Wednesday 12 September 2018

Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life - Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life
Madeleine L'Engle
Sarah Arthur (Forward)
Convergent Books

Crown Publishing 
ISBN 9781524759308
eISBN 9781524759315

I had the privilege of meeting L'Engle at a conference 20 years ago now. Reading this book was in many ways like being back at the small retreat with her. I could hear her voice and feel her presence. I am a fan of L'Engle's work in the span of 2 years I read about 30 of her books, spanning the breadth and depth of her writing. And with the reprint of this and I believe 3 other title of her non-fiction works on the same day, I am very excited to see her works coming back into print and being available in numerous formats.

I devoured this book over three days. But that is a bit deceptive. Even though it is listed as nearly 400 pages because of the format some thoughts and reflections take up less than a quarter of a page. The introduction is written by Sarah Arthur, who just published A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle

This book is a collection of thoughts, reflections, and personal history. A number of them stuck me, and made me thing of author friends. I shared this one with a friend:

"Cooking Up Stories

When I start working on a book (and I'm usually thinking about several books over several years before I actually start to write one), I'm somewhat like a French peasant cook. There is a big black stove, several pots on the back of it. And the cook goes by and drops a carrot in one pot and a piece of potato in another and an onion and a piece of meat in another. At dinnertime, you look and see which pot smells best and pull it forward. The same thing is true with writing. There are several pots on my back burners. An idea for a scene goes into one pot, a character into another, and a description of the tree in the fog in another. And when it comes time to write, I bring forward the pot which has the most in it-or more likely, this being a less literal world, the pot shoves itself out at me. Now the dropping in of the ideas is sometimes quite conscious. I know I'm putting a carrot in this pot. But sometimes something has been added when I don't even realize it. And I look into the pot and say, "Oh that's there, just what I need." But I don't know when it got put in. When it comes time to write, I look at everything in the pot. I sort, I organize, I arrange, I discover, I think about character and storyline. And most of this part of the work is done by the me of which I am aware. It is a conscious act."

Another one that really grabbed my attention was:

"The Theological Under Level of Story

C. S. Lewis used to write a book of fiction and a book of theology simultaneously, both dealing with the same theological problem. But if we saw in the fiction theology rather than story, then he would have failed. Obviously, the seven Narnia books are deep Christian parables; but if this message reached all of the young readers in a conscious rather than an unconscious way, first of all they would reach only people who were already Christians. And they wouldn't have that under level, that stratum which makes people go to them and read them again and again and again".

The Chapters In The Book Are:
1. Section I: Serving The Gift
Artists And Their Art
2. Section II: Co-Creators With God
Inspiration And The Creative Process
3. Section III: My Books Wrote Me
Elements Of A Writer's Life
4. Section IV: Faith Foundations
Writing From Truth
5. Section V: An Accepted Wonder
The Wisdom Of Children
6. Section VI: Finger Exercises
A Writer's Technique And Style
7. Section VII: The Empty Page
Getting Started
8. Section VIII: A Life Of Their Own
Creating Characters
9. Section IX: Paints Of The Writer's Palette
Words And Symbols
10. Section X: This I Know
Telling Our Story
Appendix I: Sources For This Book
Appendix Ii: Index Of Selections And Sources
Appendix Iii: A Chronology Of Madeleine L'Engle's Life And Books
Appendix Iv: Books By Madeleine L'Engle
Reading Guide

But there are 300 separate entries in this collection. One of the other reflections in this volume is:

"Storytellers Search For Truth

People have always told stories as they searched for truth. As our ancient ancestors sat around the campfire in front of their caves, they told the stories of their day in order to try to understand what their day had meant, what the truth of the mammoth hunt was, or the roar of the cave lion, or the falling in love of two young people Bards and troubadours throughout the centuries have sung stories in order to give meaning to the events of human life. We read novels, go to the movies, watch television, in order to find out more about the human endeavor. As a child I read avidly and in stories I found truths which were not available in history or geography or social studies."

And one final one to share:

"Good Art Heals

Stories should be healing. If they're not, there's something wrong. A story which leaves you frightened, fragmented, depressed, cannot be a Christian story. If I'm in need of healing, if I can go to the museum and look at the paintings, I will be healed. Music is very healing to me. Once I was full of righteous indignation over something and my adolescent said, "Oh, Mother, sit down and play Bach for a while," knowing that if I did and gave that time to the beautiful structure of Bach, I would at least calm down. Art heals us, puts us all together, but only if we're willing to open ourselves to it and collaborate with it".

I want to speak about this one. A few years before I discover L'Engle's writings I was a huge fan of Frank E. Peretti. I loved This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. But when I finished his book The Oath I literally felt slimed. I felt like I had read a Christian Stephen King, and never read another book by him. 

This book is full of wit and wisdom. It is advice from a Christian artist to Christian artists. Anyone who would like to have their faith reflected in their art would take something away from this book. And for fans of her writings it gives us a deeper insight into the woman, her faith and her process.

An excellent read, for readers and for writers.

Related Articles:
Madeleine L'Engle Bibliography
Becoming Madeleine A Biography of the Author of a Wrinkle in Time - Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy
A Light So Lovely The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time - Sarah Arthur

Reviews of Books by Madeleine L'Engle:
Penguins and Golden Calves
Bright Evening Star
The Rock That Is Higher

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