[Originally published January 14, 2011.]
Dear Ms. L’Engle,
Ever since I read A Ring of Endless Light for the first time, I knew I’d meet you someday. You managed to fit every possible teen emotion into that glorious, brilliant piece of literary therapy (everyone is still under the impression that A Wrinkle in Time was your opus, but the cool kids know better). Did you write that book just for me? I’m sure you did, because I was Vicki Austin. I, too, had the older brother, the dog, and the rampant transcendentalist tendencies. My family, too, was musical and nerdy-smart and pensive, and we’d visit our grandparents’ cabin in the summertime, too—my grandpa was a minister, too! We’d all sit on the porch in the evenings and talk about world issues, too! I could communicate with dolphins, too! … Well, except for a few minor details, you really were dead on there.
Your work catapulted me into a writing fervor. I wrote fiction and poetry and won writing awards all through school and even got some freelance articles published after college. I’m working towards a career as a novelist, and it’s all because you wrote that book for me. Nice one, L’Engle.
Then tragedy struck. A few months working in publishing gave me a sudden, inexplicable burst of confidence, along with the naïve idea that I should look you up, at last. Perhaps it was finally time to take you to lunch, buy you a big pot of tea, and tell you everything. During said bonding time I’d hug you and cry on your shoulder and thank you for changing my life, and you’d be flattered and benevolent, because you’re awesome. But my online stalking abruptly ended in public tears.
You passed away three years ago. I was abroad at the time, and didn’t know. I didn’t even know! And here I was entertaining such fruitless dreams! I knew you were in your eighties—after all, A Ring of Endless Light was written years before I was born—but I didn’t think you would actually leave me alone without so much as a brisk hand-shake or gracious email! For shame!
And oh, Ms. L’Engle, if you could see what teenage girls are reading these days. YA novels just don’t sell anymore unless the conflict is outward, the enemy tangible, the sexual awakening exhibited via fangs and transparent metaphors. Love interests have “teams” now. I’m sorry to tell you this, but YA publishers no longer approve of nuclear families.
How did you do it, L’Engle? How did you get Adam to rescue Vicki on the beach and put on her swimsuit for her without a moment of awkwardness? He must have seen her naked, right? And how did you keep your suicide/mental illness subplots away from sounding heavy-handed or melodramatic? Are you a deity? Am I to be your prophet? How would that work exactly?
Speaking of which, I know you got some Christian backlash because you wove so much science into your work. The loonies are still giving some authors a hard time, but no one handles it as gracefully as you did. To be honest, your view of God as someone who approves of time-travel and telepathy rocks my socks.
Well, it turns out you’re buried just a half-hour away on the subway. It’s raining today. I’m going to visit you, and together we’re going to figure it all out. My fear of commitment, my lack of constructive decision-making. You can help me fix all that from beyond the grave, right? You went to Antarctica when you were seventy-four, for crying out loud. Come on, L’Engle, you owe me. After all, it’s your fault I compare every man I date to Adam Eddington. In fact, I’ll bet my existential crises are also your fault… Are my values and moral standards your doing, as well? Curse you, L’Engle! You and your award-winning books!
Ahem… sorry. Look, your words alone nurtured my fragile human spirit through the emotional tumult of suburban adolescence, and it feels so unfair that I never had a chance to say thank you.
So here it is. Thank you for Vicki (a.k.a. me). Thank you for your romantic worldview, your science v. religion bipartisanship, your gentle yet relevant thematic climaxes, your prodigious command of syntax, your amazingly mature and intelligent male characters whose real-life counterparts I’m still waiting to find, your genre-defying creativity, your graceful introduction of poetry legends, your beloved values, and most of all your belief that the world can be a beautiful place—not just despite the dark parts, but because of them.
Please let me sit at your table in writer heaven, if I make it in. I’ll bring tea—we’ll read Henry Vaughan together, and I’ll catch you up on all the scientific discoveries you missed. I’ll show you where my novel gives a big shout-out to you, Ms. L’Engle.
Just one thing… will you hold me?
The most devoted reader you’ve never met,