Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Type: Fiction, novel
Part of series: Time Quintet (#2)
I read it: March 2018
A Wind in the Door has stepped up to fit the bill of what I wanted from a sequel to A Wrinkle in Time: it tells its own story, with almost no reference to the events of the previous book. This tactic would not go over well in today’s series-crazy times, so I’m glad it worked out in previous decades. The note on the cover about the book being “a companion” to the main story is fitting.
There’s a strong foundation for stepping in to whatever craziness awaits. The Murry home is an inviting place, cozy and disheveled in all the right ways. The mother is at home studying a mysterious sickness that Charles Wallace has come down with. The father is away again on vague government business. And the scene is not 100% idyllic. Meg observes that being a kid of two brilliant scientists can be tough (especially when the mother is also beautiful): “Our parents provide us with all kinds of disadvantages.”
Apart from a serious malady, Charles Wallace is also suffering at the hands of bullies at school. His family members worry about him in various ways, Meg with matter-of-fact indignation (“It’s not right in the United States of America that a little kid shouldn’t be safe in school”) and Mrs. Murry with a scientific parallel (“A life form which can’t adapt doesn’t last very long”). L’Engle has some pointed opinions about life in the city in 1973 and modernity’s various dangers. What would she think of 2018? The bullies are still at school, but now add guns.
The fantastical journey involves otherworldly beings (of course), including a traveling companion named Proginoskes. He/it is a proud angel, a “singular cherubim” who materializes most often as a ball of eyes and wings. He is tasked with learning about the universe alongside Meg (Calvin tags along too but doesn’t get much to do). L’Engle’s handling of mythical creatures is thoughtful, as she once again tries to weave together science and religion in her storytelling. Proginoskes clarifies that “a cherubim is not a higher order than earthlings, you know, just different.” This is a nice nod to evolutionary concepts, although the choice to use cherubim with all the connotations the word carries is surely deliberate.
As expected, that good old fashioned Christian spirit is in the air. Of the stars, it’s noted that “He calls them all by name” and there are at least a couple nods to being “part of Creation.” Overall, the god stuff is limited and the story can be enjoyed as a kind of metaphysical exploration of various worlds and beings, with the relative nature of size (the different ways to perceive of large and small, or near and far) being a primary concern. The scientific shorthand is refreshing when used cleverly and in context to the plot, such as the standby that “nature abhors a vacuum.” Sadly, L’Engle also cherry picks pseudoscience to suit the story, such as the silly notion that philodendrons or bean seeds react to pain, chaos, or emotional instability, or the idea that “we have billions of brain cells, and we use only the tiniest portion of them.” Intriguing ideas, and perhaps they were new at the time, but unfortunately they are misleading and live on through repetition.
Even if the third act does drag on in a fuzzy test of psychological wills, A Wind in the Door holds its own as a curious and thought-provoking standalone book. From a journey into mitochondria to the assistance of a large black snake who may or may not be the family doctor, it’s a whirling and blustery read.
Cover art corner: This cover, I mean come on. Even if I hadn’t known of the series, I’d like to think that if I saw this sitting atop a teetering pile at a used book store, I would grab it immediately. The red text is boldly nostalgic and the title poetic, but that art is killer. The mass of eyes and wings floating in a spooky forest hints at endless mystery. This is nearly unsurpassable, although the very recent VanderMeer book The Strange Bird makes a go of it.