More L’Engle rereads: A Wind in the Door and Many Waters
Still like this one just fine, if not as passionately as the books either before or after it. I do like the whole business of how we all need deepening places, and can’t always be about motion and freedom alone, though those are important too. I suspect that if I noticed that message at all, I would have hated it when I first read the book; I do remember that when I reread it shortly after moving to Tucson, and for the first time finding a place that felt like home–a place I hesitated to leave, because it’s pull was as strong as the pull toward travel–it resonated pretty strongly.
My only real gripe is with the way the business of Charles Wallace starting school is handled. He’s getting beaten up regularly–to the point of bloody noses and black eyes–for being his weird smart self, and with the exception of Meg (who I got the impression was considered a little unreliable and impulsive for it), everyone’s attitude, from his parents to his teachers to Charles Wallace himself is that, well, he’d better learn to adapt, because things that don’t adapt die. And, well, while it may be true that we all do need to learn the skills to fake our way through the social world around us if we don’t fit readily and instinctively, and that Charles Wallace does have some work to do in that regard … if a six-year-old is being attacked daily to the point of physical injury, it seems that also making clear to the kids doing the attacking that this is unacceptable and they will be punished for it is, well, basic decency. And helps assure the bullied six-year-old stays physically and mentally whole long enough to learn those skills.
Mostly, I suspect our thinking about bullying and how to handle it has changed a lot since A Wind in the Door was written. The book did at least make clear that if Charles Wallace was to adapt, he had to do it in ways that let him remain his own unique self. But that, too, is more likely to be possible if one isn’t in regular physical danger.
And what are deepening places, after all, if not places where one can practice being one’s own true self without constant fear of being attacked for it?
I hadn’t read this since it came out. What I remember from my first read was initial excitement–look! a new Madeleine L’Engle book!–followed by disappointment when that book turned out to just not be very interesting to me, because L’Engle chose to write about Sandy and Dennys, the “ordinary” middle twins in a family where ultimately I did find Meg and Charles Wallace far more interesting. I did pore over the new charts of L’Engle’s Kairos and Chronos books with tremendous interest, though.
This time: well, this is the first L’Engle I think I’ve had major, angry, ongoing philosophical disagreements with, which was disconcerting, because her philosophy and view of the world is a deep part of what I love about her work.
It’s probably not too big a spoiler to say we’re back in Noah’s time, just before the flood. So to some extent, L’Engle is bound by her canon, which said that pretty much everyone had to be wicked somehow–a quick reread of Genesis only makes explicit that that wickedness concerns violence, but I believe its being about lust as well is a pretty common interpretation, especially given all the women sleeping with Nephilim–though I never read that to be a bad thing in itself, honestly.
Still, what we basically get is a story in which young unmarried women who enjoy sex and lust for their own sakes are wicked and prone to use both those things as means of manipulation; while young unmarried women who love chastely are good and right and get to hear the old music, the singing of the stars. And if they’re good enough, and obedient enough, maybe they’ll even get taken directly into heaven and be spared the whole business of living in a physical life in the physical world at all anymore.
I found the handling of Tiglah, the main bad girl in question, especially troubling, both because she was made into a sort of cardboard seductress, and because of the way the twins themselves think and speak about her for it, dismissing her as a “slut” and an “easy lay,” terms with which women are often so dismissed and shamed. Seeing such dismissal in a L’Engle book (and this is a world where even Zachary Gray gets repeated chances at redemption), was pretty jarring.
To be fair, at least the book doesn’t apply a double standard here: it extends the virtues of being chaste to the male twins, who love with the same purity as good girl Yalith, and who can even call unicorns because of it.
It’s not the idea of a chaste love story I’m objecting to, at all–I like chaste love stories, and it’s not as if I wanted to see 14-year-old Sandy and Dennys, in particular, engaging in anything else. But the simplistic condemnation of those who make different sorts of choices and take part in different sorts of stories infuriated me. I kept wanting to argue with it.
I’m thinking next I may need to go back to the source and reread A Wrinkle in Time, though Dragons on the Waters and A Ring of Endless Light are both on the table, too. Not ready to re-approach A House Like a Lotus yet, since there’s a strong chance I’ll want to argue with that one, too, but eventually I do plan to reread that one, too.