On September 6, 2007, one of the most famous women in science fiction literature ended her journey in this realm, and began the next part of her journey — the one that begins after our bodies can no longer contain the part of our essence that continues on. Madeleine L'Engle believed that death was not something to fear, but to embrace as a part of our spiritual growth. Nine years later, we celebrate her death day — her continuation of her spiritual journey — by highlighting nine female characters from her books that exemplify her view of women. They are intelligent, powerful, and loving. And while some of them are broken, they are always redeemable. Love is essential to their development — whether love for themselves, or love for others.
Some of these women occupy spaces that are usually male dominated: there's a doctor, a scientist, an artist, a writer, and a mathematician. The others are a mix of the beautifully atypical: three of the women are from different planets, and one is a Native American druid from 3,000 years ago. With a sharp focus on the Time Quintet, here are nine women that embody L'Engle's belief in the power of women.
1: Meg Murry
A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Meg Murry is just your average, angsty teenager. L'Engle said that she was like her in many ways: she's awkward, she's smart, she feels somehow apart from other students. Meg is impatient, but also completely devoted to her bullied younger brother, Charles Wallace, who shares with her an intimate sibling connection. He can read her mind, because he is above and beyond in intuition, and he feels she "needs him." In the end, though, they need each other, because of his young child's pride. Mrs. Whatsit gives each child in A Wrinkle in Time a gift. To Meg, she gives her own faults, which save the day, as well as her family's lives, from the almost indescribably nasty being that is the disembodied brain "It."
2: Dr. Katherine Murry
A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, An Acceptable Time
Dr. Murry is Meg Murry’s mother. She has a doctorate in biology and bacteriology. Dr. Murry is the anchor of her family, and encourages her children to always be themselves, while also encouraging them to adapt to their surroundings without losing themselves in the process. She's a brilliant scientist, but always puts her family first — even if she has to cook dinner over her Bunsen burner in her lab. She embraces everyone she meets with patience and grace, whether an oddly-dressed older woman who comes into her home in the middle of the night, or young men who are friends of her daughter and granddaughter that she immediately invites over for dinner.
3: Dr. Louise Colubra
A Wind in the Door, An Acceptable Time
Dr. Colubra is a Doctor of Internal Medicine. She is small in frame, but formidable in character. She has a beautiful balance of realism and compassion. While her beliefs about the esoteric and unusual remain skeptical, her belief in Polly and her brother, Bishop Colubra in An Acceptable Time, displays that trust in her companions trumps her personal beliefs — instead of letting them separate her from her family and peers.
4: Polly O'Keefe
An Acceptable Time
Polly is Meg Murry’s daughter, and Dr. Murry's granddaughter. Languages come easy to her, and she has a broad range of knowledge and interests that leaves her questioning what she should study when she goes off to college. She feels like an oddball in high school, until she meets Maximiliana Sebastiane Horne, who becomes her mentor and close friend. Max expands her mind to further her intelligence, and cultivates and balances her ability to be emphatic.
5: Maximiliana Sebastiane Horne
An Acceptable Time
Maximiliana (or Max, to those who know her) is an artist who is classy, intelligent, and has a difficult past. She's also a lesbian. She's used to the finer things in life, yet remains compassionate and confident in her identity — with only enough vanity to enhance her admirable confidence, but not so much to lower her good character. Her confidence in herself, and her confidence in Polly, helps Polly grow confident herself.
"In the Upanishads — a series of Sanskrit works which are part of the Veda. Here is it is Pol, listen: In this body, in this town of Spirit, there is a little house shaped like a lotus, and in that house there is a little space. There is as much in that little space within the heart as there is in the whole world outside. Maybe that little space is the reality of your you and my me ?"
A Wrinkle In Time, Original Cover
6: Mrs. Whatsit
A Wrinkle in Time
Mrs. Whatsit resembles an old woman, with a nose like a soft blob, and wears layers and layers of random clothing — including argyle socks mixed with polka dot socks, and many scarves with different patterns. We later learn that she was once a star, and has the ability to transform into a gorgeous male creature way more beautiful than a centaur who also has kick-ass 1970's hair. She's the sweetest of the three extraterrestrial women in A Wrinkle in Time, and shares her love and care for the Murray children holistically. She reminds them of their worth, while reminding them that their faults can indeed come in handy from time to time.
7: Mrs. Who
A Wrinkle in Time
Mrs. Who is a woman from another planet. She feels most comfortable speaking in quotes, and is as tender as a crisp autumn morning. She has magical eyeglasses, that make her eyes seem bigger than they are, that she gives to Meg to save her father. Mrs. Who is simple in physical features, but strong in encouragement and support.
8: Mrs. Which
A Wrinkle in Time
Mrs. Which starts out as a floating orb, since she's also from a distant planet, and she finds it hard to materialize completely. She's the picture of fortitude, but she also has a sense of humor. To help the children keep a positive outlook, and raise their spirits, Mrs. Which transforms into a shimmering stereotypical witch — including a witch's pointy hat. Well played, ma'am, well played. She is the strongest, and oldest of the three extraterrestrial women she travels with. Tessering (traveling in the fifth dimension, through time) comes easy to her, and she helps the children travel all over the universe to help them find their father.
An Acceptable Time
Anaral is a Native American druid from 3,000 years ago. In this story space, though, she's of a similar age as Polly, and helps her on her quest through friendship, her healing gifts, and delightfully simple insights. L'Engle celebrated Native American culture in many of her books. In An Acceptable Time, she explored how those in the same cultural group can interpret life differently, and choose good or evil, life or death. Anaral helps Polly realize that friendship is important, that life has meaning, and that life has a flow that includes both good and bad circumstances. She teaches Polly that no matter what, our experiences are not dependent on an outside force that has to be appeased by our action or inaction. Rather, this outside force lives on, and we are challenged by it to embrace all that we are given, while always striving for peace, within ourselves, and beyond.
"Oh listen, Grand, I like this. Before a battle, druids would often throw themselves between two armies to stop the war and bring peace."
—Polly O'Keefe, An Acceptible Time
Madeleine L'Engle was incredibly progressive for her time. Many have read her most famous works, collected as The Time Quintet, and have assumed that she was a devout conservative Christian, who always included some form of Christianity into her books. However, she accepted many religions, and helped her audience realize that many cultures and religions resonated with her belief of how God's eternal love could be found throughout the universe. She believed that size was irrelevant: a whole universe was just as important as a tiny farendolae inside of a mitochondria, which lived in the human body, at a less than microscopic size. She reminded us that we are all important — no matter our size — and that we are all connected. She challenged us, through these powerful women, to always find the best in people. She inspired us to recognize that we are all an important part of the sacred song heard throughout the universe, the song that reminds us to love always, forgive much, and never give up.