The Sacrament Of Novel Writing

Reviewing Listening for Madeleine, a collection of interviews conducted by Leonard S. Marcus about Madeleine L’Engle, Ruth Franklin reveals the woman behind A Wrinkle in Time. On the primacy of religion in her life:

One of Marcus’s interviewees recalls glancing at L’Engle’s notebook during a meeting to discover that she was writing a prayer. Another person calls her the greatest preacher he had ever heard. Her piety should not come as a surprise: A Wrinkle in Time is a fairly obvious allegory of the struggle between good and evil, and the Austin chronicles allude often to the family’s Christianity. One of L’Engle’s editors muses that her books always reflected “her very deep faith . . . embedded in a great story with great characters,” but the reverse can also be true: L’Engle’s characters are embedded in her faith, which is the real raison d’être of her novels. She liked to speak of her writing as an “incarnational act,” an inseparable part of her religious life.

How her faith complemented her fantastical writing:

In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s mother explains that the sudden arrival of Mrs Whatsit did not surprise her because she is able to have “a willing suspension of disbelief.” The phrase comes from Coleridge, who suggested that a little reality infused into a fantastical narrative helped to convince the reader—a lesson L’Engle learned well. The suspension of disbelief is also what links literature and religion, both of which require a leap of faith as the first step. L’Engle’s friends often describe her as “open to grace”—the chance encounter or random sign that offers an entryway to mystery. It’s a quality that most of us start with and gradually lose. Her faith-based novels may now sometimes seem to go too far, either into the fantastic realistic or the realistic fantastic. But back when we needed them, they were just right.