Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

So begins a by Madeleine L'Engle.  She uses the classic, and every writing teacher's "do not use", Bulwer-Lytton opening line.  I never read this book as a young-adult, I'm sad to say, because it was a pure joy to read.

I read the Introduction and Afterward, the former written by a friend of L'Engle, the latter written by her granddaughter.  It's amazing to me that this book has been banned so much.  It was denounced by "some Christian groups" because it "glorified witchcraft and new-age spirituality", and also criticized by the non-religious for being "too overtly Christian".  It was deemed "heretical" by the fundamentalists.  So one can see the problems it faced upon its 1960's release.  Like all "controversial" books it gained notoriety from plain simple misunderstanding.  Those that couldn't, or wouldn't, understand its true meaning, condemned and banned it.  It's funny, and quite sad, how small minded us humans can be.  Madeleine was initially turned down by virtually every publisher at the time.  Mainly because none of them could figure out how to categorize and market the story.  It was a children's book, but with adult themes, and words "too difficult" for children to understand.  It was science fiction, but with religious themes.  It was a marketing nightmare. 
Excerpt from the Afterword: Her agent at the time, Theron Raines, loved the book and worked with her through two or three drafts.  My grandfather also served as firm and good editor.  Gran read chapters excerpts to her children, and their enthusiasm for "what happens next" also encouraged her.  But she did not sit down to write a "children's book" or a "fantasy novel"-she wrote to please herself.  A few publishers rejected the book with comments like these:
"If it were a short fantasy, that would be different...I would advise the author to do a cutting job on it-by half."
"For me there isn't quite enough story value." (load of shyte on that comment, IMO)
"It's something between an adult and juvenile novel."
She was advised to make the book more accessible so children could understand it, to change the plot, change the characters, change the book entirely.  She was very tempted.  The urge to do the publishers' bidding was made more acute when both her agent and her husband suggested that perhaps she ought to give the publishers what they were asking for.  Perhaps, they suggested, she was being stubborn.  She certainly was stubborn, but if she wrote to please herself and no other outside audience, she also, as she said, was "a servant to the work" and as such had no authority to change the book.  After a year of rejections by multiple publishers, she asked her agent to return the manuscript, insisting that so much rejection was too painful, and no one was going to understand what the book was trying to do.  Then, at a party she gave for her mother during the Christmas holiday, a friend insisted she send the manuscript to John Ferrar. He had read and admired her first novel, so Gran was sufficiently encouraged to meet with him.  He liked the manuscript, but just to be sure, he sent it to an outside reader for assessment.  It came back quickly with this note: "I think this is the worst book I have ever read, it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz."  To John Farrar's credit, that comment convinced him to publish.  The publishing company's faith in I Wrinkle was more than vindicated when it became an immediate critical and popular success, winning the Newbery Medal in 1963."

I know, I've not said one word in regards to plot, or characters, or anything pertaining to the story, but I think a book's history is important.  It gives an already special book, even more meaning and makes it that more dear to our booky hearts.  Now that have given you some background on it, here's the skinny, I loved it.  
Book Synopsis: It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course.  Let me be on my way.  Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".
Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared.  now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him.  But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

This is the synopsis and it only touches upon the vast depth of what this story is about.  The novel itself is only 200 something pages, but it holds so much depth of character and life.  I love that it mixes both science and religion.  I'm not religious, and the religious themes did not bother me, they were great.  I love the mix of both for this reason, in life there is both.  Religion does not trump science, and science does not trump religion.  They can live together, and L'Engle proves that.  We live in a world that the people of it need faith to get through their lives, but we also live in a world that requires science to survive.  These two things shouldn't be enemies, but partners.  L'Engle shows us that it is possible and if we expand our minds, we can see that.  This book can't be classified and I love that it can't.  Because to me it represents life as it is, duplicitous.  It is a YA novel, but with strong adult themes. Things aren't always black and white, one definite way or another.  I respect and admire L'Engle for not caving in to the narrow-minded publishers, and staying true to herself and the life she breathed into this beautiful novel.  And I am fan of this work of art for all those things, and for one more reason... At the very heart of this book, besides all the political, religious, fantasy, YA, adult, good vs evil themes, what this book is really about is one thing, Love.
I may not have been a child when I read it, but I certainly had child-like awe while I read it.  I highly rec it and give it my highest rating XXX.  Stay Booked! Happy Reading!

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