I just recently finished re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s brilliant and beautiful book, A Wrinkle in Time.
My initial reason for doing so, I’ll admit, was at the suggestion of my youngest sister. She thought it a good idea since I had just finished moving into my parents’ attic as my bedroom for the year, and the main character, Meg Murry, also has an attic bedroom. (My grandma characterized my moving into the attic, by the way, as dramatic… I prefer “highly and fittingly literary” myself. 🙂 And this, my grandma also understands. She is a kindred spirit.) I wasn’t more than a few paragraphs into the book, however, before I was deeply grateful for my sister’s suggestion, and became completely enthralled by the story itself once more. I was swept away.
If you’ve never read Wrinkle before, I HIGHLY recommend it. If you have read it before, why not read it again? The 1963 winner of the Newbery Medal (“for the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for children”), this delightfully imaginative story gets at what matters the most deeply-not only in human life, but in all of Creation-and is an excellent read for adults as well as children.
As I was reading, there, in my dusty garret corner, burrowed beneath an ancient handmade quilt comprised of faded bits of pink, purple, and yellow fabric, I was forcibly reminded of the inadequacy of human language to fully express things. I then thought, of course, of this blog and the Flaubert quote from which its title derives (see the “About” page for this blog for the quote). The part of the story that made me think these thoughts occurs in the chapter “The Black Thing;” the children are riding on the back of a beautiful creature which resembles a flying centaur (and whom the children know as Mrs Whatsit), and are soaring higher and higher above the plains of the pristine and poetic planet Uriel. And as they fly, they hear the beautiful creatures below them making music:
“What are they singing?” Meg asked excitedly.
Mrs Whatsit shook her beautiful head. “It won’t go into your words: I can’t possibly transfer it to your words. Are you getting any of it, Charles?”
Charles Wallace sat very still on the broad back, on his face an intently listening look, the look he had when he delved into Meg or his mother. “A little. Just a very little. But I think I could get more in time.”
“Yes. You could learn it, Charles. But there isn’t time. We can only stay here long enough to rest up and make a few preparations.”
Meg hardly listened to her. “I want to know what they’re saying! I want to know what it means.”
“Try, Charles,” Mrs Whatsit urged. “Try to translate. You can let yourself go, now. You don’t have to hold back.”
“But I can’t!” Charles Wallace cried in an anguished voice. “I don’t know enough! Not yet!”
“Then try to work with me and I’ll see if I can’t verbalize it a little for them.”
Charles Wallace got his look of probing, of listening.
I know that look! Meg thought suddenly. Now I think I know what it means! Because I’ve had it myself, sometimes, doing math with Father, when a problem is just about to come clear-
Mrs Whatsit seemed to be listening to Charles’s thoughts. “Well, yes, that’s an idea. I can try. Too bad you don’t really know it so you can give it to me direct, Charles. It’s so much more work this way.”
“Don’t be lazy,” Charles said.
Mrs Whatsit did not take offense. She explained, “Oh, it’s my favorite kind of work, Charles. That’s why they chose me to go along, even though I’m so much younger. It’s my one real talent. But it takes a tremendous amount of energy, and we’re going to need every ounce of energy for what’s ahead of us. But I’ll try. For Calvin and Meg I’ll try.” She was silent; the great wings almost stopped moving; only a delicate stirring seemed to keep them aloft. “Listen, then,” Mrs Whatsit said. The resonant voice rose and the words seemed to be all around them so that Meg felt that she could almost reach out and touch them: ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord!‘
Throughout her entire body Meg felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before. Calvin’s hand reached out; he did not clasp her hand in his; he moved his fingers so that they were barely touching hers, but joy flowed through them, back and forth between them, around them and about them and inside them.
When Mrs Whatsit sighed it seemed completely incomprehensible that through this bliss could come the faintest whisper of doubt.
“We must go now, children.”
I hope you can find an opportunity to read this story sometime, sooner rather than later.