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“You have to write the book that wants to be written.
And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
~ Madeleine L’Engle
A Loving Memory of Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite author when I was a preteen, blowing my youthful mind about what was possible within the world of fiction. When I was eleven, it was reading her books that first made me want to write. While classic authors interest me, I would not say I was exposed to them in a way – or at an age – that actually influenced me. No, for me, it was always L’Engle who did that. This is the story of how she inspired me and what that inspiration has done for me:
When I was around ten years old, I went into my school library looking for something new to read. I had learned to read at age four and I was already an avid bookworm. I read just about anything I could get my hands on. Until age ten, everything I read were either books from home – we had plenty – or a book for school. I had only recently started seeking pleasure-reading from the school library. I cannot recall what I had just finished reading and was returning to the library the day I discovered Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. But I remember the moment of my discovery and the excitement I felt when my browsing finger touched their spines on the library bookshelf. I remember how the tiny dust motes swirled in the air all around me as sunshine flooded the silent library room. The peace of the afternoon was the perfect backdrop for seeking out an imaginative book to read. I remember the smell of the warmed paper wafting from the books around me.
I always read the book blurbs to see if I would like the book before reading it, and what I read for this series got me excited. I remember how my young heart trembled. I was thrilled by the concepts, which seemed new, unique, and distinctly magical. I could not wait to begin reading them: after checking them out, I turned to the first page – right there on a bench just outside the library. I was eager. I was excited; in only the way the potential of a good book can excite. Adventures awaited to be discovered!
When I read the books, I was not disappointed. They quickly became favorites. I adored them. I was raised Christian, and L’Engle managed to somehow mix Christian concepts and morality with science fiction and fantasy. It was an intriguing mix – an uncommon mix. Those books made me dream. Their inherent message to the young reader encouraging a sense that the impossible was possible. The young exploratory mind is the most open to influence, and L’Engle’s books
Something in the way L’Engle wrote made it seem like it was easy to write. Her writing flowed naturally, was full of imagination, and something inside me sparked in response. A tiny seed was planted in my psyche – a glimmer of an idea that I might be able to do something. If I thought of it, surely I could do it, right? That sense of anything being possible told me I could.helped to shape at least a facet of the direction my still-developing identity took. L’Engle’s books awakened a drive within me to do something new.
Without that sense of possibility, I may never have tried my hand at writing – the idea had never struck me before then. Of course, the idea did not strike immediately – I think I was in the midst of rereading the Time Quintet, late in my eleventh year, when that seed was dropped into the fertile soil of my mind, and began to grow. I went on to read a couple of her books that came after the Time Quintet. It was while I was reading them that the idea fully blossomed in my mind that I could try to write.
I was twelve when I began writing poetry. I began with poetry because I did not trust myself with short stories yet. Poetry seemed like a good place to start trying to form the essences of things in a few words, so that is what I did. I actually began it, and it was L’Engle’s magical way of writing that I was thinking of in my heart, the whole while. Of course, I could not emulate what she did – my poems were very shaky, weak, and fumbling, and I had to write about ideas that inspired me. Even early on, when imitation is usually the initial form of learning how to do a thing, I did not have a desire to copy her ideas – that felt inherently wrong. I wrote about animals, scenes, and dreams, and I did try to encapsulate some kind of story in the poem. To me, even a scene was a kind of story. Just as L’Engle’s writing was aimed at an audience of children, even today my most inspired kind of writing is aimed toward the youthful mind – I love writing children’s stories and preteen and teenage fantasy fiction.
I think that even today, the nature of the seed she planted in my mind toward imaginative and youthful writing still exists. There is some nuance of paying back or paying it forward involved there, for me. L’Engle offered me an escape from the traumas of my life in dreaming while reading, and now, I have a distinct drive to try to offer that for others who might be like I was: troubled, traumatized, finding my only escape in reading fantasy fiction. If I can help them in no other way, let me help them in that one. May I succeed in that goal, one day; while I never had an urge to copy her ideas, I have always had an ideal to imitate the effect of escape into fantasy that she imparted on me as a reader.
Those first poems I wrote, in that twelfth year of my life, led to all of the other writing I have ever done. In a very real way, I owe the dreams I am still nurturing and fighting for today to that sparked idea that L’Engle’s stories gave me when I was still only a child. L’Engle made me dream; she made me think I could try to do something like she did – something I suspected was impossible, but that, clutching her concept of the impossible being possible as tightly as I could, I attempted. She gave me the courage to try, and it entirely altered my path and my future dreams and endeavors. I feel that I owe her a lot, and I wish that I could thank her for the seed she planted within me – the dream to write, entwined with the dream to do for others what she did for me.
Afternote: I was very thrilled that the first book of the Time Quintet, A Wrinkle in Time, was made into a movie this year. I don’t care what political arguments surround that film, I’m happy it is being brought into the modern age to be experienced by children today, two generations after my own generation. It honors L’Engle, and it honors her imaginative stories. and those are things I support with all my heart.
© Lorraine Hall 2018