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A Ring of Endless Light

A Ring of Endless Light
by Madeleine L'Engle
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
ChristianBook.com: paperback
Highly Recommended by: Greg Slade
[A Ring of Endless Light]

Book Rating
Rated 3 (Highly Recommended) by: 5 people
Rated 2 (Recommended) by: 3 people
Rated 1 (Suggested) by: 1 person
Rated 0 (Reviewed) by: nobody
Total Votes: 9 people
Average Rating: 2.44 (Recommended)
Score: 2.20 (Recommended)

Madeleine L'Engle has been on my "to be read" list for years, but it's only now that I have finally gotten around to checking out one of her books. I shouldn't have waited so long. L'Engle is a brilliant writer. In a way, her work reminds me of Peter Gzowski, the much-loved host of CBC Radio's long-running show Morningside. Like Gzowski, L'Engle takes the time to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The ordinary bits are obvious, and for once, I could relate the whole plot of a book without "giving it away." In a sense, this is the story of a 15 year old girl whose grandfather is dying of cancer. It seems to her that the whole world is full of death, and she has a hard time dealing with that. Even though she has never been as popular with the boys as her younger, prettier, and more outgoing sister, she finds herself pursued by three different boys at the same time, and her heartbreaker sister is jealous of her. But there is much more to this book than the basic plot. For one thing, Vicky, the protagonist, is a budding poet, and for her, things don't just happen. She looks at the world with very mature eyes, and reflects about what she sees. After a baby dolphin dies at a nearby marine biology research station, she writes this poem:

The earth will never be the same again.
Rock, water, tree, iron share this grief
As distant stars participate in pain.
A candle snuffed, a falling star or leaf,
A dolphin death, O this particular loss
Is Heaven-mourned; for if no angel cried,
If this small one was tossed away as dross,
The very galaxies then would have lied.
How shall we sing our love's song now
In this strange land where all are born to die?
Each tree and leaf and star show how
The universe is part of this one cry,
That every life is noted and cherished,
And nothing loved is ever lost or perished.
(p. 166)

Now, I'm not generally into poetry, but in the context of the story, this one ripped my heart out. If you think you see reflections of Christianity in this poem, you're right. Vicky's dying grandfather was a minister and a missionary, and he acts as a voice of wisdom and sanity, affirming life, good, and light, and rejecting too-easy answers. He has obviously been a good influence on his family, as they stand out as a beacon of love and health in the midst of a dark and sick world, but God has no grandchildren (still less great-grandchildren), and you will find no firm stand for Christ amongst the grandchildren, still less see any of them leading their friends in the sinner's prayer. Christianity forms the background to this story, not the foreground.

If this is a valid measure of L'Engle's work, then I have a new author to add to my list of favourites. (March, 2003)

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