PEEPS. Last night I had an incredibly fun time having this conversation with Hannah Evans (seriously, go follow her RIGHT NOW she is so great!!!) about 3 of Madeleine’s L’Engle’s books: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. We talk about the sense of wonder in these books (and in the recent DuVernay adaptation), feeling sexy in our glasses, and the books in the context of L’Engle’s other works and the genre Hannah dubs “sociospiritual fantasy.” As I’ve already said, this conversation was so much goddam fun and after it was finished last night I was so hyped up that I had to eat a bunch of caramel ice cream and watch some John Mulaney to settle down. I hope you enjoy our not-a-podcast-podcast-format as much as we did!
Kelsey Widman: Is this working?
Hannah Evans: I think so!!
KW: ah yay there you are!
KW: hello hello!!
thank you so much for being my second EVER shout/countershout guest and for reaching out to do it because I was SO EXCITED
HE: I’m so excited that you said yes! I live for this shit
Oh can we swear hahaha
KW: yes we can very much swear!
and spoilers are good too!
KW: this feels super weird because I just hear like a podcast intro voice in my mind, but this obviously isn’t a podcast, so I’ll just start out by asking, as Gaudior the unicorn would phrase it, in what When and Where did you first start reading these books?
HE: This is a little like a podcast though, isn’t it? Just like a transcribed interview!
KW:Pretty much! I’m just essentially cheating because I’m better at writing out my words than speaking them (helloooo 5w4ness)
and then I force everyone else to do the same! *evil laugh*
HE: I’m happy with it, I am also like that. Plus I am currently sick and coughing like a maniac and would be unable to do a podcast in my current state
To answer your question: I can tell you with full honestly that I have no idea when or where I first read these books. There is no beginning or end to my relationship with them—they always Have Been.
KW: oh my god that’s the PERFECT experience for these books
I very specifically was in 3rd grade when I first read Wrinkle, which I know because in that book Meg has both glasses and braces and that was the year in which I GOT both glasses and braces
HE: I must have been pre-puberty when I first read Wrinkle, because I remember struggling to relate to her feeling of awkwardness and disliking herself. Which is funny to me because years later that would be exactly my experience in 7th grade (which I think is her age in Wrinkle?)
KW: oh my gosh she hates herself SO MUCH
which, relatable as a 7th grader
and also, at many ages
HE: I felt so bewildered by her self-loathing and comparing herself to her mother. But in hindsight, that’s all I did in 7th grade—wonder if I would be as pretty as my mother
7th grade is HARD
KW: I was very much like “okay well probably what will happen is that someday a boy will take off my glasses and be like ‘whoa, you have DREAMBOAT EYES'”
which has not happened yet, but the dream lives on
HE: Okay, I love these books more than most people, but I really do hate the “glasses are not sexy” trope
I feel very sexy in my glasses, thanks
KW: true true! I am too much of a weakling to put contacts in my eyes, so my glasses are full-on like a part of my face now
HE: I haven’t gone a full day without my glasses since my sophomore year of high school and I don’t miss it
KW: to be fair, glasses in the 60s (?)…probably not the MOST confidence-inspiring
HE: Yeah in 1962 glasses weren’t quite the rage they are today
KW: but yeah I also remember getting to A Swiftly Tilting Planet and reading that paragraph that’s like “and Meg HAD ditched her glasses and gotten her hair together and become beautiful!!!” and being like…”okay. why tho.”
