R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle


I almost didn’t read Madeleine L’Engle.

I was in the backyard with my brother, who was blowing bubbles made from homemade bubble soap. I didn’t really know what to say, so as usual I echoed someone else, in this case a common sentence-starter combined with a phrase I’d heard on TV. Which came out, “How ’bout mousy-blah hair.”

My brother said, “Have you been reading A Wrinkle In Time?”

Instant terror. I had never read A Wrinkle In Time. I knew nothing about it except that I had a copy of it, a yellow paperback, in a precise location in my room. But I felt weirdly invaded by the whole exchange.

(My brother wasn’t cross with me about the mousy-blah hair comment. He got more cross when I repeated word-for-word in front of our parents what he’d said about the bubbles he was blowing looking like someone blew their nose.)

As such, I tried to avoid even looking at my copy of the book. I certainly didn’t read it. I tried not to touch it.

But eventually I did read it, and found among other things Mrs. Who, a character who found language uncomfortable and had to speak in quotations. I would later quote about Mrs. Who in an attempt to explain my approach to language to someone who has become a lifelong friend.

So Madeleine L’Engle allowed me to see for the first time a representation outside myself of the sort of functional echolalia I tried to use to get by, and in a non-clinical context being used by a strong character at that. And yet I almost never read Madeleine L’Engle because of a response to my echolalia.

She and her books came to mean a great deal more than that to me. But Anne of Existence is Wonderful put it better than I can. Go read her memorial post.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

11 responses »

  1. Thank you for posting this. Madeleine L’Engle’s books are some of my favourites, particularly A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, though I’ve read nearly everything she wrote and own a bunch of them. As soon as I get the money, I plan on getting Wrinkle, Wind, and Planet on audiobook from Amazon, both because of my progressively worsening eyesight and because Madeleine L’Engle read the books for the CDs. I look forward to listening to them.

  2. I remember coming across the phrase “mousy-blah hair” in a Peanuts cartoon — Peppermint Patty was worried about her hair being “mousy-blah” for a skating competition, IIRC. I used to have an audio tape of that particular cartoon that came with a book (they had these books in the 80s with little plastic pockets in them in which cassette tapes were stored), and I remember thinking that was a really weird phrase to describe hair.

    Thanks for linking to my post. I don’t think there’s any way I could express exactly what I’d like to in actual words, but I managed to get some of it across…

  3. I had not heard of Madeleine L’Engle until you mentioned “A Wrinkle in Time” in a blog post. I so want to read that book, and the other books by her. I’m glad that she and her books came to mean so much to you.

  4. I don’t remember the books with the cassettes in them, but I do remember books with little flimsy plastic records in them. And these days I’ve seen books with audio CDs or computer CD-ROMs in them.

    And you’re right, that must’ve been from Peanuts. I now remember my mom repeating that phrase because she found it odd, and that’s how it stuck in my head.

  5. You know, when i read that she had died, it occurred to me that I remember A Wrinkle in Time more vividly than almost any other book I read when I was a child. (Although I actually idenitified with Charles Wallace more than Meg, somehow.) I think I’m going to have to get all of those books for my son, although maybe they are considered more “girl” books…

  6. Madeleine L’Engle said one reason why “A Wrinkle in Time” took so long to find a publisher is that it was assumed that children would not be able to understand its sophisticated way of looking at time, or not understand Einstein’s theories. But nothing is too hard for children as long as it is part of a story.

    The book was rejected by Simon and Schuster because they considered it too difficult for children.

  7. Oh, I loved Ms. L’Engle’s works – still do. I saw her speak as a child (my 5th grade teacher’s reward to the few kids who had read most of her books), and will always remember her books as my first experience with “life-altering” literature. There were many authors that followed, of course, whose works spoke to me and changed me, but Ms. L’Engle was the first. I am very sad to hear of her passing.

  8. A Wrinkle in Time was the first scifi bok I ever read, and it really motivated me to read and watch science fiction. I really love the way atypical people, that may very well have disabilities, are also heroes and strong characters. I also love the concept of kything, not sure I’m spelling that right but it’s always been a dream of mine to be able to connect with soeone in such a deep and telepathic way as kything. I’ve only read tha R.I.T. series, but reading this post makes me want to read more books by the same author as well, and reread the series.

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