Madeline L'Engle was the first author I ever met. I don't remember the exact year (though I know it was during elementary school), or the place--I remember waiting in line, and clutching my book to be signed (a Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover in its 46th printing, 1987, which puts me tentatively at eight), and the nervous excitement of seeing someone in person who'd created a world that was so important to me. Though bookselling now puts me in the path of all kinds of writers, I'm not sure any subsequent signing has produced the same awe--I try to think of who might do it--Kelly Link? Yoko Ogawa? Oh, Connie Willis, for sure. But of course, you never forget your first.
I've reread L'Engle's Time Trilogy (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet) many, many times, and it never fails to be mind-blowing. The great children's authors, I think, expand the possibilities of thought, create new pathways for the imagination; and trying to put my finger on exactly these three books in particular did for the younger me, I'm struck by how elemental the battle between good and evil is in them, and at the same time, how specific and unique.
Uniqueness and individuality are paramount in L'Engle's worldview. The horror of Camazotz is that everyone is the same, that all decisions are decided for you. The abnegation of responsibility, while it seems comforting, is the negation of the self, however flawed. Meg's stubbornness is what saves her father and Charles Wallace (yes, it's also heartening to have a girl rewarded for tenacity and spunk, even 45 years on). Similarly, in A Wind in the Door, the power of Naming, which sets each farandola and human and cherubim and star apart from the others, is what preserves the individual from "Xing," the ultimate, irreversible negation that the Echthroi (Greek for "enemy"; L'Engle is full of classical nods like this) seek. And time and time again, the efforts of one or a few change everything.
But in what might seem a paradox, the interdependence of all creatures is as vital to the universe as each creature's singularity. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace occupies several lives, but it's the connections between them that spin the thread that changes history. A Wind in the Door's mythical (well, for all we know thus far) farandolae that sing inside each mitochondrion (and yeah, I though these were imaginary until I got to high school biology; thanks for sneaking in all that science!) commune with the galaxies. Size, and distance, and time are all immaterial. Community and communion--both from the same root. And what makes such disparate entities one is love--the Christian agape, but also the Sanskrit ananda, the name of a dog in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, defined by Charles Wallace as "that joy in existence without which the universe will fall apart and collapse."
Weighty, yeah. The books aren't pedantic in the slightest, though--through the macrocosm, the microcosm, and time itself, they're three grand adventures; and headstrong Meg and otherworldly Charles Wallace are marvelous characters, hyperintelligent but relatable misfits who, yeah, remind me of myself and my family. Rereading, I can always recapture that joyous trepidation I felt, with book in hand, waiting to meet a creator.