HE: For these books that are so spectacular and human and empowering, the whole “Meg became beautiful” timeline feels very…..Out Of Place
KW: which, ALSO
definitely in my pre-teen mind in which All Adult Ages Are Basically The Same, I pictured Meg in Swiftly as like, solidly middle-aged
she is ~23
The fact that I am the same age as Meg in Swiftly is ~wild~
And she’s PREGNANT
KW: but like she’s 23 and also like a double Ph.D. so now I feel inadequate on TWO levels
HE: Although again, in 1978 being pregnant at 23 wasn’t unusual at all
I’m 23 and working on one PhD, does that count
KW: yes, it absolutely does
okay, speaking of Swiftly, I realized that this book taught me about generational trauma before I knew what that was??
which is actually true for a lot of things in these books
like the story in Wind that Calvin tells about the plants that grew differently based on their stimuli stuck with me more than almost anything else from that book, and I think years later someone else was telling me about that kind of study and I was like “OH YEAH I’VE KNOWN ABOUT THIS SINCE THE 4TH GRADE, SUCKAS”
HE: Thanks to Wind, I knew what mitochondria were before I took biology haha
KW: it did really confuse me though when the Avengers came out and using the word “tesseract” but meaning something different
yeah!! the mitochondria! I do remember being very confused because I probably took it in at the same time as The Phantom Menace and all the midichlorians bullshit and having a hard time keeping track of which things were fictional and which were not
HE: L’Engle has a really great quote about not writing down to children. It’s a big part of her writing ethos. She was really concerned with how writers watered down stories for kids, thinking they couldn’t handle themes of real life, and she worked hard to incorporate real issues into her work.
KW: Yessss I know the quote you’re talking about!!
HE: I think that shows in all her books, but never so poignantly for me than Meg’s relationship with her father in Wrinkle.
KW: ooh YES
HE: The way she idealized him, and when she found him again was so upset and angry and betrayed.
KW: she did not shy away from writing nuanced parent/child stories
one thing that really impressed me about the parent stuff in the books was that the parents (esp Mrs. Murry) are so good about encouraging their kids to feel and share their feelings
HE: I’m one of the few who genuinely really liked Ava Duvernay’s movie version that came out this year. But that is one part I really missed from the movie. They took out a lot of the father–daughter conflict.
KW: and answering their questions honestly
OKAY YES I LOVED THE MOVIE TOO
I went to see it by myself at like 10 pm which meant that it was me and I think 2 other people in the entire theater and I just FELT EVERY FEELING
HE: I’ve read some excellent critiques of how taking out a lot of the explicit religious themes does a disservice to L’Engle’s legacy, and I agree, but I also think about what it would have meant to me as a 12 year old and I think I would have been OBSESSED and in that way, Ava did do L’Engle justice
KW: I’ve been thinking about one of L’Engle’s other quotes, about how she started writing Wrinkle at a time in which she was really having a hard time finding a sense of wonder in religion and spirituality, and it wasn’t until she started diving into the science she explores in the books that she was able to rediscover that wonder and reopen it in other places
HE: God I love her so much
She, more than any other religious fantasy writer (sorry Lewis and Tolkien fans) captures wonder for me.
KW: definitely thinking about the sense of wonder a big floppy green sting-ray-ish thing would install in a child vs. an adult has kind of re-perspectived (what a great, fake word but okay) the stuff from the movie that I found initially kind of corny, especially because there’s so much ELSE that’s so visually interesting that almost never happens in children’s movies
HE: Yeah, that whole scene I was like “okay, this is kind of corny and not really how I pictured it in the book, but this would be so magical if I was 10 years younger”
KW: Iiiii have never read Tolkien (*blushes in christian liberal arts school English Major*), although I actually am going to be soon bc my Tolkien-obsessed roommate agreed to book-shout about it with me, but I think there’s something so refreshing and timeless in the way that the religious elements of L’Engle’s fantasy can affect you without having to be a 1:1 allegory
I’ll be honest, I don’t find allegories terribly….profound? I find them kind of boring and didactic. But I think L’Engle does such a great job of incorporating religious themes into her stories while remaining fully human.
KW: the part in the movie where I REALLY got in my feelings was when Meg tessers for the last time in the movie, because the times she had tessered previously it had been a really scary, painful experience, but it was after she had come to a place of loving and choosing her TRUE SELF — rather than an idealized version — that the tesser becomes a powerful, lovely experience
HE: YES YES YES
Exactly how L’Engle would have wanted it.
