Saturday, September 26, 2009

All You Need is Love: Madeleine L'Engle's Meg Murry

OK Junkies, I'm fighting off the flu--crossing fingers it's not swine--and my belief that my favorite drug does indeed serve medicinal purposes has been reaffirmed. I've spent the last seven hours finishing Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire and I believe it has done more to suppress my cough, relieve my aches, and reduce my fever than the acetaminophen, vitamin c, tea, and lozenges I've been swallowing--well, maybe.

Although I'm tempted to gush about the courage of Katniss, I'll stick to my plan for this post and leave the gushing to my nose--I'm disgusting, I know. Oh don't worry, we'll return to the woes of Panem and District 12 on another day, but for now, let's talk about Meg Murry.

SPOILER ALERT: I am usually a huge stickler about spoilers--just ask my dad--but seeing how this book was published almost 50 years ago, I'm showing no mercy. So if you have not read A Wrinkle in Time, do so now.

Even though she has no special powers, she's not physically strong, she's not the smartest in her family, she's not sexy, and not popular, Meg Murry is the ultimate heroine. Actually, I think make those things her the kick-ass heroine she is.

In a Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, Meg is awakened in the attic of her family's farm house by a storm. Her parents are scientists and her dad has been missing for weeks. Meg's an awkward and unattractive adolescent, with no friends except the lanky Calvin O'Keefe. She feels inferior to her beautiful scientist mother and can't connect with her two brainiac brothers, Sandy and Dennys.

She shares a special bond with her little brother, Charles Wallace, who has super-human intelligence and the ability to communicate with creatures across the space-time continuum. (Side note: I used to believe my little brother also had super-human intelligence and the ability to communicate with creatures across the space-time continuum, but ten years later, I'm still reeling from the disappointment when he reached puberty, fell in love with automatic weapons and Family Guy, thereby disproving my theory).

Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin end up travelling by tesseract, an actual wrinkle in the space-time continuum. Now, for me, this is where L'Engle goes from good to brilliant. I'm no scientist, and have never set foot into a physics or higher mathematics classroom. But I'm pretty sure L'Engle was on to something. I don't know if her explanation of the 5th dimension and space-time travel was based on any actual theories, and I'm feeling too woozy to look it up, but I'm buying it.

I took tesseracts as fact when I was eight and twenty years later I think L'Engle's description of time travel at least puts the writer's of Lost to shame. In addition, L'Engle's brilliance gives us creatures from other planets that defy our conventional notion of an alien. A creature who looks repulsive and ugly but is kind and loving, and aliens who feel instead of talk or think guide Meg, Charles, and Calvin on their journey.

Calvin is athletic, and Charles Wallace is too smart for his own good, but of course it is Meg who must save them and her imprisoned father. She doesn't karate chop her way to victory, or seduce the enemy, or even outsmart anyone. She saves the day with love. She overpowers the darkness of depression and self-doubt and loves her father, and Charles Wallace, to freedom. Now this might sound incredibly cheesy, but I've read the book 5 times and I feel the power of the message and the emotional truth of it each time.

Thus, my addiction began. I was hooked the second I finished it. At age eight, for the first time I felt the satisfaction and the longing at completing an amazing book. I was so fulfilled that it was so good, yet so sad that it was over. And I knew then, what I didn't remember until a few years ago, that this is what I want to do with my life. I want to write stories like this and make people feel that satisfaction and longing.

I devoured L'Engles other works. A Wind in the Door is arguably better than Wrinkle. It's darker, the stakes are higher, and the writing is more refined. But as my first taste of this delicious drug, I have a special fondness for A Wrinkle in Time. L'Engle's A House Like Lotus created in me the desire to explore Athens and its Ancient Greek ruins, a dream finally realized a few years ago.

I can only hope that the first dream Madeleine L'Engle inspired in me, to make a living as a young adult fantasy writer, will one day be fulfilled.

Ok, Junkies, sorry if I got a little sappy there, my fever is my excuse. Now I'm off in search of my next fix and the hope to escape with a heroine, and leave my headache behind.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let's Begin at the Beginning

I have a problem.

At work I get the shakes, counting the minutes til my next fix. Sometimes I slip up and talk to my co-workers about my drug of choice and they stare at me and back away slowly before whispering behind my back. Once at home, I lay back in my recliner, oblivious to the hours ticking by as I relish in my high. When I have a good stash, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, and I can’t sleep until I finish it. I’ve even started to make my own stuff and fantasize about selling it.

Ok, before this metaphor gets any more ridiculous and my mom calls for an intervention, let me be clear. I’m addicted to heroines.

I love the strong female leads in young adult novels, especially in urban fantasy. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen the high school girls shuffle through the hallways with the tell-tale books hidden beneath crooked arms. Some are even so brazen as to wear t-shirts displaying their addiction.

I hope to reach out to fellow addicts and together, we can form a support group. (But really I hope this ends up like any rehab program, and instead of quitting together, we’ll just trade stories of getting high and share secrets on where to get the good stuff. Because this is one habit I don’t want to kick.)

Well, let’s begin at the beginning. It all started watching Wonder Woman with my mom when I was a toddler (it’s always the mother’s fault). One look at that female kicking ass and I was hooked. Now I’m unclear of Wonder Woman’s origins, is she human or an alien? I also can’t recall, what exactly are her special powers? I just remember she had a magic whip. A woman who doesn’t need super-human strength to beat up bad guys is even better.

Then there was She-Ra, Princess of Power. SOOOO much better than He-Man, I don’t care what anyone says. And if I remember correctly, she had to save He-Man’s ass a few times. She had a magic sword, some type of magic horse, a pink castle made of clouds, and she didn’t need no man. Although I think she had a boyfriend, Beau, or something. But she was always saving his ass too. The best part was that her alter ego (can’t remember her name) had to PRETEND to be weak. I think there’s some kind of feminist lesson there…

I had the whole get up. See picture --------------->
I remember swinging that sword around in the backyard, I was unbeatable. I shouted at my dad to “Read the Words!” at the end of each episode where there was some sappy summary and moral to the story. My true addiction started when he said, “Read them yourself.”

Of course, growing up there continued to be non-literary heroines to feed my need. Rogue was my favorite X-Man in the cartoon and I am disappointed at how weak she is in the movies. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena the Warrior Princess were my high school TV standbys.

But next week, we’ll talk about the book and its heroine that changed my life. Be strong until then.