One of my personal heroes died on September 6, 2007, the same day that one of my best friend's personal heroes died. Hers was Luciano Pavarotti; mine was Madeleine L'Engle, who wrote A Wrinkle In Time.
When I was a kid, there were reading lists of important books you were supposed to have read, that someone somewhere felt would enrich you in some way or another. I think the only book I ever read voluntarily from any of these lists was Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, which made me yearn for a lost age in some way that I couldn't define. Then I encountered Twain's Huckleberry Finn, which more or less handed Tom Sawyer its behind, and stands to this day as one of the two most important and inspirational books I ever read, where writing was concerned.
The second of these two was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.
I first encountered Madeleine L'Engle through the library of the now-defunct Jefferson Davis Academy, one of several places in Meridian, MS where adults sent the children they wanted to keep out of public schools. There was a book there called Spooks Spooks Spooks, which was a children's compendium of poetry and short stories about ghosts, goblins, witches, and other mysterious things. Among the pieces in the book was the climax of A Wrinkle In Time, titled "The Black Thing," where Meg Murry returns to the planet of Camazotz to save her brother Charles Wallace from the grasp of IT, the disembodied brain that has taken over Camazotz, and the Black Thing, the red-eyed human-looking agent of IT. She realizes that the only way she can stop IT is to use what IT does not have, and never will--her love for Charles Wallace.
People use phrases like "burned off the page" to describe how words affect them. That was not what happened to me the first time I read this story. Instead it was as if Madeleine L'Engle stretched her finger from Manhattan or Connecticut or wherever she may have been living at the time I read her words, tapped me on the forehead and spoke directly to me. It didn't have anything to do with the love she wrote about, or its importance or power; at the time I was in fifth grade and a perfect representation of callow youth. I didn't understand love by any means; I had the same vague, usually self-centered comprehension of it that every child of that age has.
But something about the way she explained it, described it, said it, spoke to my soul. It spoke to the part of me that very desperately wanted to see and believe that there were other worlds apart from this planet, and said, This is important. Keep this in your heart.
Later on, when I was (thankfully) old enough to fully appreciate it, I read all of A Wrinkle In Time. I have three copies of this book; an old paperback, an even older hardback and an almost brand-new omnibus of The Time Quartet, the series which this book begins. I would cheerfully hand over all seven of my Harry Potter books to be burned to ashes before I would part with any of them. It is, and has been, that important to me.
And as for Spooks Spooks Spooks... well, I eventually left Jefferson Davis Academy, but I returned at one point, for two reasons. The first was that I had decided to watch my old class graduate, and I now shamelessly admit that this was my cover story. The real reason I was there was that I hoped to steal the copy of Spooks Spooks Spooks from the JDA library to have for myself. I did not succeed. But later on I found it in a library sale for all of $2.00, and snapped it up.
I suppose you know which part I read first.
In pace requiescat, Mrs. L'Engle. And thanks for everything.