KW: Yes!! I actually found that scene — and the scene before — really bringing another lens to the way I read it this time which I super appreciated
HE: She also deals with so many sociological themes that are age appropriate: We all affect one another’s realities! It’s hard to be different! We are all compilations of others who have loved us!
KW: Yes!!! Which she also follows up on in Wind
HE: I like to call her genre “sociospiritual fantasy”
KW: there’s so much about the premise of Wind that’s kind of bizarre (I feel like under no circumstances would a children’s book today have an adult man join up with the children for the kind of mission they undertake) but so much of that book is about embracing the fullness of who you are — and the fullness of who other people are, the good and the often-irritating
I think a Wind movie is probably nearly impossible, but I wonder if DuVernay intentionally pulled in some of those themes into her movie
HE: Yes! The idea that even your flaws (the orneriness of the principal, for example) are part of what make you, YOU, was (and is) really radical for Christianity at the time.
KW: and, tbh, Christianity now
HE: And loving people where they are, in all of that flawed-ness
KW: aghghghskldfj;lfh when Meg is given “her flaws” as a gift I love that so much
ooh which reminds me, in your Enneagram expertise, what do you think Book Meg is?
HE: I adore the principal. He is one of my favorite characters in Wind. I love the scene when Meg has to select him from the clones
KW: I love how many times they intentionally remind you of his dandruff
HE: That’s a tough one. I think I’m going to go with a Six, because Meg is very rebellious and grouchy but she is also desperately seeking belonging and security for who *she* is, and her relationships are so important to her sense of self
KW: ooooh interesting!! I hadn’t thought of the relationships as part of her sense of self but that is so true!
HE: And she just warms right up in the presence of people who nurture her. Think of Aunt Beast.
Under all the grouch and angst there’s a very warm, relational person, which you get glimpses of throughout all the books
KW: AUNT BEAST ❤ ❤ ❤
HE: Such a bummer that Aunt Beast didn’t make it in the Wrinkle movie.
KW: *sigh* yeah…it’s similar to how I feel about Sandy and Dennys: kind of a bummer, but also understandable
HE: I never really liked Sandy and Dennys, so I didn’t totally mind that they’re missing from the movie haha
KW: speaking of Sandy and Dennys, I know one place where we’re in disagreement is the trilogy/quintet distinction!
KW: I like the purpose that Sandy and Dennys serve as a standard of normalcy against which Meg feels inadequate, but they do mostly just serve to hang around and be skeptical
HE: Actually, I do agree with that
KW: I was honestly ready to reconsider the trilogy camp until I got to Swiftly
HE: I think they were important to compare Meg and Charles Wallace to so we could see how *odd* Meg and Charles are
Interesting. What changed your mind?
KW: I think because Swiftly switches up the “main cast” so much that it would be frustrating to me to think of it as a trilogy in which Meg is barely involved in the finale
and also Calvin, because my crush on him is real and enduring
HE: I will be crushing on Calvin forever
Sidebar: my least favorite part of the Wrinkle movie is how boring and one-dimensional Calvin became
KW: ughhhhhhh yeah movie Calvin was kind of a dud
HE: His entire role was to flirt with Meg and nothing else in the movie. But book Calvin *swoon*
KW: I feel like the actor was just really not charming enough
HE: Book Calvin is practical and outgoing and down to earth and appropriately cynical
KW: which I GET is a big thing to place on a 13 or whatever year old, and also Storm Reid, even though she’s not playing a charming character, has a lot of screen chemistry, but I still cringed every time he spoke
HE: It’s true
Also, nobody in that movie compared to Storm Reid.
KW: but it’s okay because Chris Pine was there to crush on
*fans self uncomfortably*
HE: The scenes with Pine and Reid were the best of the movie.
