Monday, May 01, 2006

Blog 10 - Mrs. O'Keefe

The character of Mrs. O’Keefe is one of mystery until her history is recounted in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. She is basically a despicable character because of how she treats her family and her general demeanor. In A Wrinkle in Time we catch our first glimpse of her as Calvin’s mother, “In front of the sink stood an unkempt woman with gray hair stringing about her face. Her moth was open and Meg could see the toothless gums…Then she grabbed a long wooden spoon from the sink and began whacking one of the children” (Wrinkle 96). Although she seems a terrible mother, and by all accounts probably is a bad mother, Calvin loves her.

Our next encounter with Mrs. O’Keefe is not until A Swiftly Tilting Planet at the Thanksgiving feast at the Murry’s home. At this point she is Meg’s mother-in-law and her demeanor has not changed by much, “Her habitual expression was one of resentment. Life had not been kind to her, and she was angry with the world, especially the Murrys” (Planet 5). Later in the novel we find that Mrs. O’Keefe had a younger brother named Chuck, who was badly beaten by their step-father and thrown down a set of stairs, causing significant brain damage. After this he was put into a mental institution, where he died six months later. With this tortured past, Mrs. O’Keefe could not enjoy mature relationships and was always distant with her children. However, despite her ill-actions and distasteful manner, Mrs. O’Keefe felt compelled to do something right before she died. She gave Charles Wallace the rune and he used it to stop Mad Dog Branzillo from beginning a nuclear war. After Charles Wallace completed his mission, Mrs. O’Keefe could die in peace, knowing that she was worthwhile in some way. As Charles Wallace points out, “Meg, no matter what happens, even if Dennys is right about her heart, remember that it was herself she placed, for the baby’s sake, and yours, and Calvin’s, and all of us—…in this fateful hour, it was herself she placed between us and the powers of darkness” (278). Upon the conclusion of this book and Mrs. O’Keefe’s life we see that her sacrifice was perhaps the greatest of all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blog 9 - Storms as Foreshadowing

In her Time Quartet, Madeleine L’Engle uses unusual weather as foreshadowing for big events to come. Beginning on the first page of the first book, A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle describes violent storms that are often out of season as precursors to unusual events for the Murry family and their friends. Her vivid descriptions only add to the high-running emotions of her characters who are about to embark on wild and dangerous adventures. “It was a dark and stormy night…frenzied lashing of the wind…clouds scudded frantically across the sky…the moon ripped through them, creating wraithlike shadows that raced along the ground. The house shook” (A Winkle in Time 1). During and after this storm Mrs. Whatsit is introduced to the family in the middle of the night in the middle of the storm. As the evening progresses, we see that Mrs. Whatsit sends them on a mission to collect their father out of the grasp of evil.

In A Wind in the Door, L’Engle does not let her character share a quiet evening before expedition. “Outside the dining-room windows came a sudden brilliant flash of light, followed by a loud clap of thunder. The windows rattled. The kitchen door burst open. Everybody jumped” (A Wind in the Door 38). After the storm, and when dinner was over, Meg left to investigate Charles Wallace’s so-called dragons and there she encountered an Echthros, although she did not know at that time what it was. Directly following this, she meets Blajeny and Proginoskes, Teacher and classmate, respectively.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is no exception. After Mr. Murry hears from the President that nuclear war is imminent, Mrs. O’Keefe begins to remember the ancient St. Patrick rune, which details nature and its various personifications. ‘And the—the lightning with its rapid wrath,/ And the winds with their swiftness along their path—’ The wind gave a tremendous gust, and the house shook under the impact, but stood steady” (A Swiftly Tilting Planet 19). As Mrs. O’Keefe continued the rune the lines seemed to come alive in the elements both inside and outside the house. However, this rune and the storm that seemingly resulted from its reciting, foretold what would happen to Charles Wallace on his journeys through time with Gaudior. In fact, the rune and thus, the weather that seemed to act out the rune at the Murry house, played key roles in the journeys of the time-traveling pair.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blog 8 - Sporos' Lesson

