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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Playing with time and space is a dangerous game.

A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Many Waters, and
An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Five novels which together make up the 'Time Quintet')
Spoiler Alert: Plot pudding
These books are about any number of things, not limited to, but including God, time, family, adventure, and growing up. Now that I've finished them all, their individual plots have formed a conglomerate in my brain, and I'm having a hard time pulling them apart. Here's a snapshot of what I remember from each one (as you can see, I haven't promised a summary, but rather a gelatinous understanding):

Time, somewhat wrinkledy
characters: Meg Murry and her younger brother Charles Wallace, their father, a schoolmate named Calvin, several angel/star/oldlady-people with funny names along the lines of Mrs. Whatchamacallit
locale: New England, utopian planets, dystopian planets, you know. the usual.
goal: save Mr. Murry, then CW from evil brain thing
outcome: success and safe return to grand ole' New England

Door, breezes near the
characters: Meg Murry, Calvin, Charles (sort of - it's complicated), a cherubim named Proginoskes, the principal of CW's school, Mr. Jenkins
locale: New England, Charles Wallace's mitochondria (yes. you read that right.)
goal: save CW from the evil Mr. Murry, then CW from evil Echthroi (gezundheit)
outcome: success - CW is healed!

Planet, the leaning tower of
characters: Meg Murry, Charles, a bunch of people from the past (not, like, yesterday, but more like eons ago), Calvin's mom
locale: New England, in a variety of centuries, specifically the star-watching rock in the Murry's yard
goal: stop the Cuban missile crisis by intervening in the past (basically. change some names and you've got the gist)
outcome: success. messing with the past always works out, right?

Waters, and lots of 'em
characters: Sandy and Dennys Murry (I know, who? the twin brothers of CW and Meg), Noah (as in, the ark), some unicorns, some seraphim, some evil anti-angel-type creatures
locale: New England, a desert from whence came the ark (if you go for that sort of thing)
goal: get back to New England, help build the ark (like you do when you find yourself nearby)
outcome: success, with a few horrifying sunburns along the way.

Time, suiting everyone
characters: Meg's daughter, Polly, Mr. and Mrs. Murry, Polly's suitor Zachary, a bunch of druids, a bishop
locale: New England, again in both the present and a real long time ago
goal: unite warring tribes, get unstuck in the past
outcome: success, with the occasional 'whoops you almost become a blood sacrifice' moments.

There you have it, blobbists, a veritable tahPeeOHHka of a précis!
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Well, friends, the year of July has come and gone, and I've spent it in any number of places, all of which were too hot for my taste. I finished these books some time ago, but I was disappointed in the process of reading them, which slowed me down substantially in both the reading and the plotting of this blob. 

Nearly every person I told I was reading this series said something to the effect of, "oh, I have fond memories of A Wrinkle in Time, but I can't remember what it was really about... and then smiled off into the distance". Which describes exactly why I wanted to read the books in the first place. That, coupled with the fact that my sister Diana had a bear named Charles Wallace. I came across him the last time I was home -->

That being said, and I hate to stomp on anyone's childhood nostalgia here (mine included!), I was underwhelmed. While the construct of the books is intriguing, and I think her conceptual fantasy world is quite engaging, I could not, as an adult reader, separate out the Christian, borderline proselytizing nature of the works. We all know that fantasy and Christianity are no strangers to each other (ahem, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Pullman, even some might say, Ms. Rowling) but this felt like it reached a point where the religion was more real than the fantasy, which bothered me. 

Here are the bits that resonated with me, at any rate:

The British are coming, the British are coming
Some of you know that I aspire to write my own YA fantasy novel series, and I was only further inspired to do so when I realized that these books are the only fantasy novels I cherish by an American author (unless I'm missing someone, which is highly possible. To be clear, I'm not saying there are no American fantasy writers - that's ridiculous - just that the ones that stick out in my memory are all by.... BRITISH PEOPLE.

