Monday, September 10, 2007

Goodbye, Madeleine

I heard today that Madeleine L'Engle died on Sept. 6. Madeleine, of course, wrote many books, my favorite of which was the very first book of hers I ever read: A Wrinkle in Time.

I suppose it might be hypocritical to say that this news saddened me... After all, it's probably been a decade or more since the last time I picked the book up. I never, before this very day, questioned where the author was, what she was up to, or if she was still alive at all for that matter. I did not seek out any of her newer works (honestly, her later books set in the same world as Wrinkle in Time always left me a bit flat, truth be told); never saw the television miniseries based on the book; nothing.

And yet, thinking about this great lady's death, and the fact that there will never be another tale from such an inventive and distinct writer, saddens me all the same. Just thinking about the book's cover - a somewhat garish yellow that only books of the 70's seem to have used, emblazoned with a rainbow-winged flying centaur of all things - transports me back in time to when I was a second-grader in Greenbelt, Maryland.

My elementary school (Geenbelt Elementary... it's still there, I checked) maintained a special bookshelf in the library dedicated to Newbery Award-winning books, and it was there that I first found a copy of Wrinkle. Needless to say, even in grade school, a boy walking the halls carrying a book with a rainbow-winged centaur on the cover was asking for a beat-down. I already had a reputation for being the slightly chubby, weird kid whose nose was always buried in a novel or a comic book, so my social standing among my peers was already somewhat shaky. In the end, I decided to risk it and checked the book out. I'm glad that I did.

The book's sci-fi flavor drew me instantly, and I spent that night under my blanket, flashlight in hand, reading well past my bedtime. I simply could not put it down. I finished it the next day, emerging with a crush on Meg, her enticing main character, that was only matched by my unease regarding her creepy little brother, Charles Wallace.

Maybe that was the appeal... before that book, I can't think of a single story I'd ever read that contained characters that seemed so very real to me as Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace did. That feeling made the peril they were in so much more engaging than anything I'd experienced in print up to that time.

Maybe that's why, when I write, I start with the characters first, investing the majority of my prep time in dreaming up their histories, mannerisms, desires and faults before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you will). Whether or not I actually succeed in creating characters with even a fraction of the draw as Ms. L'Engle's is, of course, up for debate.

Anyway... Here's to you, Madeleine - you'll be sorely missed ((( steps to the chalk line on the floor, raises glass in a silent toast, drinks deep, then tosses the empty into the fireplace ))).

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