“From behind the smaller of the two glacial rocks a tiny creature appeared and acampered over to them. It looked rather like a small, silver-blue mouse, and yet it seemed to Meg to be a sea creature rather than a land creature” (A Wind in the Door 135). Madeleine L’Engle presents after the first task, a farandola, named Sporos. This incorrigible creature is part of the problem with Charles Wallace’s mitochondrion, called Yadah. He shows the classic “teenage rebellion”, despite the fact that he was, literally, born yesterday. Once inside the mitochondria, where Sporos was born, he and his fellow farandolae provide fodder for the Echthroi cause. They refuse to Deepen, meaning to plant themselves and grow. During their raucus they dance wildly around the already Deepened farae, the elders, and kill them. “‘Why did Blajeny send you alien life forms to Yadah with me? How can you possibly help with my schooling? We make music by ourselves. We don’t need you’” (186). This demonstrates his unwillingness to even listen to Meg, Calvin, and even Proginoskes while being seduced by the Echthroi around him.

Sporos’ redemption comes when he finally decides to Deepen, signaling a completed second task. However, this is a struggle that takes Charles Wallace, and Yadah to the brink of destruction. Only after Mr. Jenkins had been taken by the Echthroi as his own personal sacrifice for the lives of the others does Sporos see the truth. “[Sporos said], ‘But why did Mr. Jenkins—didn’t he know what would happen to him?’…‘To save us all,’ Calvin added. ‘The Echthroi have him, Sporos. They are going to kill him. What are you going to do?’ Sporos turned towards Senex, the fara from whom he had been born. He reached out small green tendrils towards all the farandolae. ‘It is Deepening time,’ he said” (195). The lesson we learn with Sporos is that no matter how late you decide to fight for good and against evil, you can succeed. Also, no creature is worth giving up on, despite their unwillingness to hear your reason.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Blog 7 – The Concept of the Classroom and Education

In A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle, Blajeny, the Teacher for Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, Proginoskes, and Sporos, on a mission to cure Charles Wallace of his illness, presents a progressive form of classroom. As Blajeny explains, “‘My children,’ Blajeny said gravely, ‘my school building is the entire cosmos. Before your time with me is over, I may have to take you great distances, and to very strange places’” (L’Engle 62). This set-up perpetuates the notion that education and learning must and do take place everywhere and always. The theme of education is alive and well in the series, particularly highlighted by the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Murry are scientist who encourage their children to continue learning, whether at home, or with each other. Blajeny’s classroom serves this aim of constant education. For the Murry family, as well as Calvin O’Keefe, education frees them from their ails, whether emotionally or physically. In A Wrinkle in Time, education and practicing the knowledge gleaned, brought Mr. Murry home and away from the evil that was seducing him. In A Wing in the Door, education and the practice of problem-solving could bring Charles Wallace out of his deadly illness. (I cannot say for sure whether he gets saved because I am only just beginning chapter eight but based on my predictions, this will occur.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Blog 6 - Evil and Education

In A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle depicts several manifestations of evil. Given that this novel is, in fact, a children’s book, it is important to note to overt characteristics of evil presented in the story thus far, through chapter eight. “For a moment there was the darkness of space; then another planet. The outlines of this planet were not clean and clear. It seemed to be covered with a smoky haze” (L’Engle 87). This begins L’Engle’s comments on the haze that has settled around the modern world; she uses the “Dark Thing” as a characterization of the evil that currently exists. Shortly after the Dark Thing is defined as evil itself, L’Engle invokes her characters to see the historical figures who have fought this evil. “‘Jesus!’ Charles Wallace said. ‘Why of course, Jesus!’ ‘Of course!’ Mrs. Whatsit said. ‘Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by’” (89). Here it is made clear that L’Engle shares C.S. Lewis’ views on educating youth through literature. Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Ghandi, Buddha, Beethoven, Rembrandt, St. Francis, and Copernicus are also mentioned. This suggests that L’Engle felt strongly that children should not only know, but also know the effects and the good that came of artists, musicians, revolutionaries, saints, and scientists. These categories also happen to represent a liberal arts approach to education, the focus on the whole, as opposed to a singular subject. L’Engle places these references to evil and, more importantly, those who fight evil in our world, at the forefront of the novel and of the conflict between good and evil, demonstrating the great influence of Lewis on her literary career. As for Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin, with predecessors like da Vinci and Ghandi it is hard to think of failure as an option. Hopefully, our young protagonists will use their education and knowledge to fulfill their purposes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Blog 5 – Charles Wallace Murry and Lucy Pevensie