Here's the list I came up with:
BRITISHLAND:
- J.R.R.Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)
- C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
- J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series)
- Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy, including The Golden Compass)
- Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass) (which, amusing, was referenced several times in the Time quintet, including the gifting of an unbirthday present, which I quite liked)

AMERICALAND:
- Madeleine L'Engle (Time Quintet)

So clearly we need to work on our fantasy game. It's not like England is the only place we can build imaginary worlds from!


What sound what a star make in your world of fiction?
Just curious. In these books, the sound stars speak in the voice of an English horn (pictured left, think an oboe but slightly bulbous and slightly deeper in timbre). I found this delightful, because the English horn is my favorite wind instrument, and the one I would most like to play if I added on to my cello skillz. For an example of its sound, listen to the first minute or so of this exchange between the English horn and the oboe, from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. 
video

Nicknames, nicknames are so fun, nicknames are for everyone
What's your favorite nickname that someone has called you? I'm not sure. I like 'Mere', but only some of the time, and it depends on who the person is. I think the search is still out for a nickname that I love. Meg gets quite a few nicknames in the books, and I found them very endearing. These included Meglet, Megatron, and Megaparsec. 

Fermi's paradox - are we alone out here?
Are you familiar with Fermi's paradox? I wasn't until a few weeks ago, on one of my many work-related travels. It came up on a podcast, This American Life, I believe, and one of the producers was trying to explain why it makes him feel very down sometimes. 

Here's how the interwebs describes it: "The Fermi paradox or Fermi's paradox, named after physicist Enrico Fermi, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates, e.g., those given by the Drake equation, for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations."

In other words, there's a really high probability we're not alone, but there's also no evidence of extraterrestrial life. So what gives? I'm not sure how it makes me feel. I don't know if lonely is quite right, but maybe more like isolated? Solitary? I know those are pretty close approximations, but I can't quite put a word to the feeling. How does it make you feel? 

I thought of it when I came across this exchange:
"You mean your planet revolves about all isolated in space? Aren't you terribly lonely? Isn't he?
'He?'
'Or she. Your planet. Aren't you lonely?'
'Maybe we are, a little,' Calvin conceded. 'But it's a beautiful planet."

Religion is not invited to my fantasy party.
I don't want to dwell on this, because I've already mentioned it above. My concern with religion here is not so much that it's present, but rather that it's presented in kind of a condescending fashion. L'Engle adds an atheist in the final book, and he's looked down as someone who just "can't come around", and as an agnostic/atheist/spiritualbutnotorganizedreligion person myself, I was offended. It also felt like because she was dealing with science and space and time, she was defining biblical events as real, which is a leap for me, in that some of it is grounded in scientific fact, but not large parts of it. I think I just wanted her to take the opportunity to make the science evident in fantasy, so it was disappointing to me that she made science into a sort of side-lens for religion.

What form does evil take for you?
I've read quite a few books for this blob, and evil takes any number of forms, from Sauron to Randall Flagg, to groupthink, to Voldemort. Here's my favorite definition of evil from these works:
"What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?" it reminded me of a dementor.

I also liked this line from Charles Wallace:
"We have to make decisions, and we can't make them if they're based on fear." and this line from Mr. Murry: "Don't be afraid to be afraid."

because they reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Dune: 
"Fear is the mind-killer."

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.
That's a Dorothy Parker line, that I love to hate, as a woman who wears glasses. I loved this moment between Calvin and Megatron:
"Calvin, to Meg: Do you know that this is the first time I've seen you without your glasses?"
'I'm blind as a bat without them. I'm near-sighted, like Father.'
'Well, you know what, you've got dream-boat eyes,' Calvin said. 'Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don't think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have."

I thought this was great, in that it both emphasized Meg's beauty AND encouraged her continued wearing of glasses (albeit as a screening mechanism against other suitors). I have been told by a few people (not men, more like Mar and Mama Monroe, and my pcp, most recently) that I have beautiful eyes, but I do kind of enjoy keeping them a secret sometimes. Also, if you can't tell someone's beautiful around or behind their glasses, then you have no business being interested.

