Madeleine L’Engle

I woke up this morning, a vivid image of L’Engle’s cherubim from A Wind in the Door in my mind.  Going straight to the “fiction” bookcase in the home office, I located the book, sifted through the pages, and found the scene that was playing through my half-dreaming, half-waking state:

“Progo!  Help me!  How can I feel love for Mr. Jenkins?”

Immediately he opened a large number of eyes very wide.  “What a strange idea.  Love isn’t feeling.  If it were, I wouldn’t be able to love.  Cherubim don’t have feelings.”

“But–”

“Idiot,” Proginoskes said, anxiously rather than crossly.  “Love isn’t how you feel.  It’s what you do.  I’ve never had a feeling in my life.  As a matter of fact, I matter only with earth people.”

“Progo, you matter to me.”

Proginoskes puffed enveloping pale blue clouds.  “That’s not what I meant.  I meant that cherubim only matter with earth people.  You call it materializing.”

“Then, if you become visibly only for us, why do you have to look so terrifying?”

“Because when we matter, this is how we come out.  When you got mattered, you didn’t choose to look the way you do, did you?”

“I certainly did not.  I’d have chosen quite differently.  I’d have chosen to be beautiful — oh, I see!  You mean you don’t have any more choice about looking like a drive of deformed dragons than I do about my hair and glasses and everything?  You aren’t doing it this way just for fun?”

Proginoskes held three of its wings demurely over a great many of its eyes.  “I am a cherubim, and when a cherubim takes on matter, this is how.”

Meg knelt in front of the great, frightening, and strangely beautiful creature.  “Progo, I’m not a wind or a flame of fire.  I’m a human being.  I feel.  I can’t think without feeling.  If you matter to me, then what you decide to do if I fail matters.”

“I fail to see why.”

She scrambled to her feet, batting at the last wisps of pale blue smoke which stung her eyes, and shouted, “Because if you decide to turn into a worm or whatever and join the Echthroi, I don’t care whether I Name right or not!  I just doesn’t matter to me!  And Charles Wallace would feel the same way — I know he would!”

Proginoskes probed gently and thoughtfully into her mind.  “I don’t understand your feelings.  I’m trying to, but I don’t.  It must be extremely unpleasant to have feelings.”

“Progo!  What will you do?”

Silence.  No flame.  No smoke.  All eyes closed.  Proginoskes folded the great wings completely.  His words were very small as they moved into her mind.  “X.  If you fail, I will X myself.”

He vanished.

(L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wind in the Door.  New York: Dell, 1962. 116-17.)

One of my graduate school education professors, who reviewed children’s books, didn’t care much for L’Engle because of her overt Christianity in many of her works.  To each one’s own.  But as a child of twelve, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tiliting Planet sustained me when certain things in my young life started to become more complicated than any pre-teen girl should go through.

It’s a testament to these works’ beauty and power that they are helping me in indescribable ways, even now.  In the periodic culling of books that keep the library in the home office manageable, L’Engle’s four little children’s novels — the three mentioned above and Many Waters — have survived the cull.  They have come along with me, from my childhood library to the home library today.  These are books dramatizing the pain and joy of faith, hope, and love — and I will read them to my own child.

L’Engle now have moved beyond writing children’s books, as this L’Engle Quote Repository can attest.  What’s resonating with me is this one quote:

On motherly love:
“I suppose it’s arrogance or selfishness or something to care so much about being loved that I could feel that no one loved me. It was only with Andrew in all the world that I knew I was loved, that I was worth loving. Not because of me, Charlotte, but because I was his mother. Not because I was a good mother but because simply, biologically, I was his. No matter what I was like, no matter how much I was lacking, I was still his mother, there was this basic, primary fact that was there and that nothing could ever change, not anything I did or didn’t do. So I believed that he loved me. And so I was–I was freed. With everybody else in the world I haven’t believed it, and so I haven’t been free.” She had never put this into words before; it hurt to hear it, but it was true; it was Charlotte. “And if anybody is for a moment gentle with me, then I am–I can’t explain, I dissolve, I’m completely undone”
(THE LOVE LETTERS, 160)

She’s an author I can grow old with. 

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