Many Waters Cannot Quench Love: Madeleine L’Engle and the Gift of Story-Telling
“Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith . . . faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”- Madeleine L’Engle
When I heard that Madeleine L’Engle died eight years ago, I felt as if I had lost an old friend. It was the beginning of my first year of college, and I remember vividly discussing the matter with a childhood friend while working at the campus bookstore. She understood, recalling with fondness the author’s work, even though she was not as huge of a fan of her books as I was. While reflecting today, I find that to be particularly compelling. I had never had the honor of meeting Madeleine L’Engle, although my mom did have the opportunity several years earlier when my older brother was only a baby. Yet even though I would not react as strongly to this loss as to that of a friend I knew personally, I felt at the same time as if I had known her personally. As an avid reader and great fan of her work, I got to know her through her writing. That is the power of a well-written novel with which you can sympathize; you can connect to the book through the author or, perhaps, to the author through the book.
I first encountered L’Engle’s work in elementary school while reading A Wrinkle in Time. My mother had put together a program for my brother and me that involved the study of this particular book. Just as she had exposed me to fairy tales as a young girl, I remain likewise forever grateful for this introduction. As I was to soon discover, it would, in my mind, take its place as one of the most brilliant, imaginative books ever written. I was instantly captivated by the journey of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin as they were thrust into fantastical and unique settings and circumstances. The strange world of Camazotz, devoid of individuality, opened my mind to philosophical ponderings. The imaginative insight and creative scope enthralled me then, yet, when I read the book later as an adult, I was all the more astounded by how Madeleine had crafted such a compelling and innovative piece. It was also groundbreaking on account of its inability to be confined to a particular genre. Madeleine’s books are often a sci-fi/fantasy crossover, and Wrinkle served as a wonderful introduction to that concept.
As I continued on my own journey as a writer, my love for her stories from simply the perspective of a reader took new shape. Her work became inspirational to me, both on account of its aforementioned creativity and writing style. The former, like Narnia and other fantasy tales, ignited my fervor to write fantasy stories of my own. Yet even when I was not writing in that genre, it impacted me more generally by the subconscious reminder that there were no limits to expression in the writing process. And the latter point–that of her style–may have had a direct impact on my debut novel I Thirst.
While no one would call Madeleine a “stream-of-consciousness” writer, she did, in the most poignant moments in her writing, use elements of it for character development and emotional presence. (A Ring of Endless Light, a novel to which I was initially drawn as a teen, serves as a good example of this concept. While it is not technically fantasy like many of L’Engle’s other books, it is “poetic fantasy”.) I found myself doing the same on similar occasions in I Thirst. It could be said that she was one of my writing “kindred spirits” as our hearts were both expressed at times in this fashion.
Despite my enthrallment with Madeleine’s stories, my exposure to individual books was more staggered. It was not until college that I read A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in the Time series that had captivated me as a child. It remains one of my favorites and motivated me to once again read at any available moment when homework did not demand my attention. Like Wrinkle, it was remarkable on account of its imaginative power and thematic depth. Yet I found that each volume in that sci-fi/fantasy series was so entirely distinctive while still remaining part of the whole. Wrinkle was the sort of fantasy that inspired you to think abstractly while Planet took me through a historical journey that had the ability to make the universe appear simultaneously grand yet intimate.
When my mom handed Madeleine L’Engle her book Many Waters at a book signing so many years ago–with baby in stroller beside her—the author inscribed it to my young brother with the words, “Many Waters [title page] cannot quench love.”
Perhaps that is the power of a great fantasy story–one that takes us to another place without allowing us to leave the human dimension.
One that captures not only the imagination but also the heart.
One filled with Love.
By Gina Marinello-Sweeney