Posted by: turtlebella | 8 September 2007

Madeleine L’Engle

In the late ’80s I was in my favorite bookstore (well, okay, it was the only bookstore I knew of at the time, I was still a teenager and mostly went where my parents had taken me over the years). I don’t remember how but I found myself walking out the door, holding a book by an author whose [children’s] books I thought I had all read. I had somehow missed the publication of this one. I remember a tingl-y, excited feeling in my stomach and heart. As if a hundred gleeful butterflies had taken up there. They helped me float home to discover another aspect of the world that Madeleine L’Engle had created. The book was Many Waters and it featured the now teenaged twins Sandy and Dennys Murry, who had been somewhat side characters in A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet but who I also knew as grown-ups in the later O’Keefe books, particularly A House Like a Lotus. I was thrilled to find out that Sandy and Dennys were as special as their siblings, and not just the ‘normal’ part of the family.

I was old enough that Dennys and Sandy- no matter how attractive- did not end up populating my fantasy life, as their siblings, together with their sister’s boyfriend, then husband, their niece Polly O’Keefe, her friends Adam and Zachery, and all the Austins had when I was younger. Back then I thought of all these characters as real people, my age (despite the fact that several of the characters age decades between the books) and whom I might run into at any moment, an idea that was helped by the fact that several characters crept into the books about the other (Austins, Murry/O’Keefes) books, and even into some of her novels about and for adults (although I read most of those as a kid too). I re-read most of her books countless times. I couldn’t really get enough. As an adult (roughly counted as college forward), I scoured used bookstores for her books. Back when I lived in NYC, if I found myself anywhere in the vicinity of The Strand you could usually find me in the Ls of the fiction section, hoping, crossing my fingers, doing a little dance right there in the aisle if I found one of her books. At every bookstore, I’d always check the very beginning of the Ls and then the L-e part; I never knew where the idiosyncrasies of that store’s alphabetizing would put her apostraphed name.

Occasionally I stray from my novels-only diet of books and read memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies. And so when I was in college I read several of her memoirs. And while I already did not believe in God or have faith in the way that she did, I found her insights about life, death, good, and evil, well, insightful. I loved reading about her family, her acting career, her house in the countryside of small town Connecticut (something that at the time I had a hard time envisioning, since I was living in small-to-medium town but crumbling and industrial Middletown, Connecticut). I felt like I knew her through those writings, just a little bit. And wished I knew her in real life. I have a number of authors I wish were my aunts, women I could go to and talk about life, love, all that good stuff. But I know that even if I dion’t know them in real life, I can always turn to a bookshelf and find solace and comfort and wisdom. She was one of those women.

And so it pains me that her heart no longer beats, that her breath has stopped, that her mind has stopped wandering the halls of her imagination. That she will no longer put pen to paper, so to speak. I will no longer come upon a new book of hers and feel those butterflies arise from the depths of my spirit, to propel me home, clutching a new-to-me book by Madeleine L’Engle.

But her writing will remain with me for always and for this I am profoundly grateful. The memory I have of first reading A Wrinkle in Time and falling in love with it will always be a cherished one. I am reminded of a lyric of Christine Lavin’s

“…she left something beautiful in her wake

as our spirits sink, our voices break

her work remains for us to see…”

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007
{photo from}


  1. Beautiful post.

    I used to do the same thing you did in the Strand in every bookstore I went in. It was always such a treat to find a new L’Engle book. I’ve known for a couple of years that there wouldn’t be anymore, but it is still sad. What a wonderful legacy she has left us though!

  2. Yeah, nice post. Grats. :)

  3. i cant believe she’s gone. an early favorite of mine.

  4. hey i was just wondering if you can leave me an email @ thx bye

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