Religion, L’Engle, and “A Wrinkle in Time”

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg

Scholar Jean Fulton wrote, “L’Engle’s fiction for young readers is considered important partly because she was among the first to focus directly on the deep, delicate issues that young people must face, such as death, social conformity, and truth. L’Engle’s work always is uplifting because she is able to look at the surface values of life from a perspective of wholeness, both joy and pain, transcending each to uncover the absolute nature of human experience that they share.”

– “A Wrinkle in Time”. Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

Today’s blog topic looks at the religious symbolism and spiritual connection woven into A Wrinkle in Time and examines some of the reasons why L’Engle’s wrote about religion.

Personal Religious Beliefs

wrinkleMadeleine L’Engle’s fantasy works are in part highly expressive of her Christian viewpoint in a manner somewhat similar to writer C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, her characters  events, and settings depict or loosely reference Christian ideas or characters. In her personal life, Madeleine L’Engle was an Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation–a trait not shared by main stream Christianity. On the subject she wrote that “All will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones.1” Her beliefs, like Lewis, helped to shape the world of the book. Furthermore, her views on divine punishment were similar to those of George MacDonald (1824-1905, a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister, known particularly for his poignant fairy tales and fantasy novels.), who also had a large influence on her fictional work. L’Engle said, “I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love.2

L’Engle’s liberal views on Christianity has been the target of criticism from more conservative Christians, especially with respect to certain elements of A Wrinkle in Time. namely the view of universal salvation as represented in Charles’s story arch. As a result of her promotion of Christian universalism and other beliefs, many Christian bookstores refuse to carry her books, which were also frequently banned from Christian schools and libraries. On the other hand, some of her most secular critics attack her work for being too religious.

A Few Religious Themes in A Wrinkle in Time

The novel contains several references to Biblical verses (in addition to quotes from various famous philosophers, poets, and playwrights). The most well-known of these is a quote from 1st Corinthians from which the book’s final chapter derives its title. Mrs. Who advises Meg, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty….” —1 Corinthians 1:25–28

Another major Biblical reference is the hymn of praise sung by the centaur-like beings on the planet Uriel which translates to a very close paraphrase of lines from Isaiah and the Psalms, “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein”; similarly, the alien that Meg calls ‘Aunt Beast’ quotes a line (without attribution) from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans concerning being called and justified according to God’s purpose, another line from the same is earlier cited by Meg’s father.

The theme of representing the fight of good against evil as a battle of light and darkness is a recurring one. It is reminiscent of the prologue to the Gospel of John, which is also quoted once. When the “Mrs. Ws” reveal their secret roles in the cosmic fight against “the darkness” they ask the children to name some figures on Earth (a partially dark planet) who fight the darkness. They name Jesus, and later in the discussion Buddha is named as well, along with various creative artists and philanthropists. The three women are described as ancient star-beings who act as guardian angels.3

More themes and symbolism can be found in BYU’s upcoming production. Please check back for future posts and developments on the show.

 

Sources:

1John Wilson. “A Distorted Predestination”. Sept. 1, 2003

2Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. p. 171.

3Hettinga, p. 26

Who is Madeleine L’Engle?

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg

To start our journey with A Wrinkle in Time, I wanted to take a look at the author of the original novel.  Just who is Madeleine L’Engle?

About the Author

The Early Years:
Madeleine L’Engle was born in New York City on November 29, 1918, and named after her great-grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle. Her mother, a classically trained pianist, was also named Madeleine. Her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a writer, a critic, and a foreign correspondent during World War I. With the influence of her loving parents, L’Engle wrote her first story at age four and began keeping a journal at age eight. Her early literary attempts did not translate into academic success at the school where she was enrolled. Being a shy child, she was often branded as slow and mentally challenged by some of her teachers. Unable to please them, she retreated into her own world of books and writing.

Adulthood and Career:
MadeleineL’Engle attended Smith College from 1937 to 1941. After graduating cum laude, she moved to an apartment in New York City. In 1942, she met actor Hugh Franklin when she appeared in the play The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. L’Engle married Franklin on January 26, 1946, the year after the publication of her first novel, The Small Rain. The couple’s first daughter, Josephine, was born in 1947. The family moved to Goshen, Connecticut in 1952 where their son Bion was born that same year. Four years later, seven-year-old Maria, the daughter of family friends who had died, came to live with the Franklins, and they adopted her shortly thereafter.

madeleine_lengleIn 1959 the family returned to New York City so that Hugh could resume his acting career. The move was immediately preceded by a ten-week cross-country camping trip, during which L’Engle first had the idea for her most famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle completed the book by 1960, but more than two dozen publishers rejected the story before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally published it in 1962. After Wrinkle, L’Engle wrote dozens of books for children and adults throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. One of her books for adults, Two-Part Invention, was a memoir of her marriage, completed after her husband’s death from cancer on September 26, 1986. A few compilations of her older work, some of it previously unpublished, appeared after 2001.

In her final years, L’Engle became unable to travel or teach due to reduced mobility from a cerebral hemorrhage in 2002. L’Engle died of natural causes at Rose Haven, a nursing facility close to her home in Litchfield, Connecticut, on September 6, 2007, according to a statement by her publicist the following day. She is buried in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Awards, Honors, and Organizations
Associate Dame of Justice in the Venerable Order of Saint John (1972)
USM Medallion from The University of Southern Mississippi (1978)
Smith College Award “for service to community or college which exemplifies the purposes of liberal arts education” (1981)
Sophia Award for distinction in her field (1984)
Regina Medal (1985)
Guest speaker at the Library of Congress, giving a speech entitled “Dare to be Creative!” (1985)
President of the Authors Guild (1985 – 1987)
ALAN Award for outstanding contribution to adolescent literature, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (1986)
Kerlan Award (1990)

In her lifetime, she received over a dozen honorary degrees from as many colleges and universities, such as Haverford College. Many of these name her as a Doctor of Humane Letters, but she was also made a Doctor of Literature and a Doctor of Sacred Theology, the latter at Berkeley Divinity School in 1984. In 1995 she was writer-in-residence for Victoria Magazine. In 1997 she was recognized for Lifetime Achievement from the World Fantasy Awards. In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal but could not attend the ceremony due to poor health.