. There’s just no explaining it.)

    Or, he’d describe characters like Molly Millions, and I’d get very excited about the idea of high-tech shanty-towns, or the idea that being a razor girl was actually a job, and then I wouldn’t be able to get into the story, even though I wanted to.

    I think Madeline L’Engle was just the first time it seemed really accessible, and even though I like Gibson a lot more now that I’m not, you know, in the third grade, I still don’t really like Herbert. I have my favorites, but I don’t read sci-fi for fun. L’Engle’s just . . . different. I still don’t really think of her work as science fiction, even though I know it is.

  4. L’Engle was my first fantasy and Sci-fi. I read it in 6th grade, right along with Flowers in the Attic. That was the year I really started *reading*. I was so excited about the trilogy, even though my best friend at the time rolled her eyes and told me her mom read it to her YEARS ago. Gees, cut the ESL kid a break. It was wonderful, though. My favorite stuff had to do with the older boy and kything, of course. And yes, I did try to kythe with some boys after that 😉

  5. Gees, cut the ESL kid a break

    Seriously! Hey, you got to it, at least. And Calvin was so dreamy! Which is weird, because thinking back, I recall that he was actually just skinny and white and red-headed and freckly. But he was such a good guy. Which is a rare and attractive quality in an adolescent boy.

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