KW: between Chris Pine and Josh Duhamel, I am perturbed with 2018 becoming the year that I start thirsting after movie dads
I wasn’t ready for this
KW: okay so getting back to the trilogy/quintet discussion, I also felt like the “climax” of Swiftly was…not much?
HE: True. I love Swiftly because I loved the pivot to traveling through time rather than space, and I love Charles Wallace, but it’s not the best book
Wrinkle and Wind are the strongest by far
KW: like Charles Wallace makes a lot of little shifts along the way, but then the big issue (ie having a “blue eyed baby” — which, WHEW some stuff to unpack there) was resolved in a Where where he wasn’t even…at?
I liked the pivot to time travel too! I think though, the way it’s done in this book is maybe the least accessible to young readers of the book? Like as an adult, I WAS having a hard time keeping track of all the Brans and Gwyns and Zylles
HE: Yeah, I agree
It’s a weird one for sure
I also think honestly that it has the least spiritual significance, compared to the first two
KW: I think I am going to rearead An Acceptable Time sometime soon to see if it ties together with the themes from this book
HE: I think An Acceptable Time is more similar to Swiftly
KW: RIGHT?? Which is weird, considering it’s a book about LITERALLY STOPPING NUCLEAR WAR
HE: (Lemme know when we get back to the discussion about Wind, because I want to talk about the spiritual profundity of NAMING)
KW: I’m curious to see if I can place the “When” of that book in relation to the events of Swiftly
oh we can go back to that RIGHT NOW
GO OFF, friend!!
HE: I think Meg is pregnant with Peggy during Swiftly?
Pretty sure Peggy is the oldest of the Calvin–Meg O’Keefe children
KW: Is she? For some reason in my mind she’s not, but let me check that
it would make SO MUCH SENSE IF SHE WAS
HE: Please check it right now and let me know
Okay, so Naming
KW: oh nope you’re totally right!! she’s the oldest!
KW: they had such a passel of kids
HE: Oh it’s Polly isn’t it, not Peggy
KW: SEVEN CHILDREN
HE: Did you ever read the spin off books?
KW: why didn’t they just name her after Proginoskes, aka my patronus
OH BOY THOSE SPIN OFFS
so, I read “A House Like a Lotus,” which takes place shortly before An Acceptable Time, I think?
It’s very vanilla in terms of science-fiction stuff, but NOT IN TERMS OF EVERYTHING ELSE
I was not prepared for that book
HE: SAY MORE
Rereading these has really been a nostalgia trip for me, but I was thinking about reading Arm of the Starfish, and House Like a Lotus? Is it worthwhile?
I know there’s also Dragons in the Waters but she’s barely in that I think
KW: okay I don’t want to spoil House Like a Lotus because some truly wild shit happens and it kinda comes out of left field…oh right Dragons in the Waters…what’s that one about?
I also read the first 4 of the Austin Family Chronicles (which ALSO connects with these books) and then the 5th and final one was going to be set in Antarctica so I nope-d out of there because I hate even reading about the cold
DID YOU KNOW
ABOUT THE 2002 DISNEY CHANNEL ORIGINAL MOVIE
BASED ON BOOK 3 OF THE AUSTIN FAMILY CHRONICLES
“A Ring of Endless Light“
HE: Were the Austin ones good?? I couldn’t ever decide whether I wanted to read them because I was just so invested in the Murrys
KW: starring Mischa Barton and
KW: I remember not being as into them. They don’t really engage with the science fiction stuff. like there’s some mild mystic-ness, but it’s mostly vanilla
okay let me see if there’s a trailer for this
okay there’s not a trailer on youtube but there is THIS MAJESTIC CLIP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPLiC8aayoo
you know he’s a Bad Boy because he’s not wearing a seatbelt and the GOOD KIDS ARE WEARING BIKE HELMETS
HE: Oh my gosh
KW: so yeah that’s a thing that exists out in this world. I think I did watch it somehow shortly after reading the book and was like “well that’s…a thing that happened.”
in the book there’s way more death.
