Tag Archives: Madeleine L’Engle

A Ring of Endless Light Review

In 1980 Madeleine L’Engle published her novel A Ring of Endless Light focusing on the continued life of the Austin family. In contrast with the Murry-O’Keefe family the books that revolve around the family are mostly stand alone and the reader doesn’t have to exclusively have to read the series in order (as in you could read A Wind in the Door or Many Waters without reading A Wrinkle in Time to get into the story. A Swiftly Tilting Planet requires some previous knowledge of A Wind in the Door.) The lives of the Austin family require some previous reading of books focusing on them.

Spoilers from this point on

The primary theme of this novel is death with the very first page taking place at a funeral of a family friend of the Austin family known as Commander Rodney, who suffered a heart attack after saving a rich kid from drowning. Vicky Austin and the rest of her family spend their time on an island that they normally spend no more than two or three weeks at each summer due to her grandfather’s battle with a form of leukemia.

The topic of death is one that is ever looming over Vicky’s mind due to the revelation that it was her own friend Zachary Gray whom Commander Rodney had saved despite the fact that Zachary was trying to commit suicide at the time. Meanwhile Zachary is trying to come to terms with the death of his own mother who was killed in a car accident, but unlike the Christian traditions of the Austin family, Zachary’s mother was cryogenically frozen in hopes that in the future she can be “saved”.

I haven’t read any of the other novels featuring the Austin family or Zachary Grey, but it’s easy to gather that the worlds of the two families clash completely with the humble, religious, and educated Austins, and the rich, entitled, buy your way out of trouble Gray family. From what I’ve read about L’Engle’s work concerning the character Zachary Gray, L’Engle had seen him as the “ultimate redemption story” she never got to finish.

Although the primary topic of death being a major theme in A Ring of Endless Light, it does play background noise at times to Vicky’s trials as a typical teenager; she likes boys and has “finally become beautiful enough to attract them.” However, unlike modern YA literature, Vicky isn’t in a “team Edward/team Jacob” love triangle. While she does have two characters with romantic interest in her (the above mentioned Zachary Gray and the son of Commander Rodney, Leo), Vicky doesn’t spend her time pondering over “which one is good for me?” and focuses more on herself and concentrates more on helping Leo recover from the death of his father and functioning as Zachary’s moral compass at times.

Vicky also has a third romantic interest named Adam that doesn’t show feelings for her due to the events that previously happened in The Arm of the Starfish (gotta get around to reading that).

How Vicky approaches ‘dating’ each of these boys is actually a relief. She never officially goes on a romantic date with any of them, she actually didn’t like Leo too much at the start of the novel, but does grow to genuinely care for him as a friend by the book’s end even with Leo’s desire to take the friendship further. Despite the best efforts of Zachary and Leo Vicky is very firm in what she doesn’t want from them and by the climax of the book, Vicky has lost any previous infatuation with Zachary after a incident with him flying a plane.

Adam is a college student studying dolphins and marine biology. He’s handsome, athletic, and honestly who wouldn’t fall for someone that is dolphin approved? It’s one thing to be approved by a cat or dog, but dolphins are one of the most intelligent sentient species on earth. If a dolphin approves of a boy, he’s the type you bring home to mother. Adam doesn’t actively pursue Vicky romantically ever in the book, but is very grateful for her help in his research. (Side note, this form of science would probably be mocked in real life).

In terms of the plot with dolphins, Adam hypotheses that because of Vicky’s artistic abilities as a poet, she should be able to connect with dolphins. And that she does through a form of telepathy previously used in L’Engle’s books known as kything. There is a significant amount of growth between Vicky and Adam where towards the end it is all but confirmed the two are in love with each other since Vicky is able to call Adam in her time of greatest distress.

The climax of the novel does heavily involve the above topic of life, death, and dolphins. Through kything the dolphins give VIcky an idea of what the universe is like beyond what she knows of on the planet earth and a deep understanding of what is beyond life and death.

In the climax of the novel while rushing to see her grandfather, Vicky is briefly left in charge of a sickly child also suffering from terminal illness. Sadly said child has a seizure and dies in Vicky’s arms sending her into a deep despair challenging not just her religious beliefs, but everything the dolphins told her and her faith that there is good in humanity despite all the sorrow and evil in the world. The plots come full circle when Vicky is healed of her sorrow through the healing abilities of the dolphins.

Outside of romance and death, A Ring of Endless Light does have some interesting callbacks to her previous work outside of the Austin family. When Vicky has a small conversation with her little brother Rob, he asks her about the possibility of a planet with a population that has no sight and no hearing, which DOES exist in L’Engle’s universe (the planet Ixchel visited in A Wrinkle in TIme). There is also the above mentioned callback to A Wind in the Door, and the fact that Adam did do some research with Dr.O’Keefe (aka Calvin O’Keefe).

