Friday, September 18, 2015

Fantasy and Faith

From First Things:
The world of L’Engle’s Time trilogy resembles the fictional worlds of C.S. Lewis, one of her acknowledged heroes. Like Lewis, L’Engle posits the presence of other worlds whose fates hinge on the actions and decisions of human children. To penetrate the natural human world, to strip characters down to both their essential flaws—pride, short-sightedness, fear, lack of faith—and their innate but unexplored potential for heroism and sacrifice, L’Engle’s impulse, like Lewis’s, is to remove them from their own world for a time and then to return them from their adventures safe and outwardly unchanged but with new understanding.

Their stories are conversion stories. L’Engle’s protagonists are called from their nets to follow; they do so with fear and grumbling and little vision in the beginning for what is at stake or the grace they will need in the end. In A Wrinkle in Time , the clumsy, myopic, awkward Meg, confronted at every turn with her own incompetence, ultimately saves both her imprisoned father and her beloved little brother Charles Wallace—an awkward and inadvertently unlikable character in himself—by discovering that the one thing she can do, and the one thing that the disembodied totalitarian brain IT cannot do, is love the people she loves.

In A Wind in the Door, Meg is called one step further, to move beyond the easy emotion with which she loves her family and her friend Calvin, to love her human nemesis, the school principal Mr. Jenkins. Likewise, Mr. Jenkins, a pallid, timorous, incompetent sort himself, discovers his own capacity for courage as he is drawn with Meg and Calvin, in company with an alarming “cherubim” named Proginoskes and other supernatural personages, into a battle between good and evil that takes place, simultaneously, everywhere in the universe. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the now teenage genius Charles Wallace must lay aside his reliance on his own intellect to enter into the minds and lives of other characters in other times to avert a course of events leading to disaster in the present, while Calvin’s angry, inscrutable mother, now Meg’s mother-in-law, reveals herself in her final hours to be a character of depth and dignity on whom, unexpectedly enough, the fate of the known world turns.
Clearly what’s at stake in L’Engle’s fantasy is no mere matter of pushing the witch into the oven; on the other hand, that’s precisely what does happen in these heady fairy tales, with the crucial difference that the witch keeps coming back, in wildly different guises: an alien brain, a troupe of shape-shifting annihilators called Echthroi, and finally a human madman, his finger poised over a fatal button. Each novel in L’Engle’s time trilogy leaves the door ajar. (Read more.)

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