More Recent Reading: Madeleine L’Engle’s “Dragons in the Waters”

I enjoy the way Madeleine L’Engle’s young adult stories create a sensation of metaphysical mystery in which we are all caught up.

Young Adult Series by the author of A Wrinkle in Time

WHEN POSTING MY LIST of recent and current reading last week, I had a feeling I was leaving something out, and I was right. I neglected to include Madeleine L’Engle’s Dragons in the Waters, a story of Polly O’Keefe, daughter of Meg Murry O’Keefe and her husband Calvin, who were children in L’Engle’s Time Quartet (A Wrinkle in Time, etc.).

L’Engle’s stories of the Murrys, O’Keefes, and Austins, the families at the center of several of her novel series, are among those I like to re-read from time to time. Most people who read L’Engle start as children with A Wrinkle in Time, but I believe I am an exception to this generalization. Memory is a tricky thing, but I seem to recall that the first L’Engle novel I read was The Young Unicorns, a story of the Austin family that involves a chilling mystery connected to the great neo-Gothic Episcopal cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. I remember being completely gripped by the sense of metaphysical suspense hovering at the edges of this story the first time I read it, and found a similar atmosphere in other stories involving the Austins, the O’Keefes, and the Murrys (and their various friends). I think that is what got me hooked on L’Engle’s books.

Metaphysical Mysteries

I’ve read most of the entries in these series, and I’ve always liked (but sometimes been confused by) the way the casts of characters and action interweave among them. When I first read them as a teenager, I was really struck by the way Madeleine L’Engle uses the apparently chance meetings between characters who “belong” to different series to create a sense that we are all part of one great, complex plan, not bound by time or space, in the struggle of good against evil. I don’t believe the Austins ever meet the Murrys or the O’Keefes, but two characters introduced in The Young Unicorns (an Austins story), Mr. Theo and Canon Tallis, play minor roles in Dragons in the Waters (a Murry-O’Keefe story).

Dragons in the Waters, like the other novels in these three series, are usually classified as “young adult” mystery or suspense novels, but I dislike such pigeon-holing. I agree with C.S. Lewis that there are simply bad stories and good ones—the good ones invite, and repay, multiple readings, and the bad ones may be pleasant to read but are utterly forgettable. Madeleine L’Engle’s are among the good ones. Anyway, just because a story is about adolescents does not mean that the only audience it will appeal to is adolescent. Here’s one no-longer-young adult who still enjoys reading and re-reading these “young adult” mysteries.

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