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Why I <3 A Wrinkle in Time

13 Feb

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite a long time. You see, A Wrinkle in Time was never one of the books I would have said was a favorite when I was a kid. And yet, the more I think about it, and when I’ve reread it, I realize that it’s one of the books that has most shaped my view of the world. While I hate the question “What book changed your life?” because I believe that every book changes my life, this is one of the answers. So it seems like it’s finally time to fiddle around with articulating why, on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication and at least 20 years since I first read it.

I clearly remember the day my mom picked it up from a bookstore shelf and handed it to me, saying we should get it because I would probably like it. We were somewhere that had a bigger bookstore than our own mall, which was always exciting for me. (Yes, nerd, I know.) My mom was big on the Newbery  stickers, and was a big reader herself. The cover was totally unappealing, it must be said. It was this one:

THAT IS NOT MRS. WHATSIT, and that’s all I have to say.

There was a terrific op-ed by Pamela Paul in the New York Times last week that sums up perfectly what this book and Meg Murry did. Meg is one of the ultimate heroines for bookish girls: “Meg harbors doubts about her own intellectual abilities, and her exacting expectations rub off on the reader. If anything, the book enchants readers who might not entirely grasp its concepts with the delight in not knowing; the realization that even the most know-it-all kids do not, in fact, have all the answers and that certain questions are worth asking.”

And that was one of the important things for me, for sure. But perhaps more what this book did for me was make real life–science–magical. I have always been a fantasy reader, and I read a lot of ghost stories in this era of my reading life, too. And suddenly, Madeleine L’Engle showed me tesseracts, and what existing in the second dimension might be like, and added onto it Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, plus the idea that a star might sacrifice itself to save us all from darkness. And the idea that like and equal are not the same thing.  In Anna Quindlen’s introduction to one of the newer editions, she mentions the “fiction of science.” Perhaps that’s what I truly responded to as a kid–and still do now–that fiction, science, and magic…they are all the same thing.

In this world that Madeleine L’Engle created, too, it’s okay to be bright; unapologetically, incredibly brilliant, regardless of your age, and the adults treat the children and teenagers as intellectual equals. The dangers and difficulties are brutal and harsh. Nothing is softened for anyone, no matter his or her age. Truths are told. And they must be faced. At the celebration of Wrinkle in Time‘s anniversary this weekend, one of the many pithy things said was that Madeleine L’Engle believed that we must dare to disturb the universe. A video interview of Ms. L’Engle was shown, and she also said in it, “A good story always teaches something, but not if you plan to. It has to happen.” She knew how to do that, because she gave us Meg, in all her faults, and in all her love for the other characters, and she gave us a journey to go on with Meg.

In her Newbery speech, Madeleine L’Engle says, “A book, too, can be star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

Her book certainly expanded mine.

Why I ♥ Jim Henson

24 Sep

Today would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday. It is no secret among my friends and family that I love the Muppets. And so it seemed fitting to start of this new little “Why I ♥” post series I’ve been planning to do with Jim Henson and the Muppets.

The Google Doodle today celebrates the Muppets!

Of course, I grew up watching Sesame Street, back before Elmo had his own line of anything, back when Snuffleupagus was Big Bird’s imaginary friend and no one else believed he was real. And I vaguely remember watching the Muppet Show and all the Muppet movies. Plus Labyrinth, which has long been one of my all-time favorite movies. Growing up when Jim Henson was still alive and behind all the new Muppet ventures was a magical thing, and I think my generation is particularly lucky.

What makes the Muppets so special, for me anyway, is that they are somehow this perfect blend of childhood and adulthood. They are joyous, energetic, not afraid to be surprised or to learn something new, but they are also whip-smart, sly, and knowing. The humor hits the balance between silly and dry, and it never gets old. The Muppets don’t talk down to kids. And they don’t talk up to adults. They are talking to everyone.

I love the post that Jim Henson’s son wrote for Google today. Especially the sense that “family” means anyone you love. And this: “Every day for him was joyously filled with the surprises of other people’s ideas. I often think that if we all lived like that, not only would life be more interesting, we’d all be a lot happier.” I’m lucky to have a job that lets me revel in other people’s ideas every day, too, and I agree that it’s one of the best things in life.

Plus, there’s the wild imagination. In the forms that the puppets take, in the worlds of Labyrinth or Dark Crystal or Fraggle Rock. In the storylines. Anything can happen. Anything can exist. And it can exist alongside us.

But perhaps what has always seemed most magical to me is that in almost everything Jim Henson created, the Muppets existed in our world. Sesame Street’s population was human and Muppets mixed together as though it could happen on any street. Even Labyrinth‘s world existed alongside our own, Sara just had to find her way in (and back out). The Fraggles live down below where human beings live.

Jim Henson gave me a world that could hold anything imaginable. You can go to a play and look up and maybe see Waldorf and Statler in the balcony. You could find a Fraggle in your backyard. The goblins could steal your baby brother. Oscar the Grouch might live in the garbage can in the alley. The world is full of surprising things, and all we have to do is see them.

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