HE: What I wouldn’t give to see Jared Paledecki as Zach Gray in a movie adaptation of An Acceptable Time
KW: oh my god SO. TRUE.
HE: Who would play Polly???
KW: I have a theory that Jared Padalecki has never had a good haircut in his life but only because his hair is too majestic to be restrained in any way
HE: Okay dream cast. What actors, of any age from any time period, would you want to play:
KW: I think just cast Alexis Bledel as Polly and set ’em loose
HE: WOW YES
KW: AND THEN CAST MILO VENTIMIGLIA AS THAT THIRD DUDE IN THE LOVE TRIANGLE IN THAT BOOK
HE: The mystic from ancient times? Hahahahaha
KW: okay it was TRULY STARTLING TO ME to see Charles Wallace in the movie because I realized that because of the way he talks I had been picturing him as closer to 9 but NOPE HE’S REALLY ACTUALLY 5 and the movie showed me just how unsettling it would be to hear a 5 year old talk like that
okay it feels almost sacrilegious to think of replacing Storm Reid, but I feel no compunction about Calvin
oh my god TOM HOLLAND
HE: Ok but what’s the little boy from Room? Who also starred in Wonder? He would also make a fantastic Charles WAllaace
I WAS ALSO THINKING TOM HOLLAND OMGGGG
KW: ohhhhh yeah Jacob Tremblay? he would be very good
HE: TOM HOLLAND WOULD’VE BEEN THE PERFECT CALVIN.
KW: AND YES TOM HOLLAND IN EVERYTHING FOREVER
HE: Can we also make Zendaya Meg then because I ship them
KW: HE’S SO CHARMING AND LANKY
HE: Also because I love Zendaya in everything
KW: oh my gosh now all I want is this movie
HE: Zendaya and Tom Holland in every romantic coming of age movie
KW: Just pretend Wind is set like 6 years in the future from Wrinkle instead of 1
HE: WOW YES
Zendaya would actually make a great adult Storm Reid, wow
KW: okay speaking of Wind, let’s get back to naming and then we should probably wrap up
HE: Okay yes
So Naming, biblically, is this deeply sacred spiritual act that God literally assigned Adam in Genesis
This idea of finding a word and giving it to someone; to ascribe meaning to what was intangible
KW: oh my gosh yes!! and then all the different times Bible people’s names change to reflect who they are
HE: Yes! L’Engle literally just made a whole book about the value of ascribing name and value to people, and honoring them for who they are
KW: It’s also a very intimate kind of knowing, similar to kything
HE: Yes! To understand something well enough to name it, to provide a label and synonym, is very intimate understanding
KW: Meg’s not able to kythe with Mr. Jenkins without naming and embracing the truth of who he is, dandruff and all
HE: Yes absolutely
KW: one of my favorite lines is when Progo is talking about having memorized the names of the stars and someone asks him how many there are and he says “I don’t know how many there are. It’s their names that matter.”
HE: Wow yes amen
KW: many ~timely~ feelings about all of that
Hannah!! This has been so fun and wonderful!!
HE: If you’ve never read it, I think you’d love Caring For Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre
I highlighted the whole thing and I recommend it highly for language lovers
Thank you so much for having me!!
KW: oh that’s going STRAIGHT ON THE LIST!!
Please keep me updated on your other-Murry-books reads (ESP HOUSE LIKE A LOTUS)!!
HE: I will!!
Quick post script note: I did mention somewhere in there that I was going to be doing a reading and shout/countershout of the Lord of the Rings, so that’s coming up! If you’re a long-time fan of the books, or [like me] have only seen the movies and have been dragging your feet about the books, or don’t care a whit for any of them but like hearing women in their early 20s shake their fists at the sky, keep your ears tuned for some LotR coming at you in the near-ish future [those books are hella long and we’re probably gonna take it slooooowly ie book by book rather than all in one go].