I also do enjoy the fact that even though A Ring of Endless Light being published nearly forty years ago, the topics seen in the novel are still relevant today. Is it okay to let a loved one die from terminal illness and is it bad to prolong their life via “hooked up to a machine”? Is it bad to slaughter animals even though said animals eating the source of income/food for your family? Can all diseases be “healed by science”? Etc.

In Comparison to the Disney Channel Original Movie

While the movie adaption isn’t bad (it’s a lot better than any of the DCOMs released since Highschool Musical), it is very toned down from the book in many ways. One of the major differences is the reduction of the cast size from nearly twenty characters, to about eight named characters. The theme of death is toned down significantly with the dolphin plot taking place as the central plot.

Instead of being mystical creatures, the dolphins are still pretty damn mystical, but do not serve the same purpose in the film as they do in the novel, where instead of being the source of Vicky’s healing from her trauma, they’re involved in a “illegal net fishing is bad!” plot that reminded me a lot of another DCOM called The Thirteenth Year.

Zachary is also toned down from being reckless and suicidal to just being rich and unaware of the world around him (his father owns the fishing company that has dolphins getting tangled up in nets). Adam goes from introverted scientist to excited marine biologist who is pissed about dolphins getting killed in fishing nets.

It’s not a bad movie, but if Disney could have gotten away with The Color of Friendship, they could have at least handled the topic of death better than Vicky’s grandfather suddenly croaking after the dolphins were saved (ironically Vickey’s grandfather didn’t die just yet in the book.)

I give A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle, four out of five dolphins (seriously, we need to go back to writing about dolphins in YA, WHY AREN’T THERE MORE DOLPHIN STORIES??)

Advertisements

Many Waters Review

        As many of you know the new movie adaption of A Wrinkle in Time is set up to be released next year, so out of excitement I decided to reread Madeleine L’Engle’s books because I am a big fan. I then realized I hadn’t ever gotten around to read Many Waters for some reason and was a little shocked I never did so since the story revolves around Sandy and Dennys Murry.

        As mentioned above the story revolves around Sandy and Dennys Murry, the two self proclaimed normal of the Murry children in comparison of the prodigies of Meg and Charles Wallace. When they return home one winter afternoon and go into their parent’s personal lab both Sandy and Dennys are transported to the time of Noah and the ark. Reading this book actually reminded me a lot of the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis which was a science fiction series from a Christian perspective that all other creatures in the universe were aware of the existence of God and the universe beyond them.

Spoilers from this point on, I’m running out of witty things to type in the bold text.

        Unlike the adventures of their siblings Sandy and Dennys are not as adventure ready as readers would believe. For one thing when exposed to the desert climate both Sandy and Dennys suffer from a heat stroke and spend the first half of the book recovering from severe sunburns. At the same time it separates both twins from each other allowing both of them to realize their own personal individual traits that they had never realized about themselves due to always being with each other.

        Along with their own self discovery that both twins aren’t completely like each other Sandy and Dennys begin to realize there is more to them besides being the ‘normal ones’ that they had always called themselves. Dennys has a very strong understanding of the experiments that both his parents perform and the science that Mr and Mrs Murry research and experiment with. In comparison to the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace, Sandy and Dennys spend significantly more time on their adventure while Meg and Charles Wallace on technicality devoted a few hours to their own adventures (time travel kind of makes it hard to determine who spent the most time on their adventure).

        As mentioned earlier the book takes place during the time of Noah before the days of the great flood. The great flood itself plays a minor role in the story for the first three quarters of the book with major focus being on Sandy, Dennys, Noah’s family and the works of the Seraphim and Nephilim. There is also another tribe of not so nice people who are envious to Noah’s tribe, one of these characters is named Tiglah.

        I want to talk about Tiglah in this review mainly to compare the style of YA writing from when this book was published and how Tiglah would be viewed now. Many Waters was published in 1986 where it was more or less it was frowned upon to be sexually active and open about it as a teenager in the media. In this book Tiglah is in love with one of the Nephilim (fallen Seraphim) and does his bidding for him at one point trying to seduce Sandy and Dennys because the Nephilim are wary of them.

        Throughout the book I felt very sorry for Tiglah and constantly hoped that she would be redeemed; it wasn’t her fault that she ended up this way and clearly she didn’t think that her sexual nature was a bad thing. She admits to genuinely caring about both Sandy and Dennys and hoping that things go well for them as the great flood begins and it is heavily implied that she drowns in the great flood for her ways.

        I think if Tiglah were a character in a modern YA book she would have had more depth to her explored; she may have even been given her own character development and realize that the Nephilim don’t care for her and at least leave her wicked family and ask Noah and his family to give her refuge and teach her to be good.