We're not seeing other people yet. 
When Charles Wallace first meets Mrs. Whatsit, who is a star/old-lady person, he doesn't want to let Meg in on it, which I kind of love:

"Who's Mrs. Whatsit?' Meg asked.
'I think I want to be exclusive about her for a while," Charles Wallace said." shhh! she's a SECRET star person!

A parliament of owls, an unkindness of ravens, a drive of dragons, a destruction of wild cats
I have a special affinity for the names of groups of animals, so I thought I would share these samplings. The drive of dragons is featured in the second book, I believe, and I wanted to share as my fun fact when I visited my old Breakthrough site that a group of domestic cats is a litter, but a group of wild cats is known as a DESTRUCTION. How awesome is that? Other favorites:

a QUIVER of cobras
a CHARM of hummingbirds
an UNKINDNESS of ravens
a MURDER of crows
an EXULTATION of skylarks

Cocoa in the kitchen, a fire in the hearth, bread baking in the oven, a room in the attic
The best part of these books for me was the Murry's home itself, which I think was part of why I was disappointed when I realized that each book starts there, but generally takes place elsewhere (in time or location, or both). I loved the idea of the fantasy, but their house was where I wanted to cozy up and settle in. 

Here are some things that I loved in terms of setting or the Murrys:
  • The star-watching rock - this is a rock that's near their house, where they watch the stars, and also the location for many jumps in time
  • The vegetable garden - contains things such as legumes, dragons, and the occasional snake
  • Cocoa on the bunsen burner - in several scenes, a Murry family member makes cocoa on Mrs. Murry's bunsen burner, and it made me nostalgic for cups of cocoa with my mom and Wilbur's
  • New England autumn - one of the things I miss the most about New Hampshire is the spectacular fall foliage. The 'peak' of the season was always a point of much debate, but this never took away from their majestic beauty. ;)
  • Cinnamon toast - someone makes it in the Murry's kitchen - I haven't had cinnamon toast regularly since kindergarten, when Mrs. Fellin used to make it for us
  • Schubert's trout quintet - featured in the books, and a favorite of both my mom and moi-même
  • Orion's belt - picked out in the sky at a variety of ages in time, special to me because I wear it on my sleeve (literally) and it's the first constellation I remember my mom pointing out to me in the night sky
Words, wondrous words
tesseract - "the fifth dimension - add it to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around". In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. See visual representation on right -->



"Oh, we don't travel at the speed of anything," Mrs. Whatsit explained earnestly. "We tesser. Or you might say, we wrinkle."

also, a British band

anorak - a waterproof jacket, typically with a hood, of a kind originally used in polar regions

moonset - the setting of the moon below the horizon

corona (in astronomy) - the rarefied gaseous envelope of the sun and other stars. The sun's corona is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse when it is seen as an irregularly shaped pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon.

contumacious (especially of a defendant's behavior) stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority - how great is the phonetic spelling? (känt(y)o͝oˈmāSHəs)

Lines I Liked:
  • I'm full of bad feeling.
  • Wild nights are my glory.
  • You don't have to understand things for them to be.
  • You don't know how lucky you are to be loved.
  • Good galaxy, no!
  • Though we travel together, we travel alone.
  • There are dissonances in the song of the stars.
Well, I want to make it to the gym before moonset, and I haven't quite mastered tessering yet, so I'll leave you with these final bits:

Proginoskes - "Perhaps you could meet me early tomorrow morning, and we can compare our night thoughts." lollolololololz.

Mrs. Murry, to Charles Wallace:"You are not going back out tonight to find if the snake, magnificent though she be, likes cocoa. Save your experimental zeal for daylight."

Save your experimental zeal for daylight, folks, and let me know if you come across any exultations of larks, or cinnamon toast, or destructions of wild cats. (or extraterrestrials!)

1 comment:

  1. So clever of you to insert a musical link - and such a lovely example of the cor anglais! I think the largo movement of Dvorak's New World symphony is also the English horn. A very fitting metaphor of the whole set of novels, beautiful but a bit unsettling. haunting, but that's not really the word...

    A fine summary of a blog!

    ReplyDelete