September 7, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle 1918-2007

"Georgie, porgie, pudding and pie," she yelled. "Kissed the girls and made them cry."

That was no good. It was too easy for nursery rhymes to fall into the rhythm of IT.

She didn't know the Gettysburg Address. How did the Declaration of Independence begin? She had memorized t only that winter, not because she was required to at school, but simply because she liked it.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident!" she shouted, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

As she cried out the words she felt a mind moving in her own, felt IT seizing, squeezing her brain. Then she realized that Charles Wallace was speaking, or being spoken through by IT.

"But that's exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike."

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. "No!" she cried triumphantly. "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!"

"Good girl, Meg!" her father shouted at her.

But Charles Wallace continued as though there had been no interruption. "In Camazotz all are equal. In Camazotz everybody is the same as everybody else," but he gave her no argument, provided no answer, and she held on to her moment of revelation.

Like and equal are two entirely different things.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of the very first books I remember that mattered to me. The scene quoted above, I discovered from Googling, is one of its most famous. But I didn't know that until now. I only know that I've never forgotten it.

I shook hands with Madeleine L'Engle once, at a book fair in New York a decade ago. I had that strange feeling of knowing that there was nothing I could say that could express what I felt about her work -- and also nothing that she hadn't heard many times before.

Apparently, L'Engle said last year that she had only read one Harry Potter book: "It's a nice story but there's nothing underneath it. I don't want to be bothered with stuff where there's nothing underneath." If anyone earned the right to say that, it was her. I wonder what she made of Philip Pullman.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I loved that book. Unfortunately, my life experiences since reading it many years ago have been such that I can no longer look at the above passage without reading "IT" as "Information Technology."

Oh man, I loved those books! Would be interesting to re-read to see if still have the impact as an adult...

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