        Tiglah is also called a slut by Sandy when she tries to convince him to give her his virginity, something that wouldn’t sit well with modern readers (okay more than likely the christian audience would be okay with that.)

        To contrast Tiglah there is Yalith, one of the daughters of Noah; Yalith is essentially a Pure Mary Sue. She is good and kind to all she meets, she nurses Dennys back to health, rejects a Nephilim who claims to be in love with her, convinces the Seraphim to love her (platonically) and is stuck in a love triangle with Sandy and Dennys eventually admitting that she is in love with both of them and it is the mutual love between herself and Sandy that Sandy decides not to have sex with Tiglah. When the issue comes around that Noah can only take his sons and their wives onto the arc and Yalith must be left behind, it is discovered that Yalith is so pure, she can be given a free pass into heaven body and soul because she’s that pure.

        I don’t hate the character of Yalith, but it just annoyed me at times at how she’s presented as the most pure thing in the world and everyone must love her unconditionally. Okay that’s enough ranting about Tiglah and Yalith.

        Concerning the story itself it was very interesting at how ideas and themes presented in the book are actually a very big deal for some people today. One issue frequently brought up is Sandy’s agnostic views and how he needs to “see it to believe it.” At first he treats the story of Noah and the Ark as the equivalent of Norse and Greek mythology, stories told to people that aren’t true, of course with L’Engle being a religious woman, Sandy does believe in unicorns (there is no way I can cover the topic of the importance of unicorns in this book and keep the review brief), but this belief is a result of seeing a unicorn and then believing they are real.

        Sandy also points out in annoyance how many of the women he met on this journey are adapted out of the Bible because the Bible was written by men who viewed the male presence as more important than the female presence.

        Along with this Sandy has comparisons with the unkind people who aren’t part of Noah’s family and terrorists who hijack planes, which in today’s world is a very scary reality that has happened more and more regularly with new forms of shock and horror.

        I’ll end this review by saying that parts of it did hit close to home, particularly since during my time reading this my dad was in the hospital (he is fine and recovering) and one of the biggest plot threads in the book is Noah and his relationship with his dying father Lamech.

I give Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle three out of five cute mini mammoths.

Also small announcement and explanation for things; I will participate in Write a Novel in November this year, so this blog post was partially for me to see if I can write 1667 words in a day. It is something I’ve considered participating in and I hope I can pull it off. This review was 1293 words long meaning I clearly have some improving to do, but book reviews and amount of words written in a day are two very different things. Wish me luck, my theme for this novel will be…mermaids.

A Wrinkle in Time Impressions

Once Upon a time in the distant time of 2001 I was eleven years old and we had a book assigned for the fifth grade class I was in. Little did I know this book would make me want to read more books and would forever change my life and how I viewed the universe and create a dream. The book I speak of is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I love this book, it led me to reading it’s sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the spin off book (sort of) A Ring of Endless Light.

There are sketchbooks I owned that had drawing’s of Mrs.Whatsit  in her non human form, the idea of a tesseract became a concept I kept tabs on growing up and even now think about today as an adult. Despite the heavy emphasis in L’Engle’s work on physics and biology, I was more inspired to focus on writing and literature as I grew up and wanted to write for the YA genre (I ended up with a degree in environmental science).

Then in 2002 it was announced there would be a tv movie of A Wrinkle in Time by Disney. It was awful. L’Engle was asked if it met her expectations, she said “yes. I expected it to be bad, it was.” I only saw a portion of this film, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that things were dumbed down for audiences, I didn’t like the acting, I didn’t like the full happy ending presented in the film, and I felt kind of weird seeing Mr.Murrey completely naked a few years later on Queer as Folk.

I expected nothing to be done with A Wrinkle in Time after Madeleine L’Engle passed away mid 2008. I thought this would be the best for the series since her books tackled topics concerning Christianity and science which even more so today is a very touchy subject. Then a few years ago during Frozen it was announced Disney would be adapting A Wrinkle in Time to film again.

This time with Jennifer Lee from Disney’s Frozen was placed in charge of the film. My expectations started to get high; the film went with open casting meaning Meg Murrey and her brother Charles Wallace are now bi-racial. The film also cast Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which respectably.

 Despite my stalking both Witherspoon and Kaling’s instagram religiously very little about how the film looked was revealed outside of casting. I was a little curious to see Kaling in the film since I’m use to Kaling portraying divas as opposed to the wise and intellectual Mrs.Who, I even reread some of the book just to imagine Mrs.Who with Kaling’s shrills. I also wasn’t aware Oprah was an actress, but I guess she is.

When the trailer was released yesterday I was very pleased with what I saw and I hope the film does really well next year. I have high hopes for the film because I feel at this time many of the themes of A Wrinkle in Time are relevant concerning communism and there is a need for figures like the Murrey parents who are both religious, but educated and understanding on many issues in the world. And now here is the trailer to Madelein L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.