I still remember the first time I was exposed to A Wrinkle in Time. I was about 7 years old and my mom told me she had this book she wanted to start reading to me. She read me the first chapter on a dark and stormy night in the winter; we were huddled up on the couch under a blanket and had a fire going in the woodstove. I remember thinking how appropriate the first line, and first chapter, of the book were for the weather we were experiencing at the time.
I don’t remember whether my mom read the entire book to me aloud that first time, or whether it was just the first chapter after which I took the book and devoured it on my own. But it was the first sign that I’d love science fiction and fantasy; the first hint that I’d go on to read all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books I could find by the time I was 10. I don’t think there’s any way to describe the amount of influence L’Engle’s books had on me, on my way of thinking, on my ideas about science and space and religion and spirituality and relationships and the world. Let’s just say “a lot” and leave it at that. Over the years I’ve owned and worn out at least two copies of AWIT and its sequels; I’ve probably read those three books a good 30 times each, not to mention its later sequel about the twins, all the Austin books, and the various books about Polly O’Keefe (daughter of Meg and Calvin). Despite its dated-ness, one of my favorite books about young love and romance remains And Both Were Young, and a few times a year I pull out one or another of her books and re-read. It’s like visiting an old friend.
Today her publisher announced that Madeleine L’Engle died at age 88, of natural causes, at home. When I saw the ticker announcement on Yahoo my eyes welled up with tears. So much of my later childhood and adolescence was shaped by the reading of her books: my relationship with my cousin (being four years older, there weren’t a lot of things we had in common when we were kids, but we both loved Madeleine L’Engle), my understanding of science and math, my interest in marine biology and in a variety of other scientific topics. I have strong temporal memories associated with certain of the books, depending on important things that were going on in my life as I read or re-read a particular book.
For some reason, I never did read any of her books for adults, and as I’ve gotten older and re-read the same books from a more adult perspective, I realize that L’Engle had her faults and prejudices just like anyone else. But there is something pure and beautiful about the stories L’Engle chose to tell, and her characters still feel like well-known friends every time I re-read one of her books. RIP, Madeleine L’Engle, and thank you for your stories.