A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, and Childhood Inspirations

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My aspiration of becoming a novelist began at the tender age of eleven, when I wrote my very first book. It consisted of several pages of paper folded together, illustrated with appropriately childish drawings of a talking unicorn and her quest to find the end of the rainbow. Ever since then, I’ve been imagining what the reality of being a published author might be like, something that will finally be coming true in April of 2019. Of all the fantasies that have run through my mind on many a sleepless night (casting the movie version, rubbing shoulders with my favourite authors at some imaginary party), the idea of giving an interview falls more into the bad dream category. I’m a writer. I don’t do well being put on the spot. I like to take my time with things. In that vein, I’ve been writing and honing a blurb (mostly in my head) about what I might say, if I am ever asked who my early inspirations and influences were. Below is an extremely rough draft of what my response might be, were I forced to cram hours (if not days) of ramblings into a few short paragraphs.SusanCooper-Dark-is-Rising-bookcover

The stories that I loved the most as a child (and later, young adult), the ones that drew me in the most completely, were those wherein the real world and the otherworldly overlapped, where you could step from one to the other – the idea that magic (like the TARDIS), might be hiding around any corner, that one might stumble across it at any moment.

Susan Cooper, Madenleine L’Engle and Peter S. Beagle all rank pretty highly as far as early influences go, along with Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay, Steven R. Boyett (author of Ariel), Barbara Hambly’s Dark series, and of course all the Narnia (C.S. Lewis) & Tolkien books. And later on, Tad Williams, Neil Gaiman (starting with the Sandman graphic novels), and Douglas Adams (who infused everything with his trademark blend of humour and not-so-subtle digs at the absurdity of the human condition).

ariel_steven-r-boyett-bookcoverA Wrinkle in Time in particular opened uncountable doors to new ideas for me. It got me thinking about alternate dimensions, quantum physics, and non-linear time long before Doctor Who entered my life. It fused fantasy and sci-fi ideas so that they became indistinguishable from each other.

One thing all of these authors have in common is that they show us, through story and metaphor, how everything is intertwined, how each life is important, how anyone can potentially do great things, if they’re given the right opportunity. CSLewis-TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)_bookcoverThey teach us how to think sideways, to imagine how things might be changed for the better – ideas I believe to be incredibly important for readers of all ages to embrace.

That’s the power of speculative fiction: rather than mere fluff and escapism, it is the very stuff that fuels our dreams – dreams which then lead us to invent, explore, improve, and create, and help us to embrace, and endeavor to understand, people from cultures far different from our own.

Below are three excellent articles that delve into what makes A Wrinkle in Time such a unique story, equally beloved, controversial, influential and enduring:

12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time

How A Wrinkle in Time Changed Sci-Fi Forever

Physics, Miracles, and Witchcraft: 50 Years of “A Wrinkle in Time”

Teaser for the upcoming 2018 film:

 

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Outsiders

Ever had One of Those Days, where the physical universe simply refuses to cooperate? Where you have the distinct sense that the rest of the world is some kind of universal one-size-fits-all, except that it’s made for someone of a very different size – possibly even a different species – than you? We’ve all been there, although for some of us, that’s the definition of our ‘normal’. On average, I feel like that at least once a day.

It sometimes helps to be reminded that, despite the loneliness inherent in feeling like an outsider, it is, ironically enough, a remarkably common phenomenon.

A quick search of any kind of media (be it song, poetry, film, books, graphic novels) reveals a veritable profusion of artistic works rooting for the outsider brave enough to defy the status quo – like The Blue and the Beyond, a beautifully animated short where The Man, aka the State (aka the ever-ephemeral “Them”) is portrayed as downright sinister, rather than simply dull and homogeneous. Or the Oscar-winning Paperman, with its celebration of perseverance.

I picked this one, though, for its heartfelt assurance that the love and support you need might be a lot closer than you think, if we could just learn how to communicate with each other better, to listen to what those closest to us are really trying to say. The sweetness at its core may strike the more cynical among us as bordering on (or downright inhabiting) cheezy sentiment, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need when the darkness of the world is threatening to suck us in. This one is for all the parents and children out there, of which we have all been at least one or the other, at some point in our lives.

Inspiration

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Twin Exit by Mark A. Harrison

Coming back from a supply run this morning, energy reserves near empty and mood scraped raw despite the mere five minute journey each way, gave me plenty of time to ponder on what constitutes necessity (vacuum bags, in a household of cats and rugs and impossibly prolific dust bunnies, surely falls into that category, doesn’t it?). It didn’t help that ‘Your Town Now’ by Greg Brown was playing on the radio, an anti-consumerist anthem if there ever was one. (Don’t worry – this has a happy ending. It’s about inspiration, after all.)

There are plenty of things out there that drain energy without giving back, cycles of materialism and greed that people take part in without even realizing it. So much easier to coast with our brains in neutral, to avoid questions about what is necessary, when the current unspoken agreement of ‘normal’ embraces the most convenient, fastest, easiest, cheapest. Never mind that it’s an illusion, that all these things lining our shelves and filling our cars and keeping our roads drivable require a ridiculous amount of effort, resources, labour, and energy. Somehow, some of us – the lucky few – just happen to have been born into a time and place where the building blocks and costs of privilege are cleverly hidden – not invisible, or unknowable, not even all that hard to find, but shoved just out of sight, so we have to look and think, directly and with purpose, to bring them into the light.

Which brings me to the one thing that those of us cursed with optimism (almost all humans, really) desperately seek out whenever possible: Inspiration, that spark of wonder and delight that pulls you out of the morass of cynicism and propels you to act, create, speak honestly, give generously. I was thinking about what inspires me, what reminds me that there is beauty all around us, no matter where or who you are, providing a constant counterpoint to the relentless forces of destruction and denial. Things like seemingly random acts of kindness and compassion, music and art, children laughing, rescue dogs finding a proper home for the first time in their lives, sparks of colour against the grey expanse.

Thankfully for the rest of us, there are plenty of smart people out there laying bare the glaring problems of our modern world, people with far more skill, knowledge, and stamina than I have in my meager supplies. So I’ve made a decision. This blog-journal-thingie-whatsit, whatever it ends up evolving into, is going to be about hope and inspiration, wonder and creativity, in all their myriad beautiful, crazy, unpredictable forms.

As the late great Kurt Vonnegut once said (paraphrasing John Greenleaf Whittier), “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been’.” Let’s live our lives like they’re the only ones we’ve got, and leave space for others to do the same.