There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden," announces six-year-old Charles Wallace Murry in the opening sentence of The Wind in the Door. His older sister, Meg, doubts it. She figures he's seen something strange, but dragons—a "dollop of dragons," a "drove of dragons," even a "drive of dragons"—seem highly unlikely. As it turns out, Charles Wallace is right about the dragons—though the sea of eyes (merry eyes, wise eyes, ferocious eyes, kitten eyes, dragon eyes, opening and closing) and wings (in constant motion) is actually a benevolent cherubim (of a singularly plural sort) named Proginoskes who has come to help save Charles Wbllace from a serious illness.
Here we go, the second book in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet and the second book for Kailana’s challenge. I’ve always felt that A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet are the most well know of L’Engle’s books about Meg Murry, but I look back at this one with great fondness.
There are two reasons for that: Proginoskes the cherubim and mitochondria (and farandolae). All these years later, I found that while not all of the book stood up to an adult reread, those two aspects of it did.
I don’t remember when I first read this book, but it would have been back in my teens. I know that I would have still been in high school, already leaning towards a university degree in science (even without ever having studied biology). I had never come across the word mitochondria before, but already being a scientist at heart, I went straight off to try to find out more. This was not such as easy a task as it would be now, in those long ago, pre-internet days, but I was delighted to discover that mitochondria were indeed real (although I admit to being equally disappointed to find out that farandolae were not).
I also loved Proginoskes – I thought he was described beautifully - and I always particularly liked my cover (shown above) for its attempt to illustrate him, which I always thought did a pretty good of it. Rather like mitochondria, a cherubim (singular, of course) was something I didn’t know much about, but was encouraged to explore further. Many, many years later, I read Faith Hunter’s Bloodring and sequels that features a cherubim, and whatever Hunter’s vision of it, my mental picture was shaped by Progo.
Sure, those are both kind of sentimental reasons for liking a book, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Surely good books should provoke an emotional and even sentimental response?
Meg remained a favourite character, but Charles Wallace was underused in this book – no surprise as he was ill for most of it, but I still noticed the lack. It was great to have Calvin there, but in all honesty, he didn’t do all that much. It was Mr Jenkins who was a surprising star, as a man who had been portrayed as shallow and mean showed that there was more to him than anyone, even himself, would ever have expected.
However, I did feel that A Wind in the Door had dated much more obviously that A Wrinkle in Time had done. There was more pseudo-science in this one, and in the time between 1973 and now, even the general concepts of many of the ideas used by L’Engle have been invalidated by the progress of modern science. We don’t use sound to look at very small things, we use electrons, and we know so much now about the structure of the mitochondrion that L’Engle’s vision, while interesting, is also kind of silly.
The underlying theology was also a lot more prominent this time. In itself, that doesn’t really bother me, as like I’ve said, much of my own is pretty similar. But it was much more to the fore this time to the point that I noticed it, and I suspect other readers may feel the same way. In A Wrinkle in Time I felt she blended the science and theology nicely, but they didn’t mesh quite as well this time.
All the same, I enjoyed my reread, and found that one of my favourite lines of all time came from this book. I’d always known it was in one of the Time Quintet books, but I’d imagined it was A Swiftly Tilting Planet not A Wind in the Door.
Calvin’s eyes met her for a long moment and held her gaze, not speaking, not kything, simply being.
That last phrase, “not speaking, not kything, simply being” is something that I’ve often remembered and wished I could achieve more often in my own life. We get so caught up in all the things we have to do, remember, keep up with, that we forget to simply be. This line has always reminded me of that. I need to try to simply be more often.
One last small love from this book – the comment tossed away in passing that Sandy and Denys will be Teachers one day. I like that. That even the “normal” ones are special too.
So all in all, a pleasant reread, but it didn’t stand the test of time the way A Wrinkle in Time did. It’ll be interest to see my reaction to A Swiftly Tilting Planet which I remember with even more affection than I did this one.
A Wind in the Door
Time Quintet, Book 2
Read: 12-2-10 to 16-2-10