There are several parallels between Charles Wallace in A Wrinkle in Time and Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. First, they are both the youngest in families of four children. While they are young, they are wise beyond their years. In Charles Wallace’s encounter with Mrs. Whatsit and Lucy’s encounter with Mr. Tumnus, we see that these youngsters are really quite bright and that they are trustworthy and excellent judges of character. Charles Wallace befriends an old lady, Mrs. Whatsit, and when he is questioned by Meg he shows the reader his direct and honest nature. “‘You’re still uneasy about [Mrs. Whatsit], aren’t you?’ Charles asked. ‘Well, yes.’ ‘Don’t be silly. She’s all right. I promise you. She’s on our side.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘Meg,’ he said impatiently. ‘I know’” (L’Engle 28). The sense of humor brought out in just the first two chapters of the book demonstrate that Charles Wallace is much more mature than the community seems to give him credit for, and more so than even Meg and Mrs. Murry realize. “ I really must learn to read, except I’m afraid it will make if awfully hard for me in school next year if I already know things. I think it will be better if people go on thinking I’m not very bright. They won’t hate me quite so much” (30). It is in his humor that he differs from Lucy the most, but nonetheless the two youngest in these novels make it easy to remember that young children often have the most profound things to say.

For Lucy, the honor and trust under which she operates guides her through her adventures with ease and certainty that the truth is right and must be followed. Lucy finds Mr. Tumnus to be a good friend in her new world of Narnia when she arrives alone. Despite the fact that he tried to seduce her to sleep only to give her up to the White Witch, Mr. Tumnus does no such thing. In fact, he suffers at the hand of the Witch instead of Lucy once he is found out to be the traitor on the Witch’s side of the struggle. Also, the fact that Lucy refuses to let Mr. Tumnus be the sacrificial lamb for her and corrals her siblings and the Beavers to help rescue Mr. Tumnus from perils she had only dreamt about at that point, lets the reader clearly know that Lucy is no ordinary child.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blog 4 - Human Grown Ups in "The Silver Chair"

The first encounter with a grown up human is Prince Rilian. While he seems to be a valiant knight, despite his enchantment by the evil Lady, it is more apparent that C.S. Lewis questions the abilities of this grown human man in Narnia. Puddleglum, Jill, Eustace, Aslan, and the rest of the animals in this story have something peculiar or extraordinary about them. In their travels Puddleglum, Jill, and Eustace each do something of note. Prince Rilian, however, does what is expected. There is no surprise in his action or his words. When his father dies he weeps and then he “rule[s] Narnia well and the land was happy in his days…” (Lewis 663). My estimation is that Lewis does this to maintain the thrilling aspect of the story for young readers. Having a grown up human do something spectacular would take away the allure of Narnia, where children are of importance on the same field as animals and creatures, both having something different that reality to offer the young reader.

Perhaps Lewis is suggesting that only in death can human grown ups be as exciting as children and creatures of fantasy. We see that only in death can a grown up human behave differently. Caspian, after his death, goes with Jill and Eustace to their world for only five minutes of their time. Aslan notes, referring to Caspian’s desire to visit their world, that “You cannot want wrong things any more, now that you have died” (662). This is the fantasy that is allowed to grown up humans in The Silver Chair. Setting Experiment House right, by means of toying with those in Jill and Eustace’s world, brings a playful light to a noble King of Narnia.