- A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle by Sarah Arthur, and: Conversations with Madeleine L’Engle ed. by Jackie C. Horne
I remember when Madeleine L’Engle died. It was 2007; I was a relatively new teacher recently graduated with an M.A. in English; and I mentioned her in a workshop I presented to other educators. Most famous for A Wrinkle in Time, which won the Newbery Medal in 1963, L’Engle was also an English major and a teacher whose legacy has continued in many ways, including a graphic novel of Wrinkle in 2012, a Disney film in 2018, and now two books published more than ten years after her death.
Sarah Arthur’s book, A Light So Lovely, is a mostly sympathetic look at L’Engle’s spiritual legacy. I say “mostly sympathetic” because one chapter does take a hard look at some of L’Engle’s tendencies to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. But overall the book praises L’Engle for her influence both on Christians, as well as on those who may not have been Christians but nevertheless appreciated L’Engle’s work.
The book is structured by chapters that emphasize different angles of a both/and theme: for example, “icon and iconoclast,” “sacred and secular,” “faith and science,” and “religion and art,” with the and actually italicized in each chapter title, in case the binary was not already clear. This structure has many strengths, including the fact that L’Engle was able to speak to a wide variety of people, from believers and unbelievers, to theologians and scientists, and more. In addition to exploring a particular binary, each chapter covers a section of L’Engle’s life, making the book biographical as well, although not strictly so.
In the chapter titled “Sacred and Secular,” Arthur addresses the reality that L’Engle had a number of detractors, typically from a more fundamentalist persuasion. L’Engle referred to such censors as “fundalits” (“fundamentalist literalists”)—folks who opposed L’Engle’s writings because of their alleged inclusion or promotion of witches, druidism, New Age thought, relativism, universalism, reincarnation, or other elements that were considered objectionable. Arthur defends L’Engle by noting that L’Engle did not see a clear split between sacred and secular, rather seeing anything “secular” as being part of God’s world, too.
Interestingly, while L’Engle grew up as a mainline Protestant and eventually landed in the Episcopal Church, she did acknowledge that in some ways she was closer to fundamentalists than she was to atheists, particularly with regard to the concept of mythology. In the chapter titled “Truth and Story,” Arthur delineates four views of myth, writing that the best way to understand Christianity is as a true myth. This was L’Engle’s view, and this position placed her in stark contrast not only to atheists but also to liberal “Christians” who deny basic Christian realities such as the Incarnation. [End Page 489]
L’Engle’s faith did not preclude a profound interest in science. Dissatisfied with some of what she had read by German theologians, L’Engle voluntarily and enthusiastically read works by leading physicists and other scientists, and according to L’Engle herself, A Wrinkle in Time is something of a rebuttal to the German theologians. (The interviews in Conversations clarify that L’Engle viewed German theologians as people who had answers for everything, paradoxically making God’s universe seem small.) At the same time, in Arthur’s view, while L’Engle did not excel in outstanding writing, complex characters, or compelling revelations, she did excel in dealing with questions of ultimate meaning, writing with theological depth, and showing faith communities as being important. In this way, L’Engle’s success revealed to thousands of readers that a commitment...