A Wind in the Door (by Madeleine L'Engle)

It’s a long time since I read Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘Time Quintet’ - indeed, I haven’t read all five; I certainly read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ as a teenager, and I think I also read this one in my teens, but the others were published a little later and I seem to have missed them at the time.

We acquired four of the five when my sons were around nine and eleven, and I read the first two aloud to them, but my husband was so intrigued by what he heard that he went on to read the later ones… and, again, although I half listened, and read bits of one of them to myself, they mostly passed me by.

I was determined to rectify this situation, so I recently re-read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, which I always liked very much, and have just finished re-reading ‘A Wind in the Door’. Although some of the same characters are involved, in particular the teenage Meg Murry and her small brother Charles Wallace, this book stands alone and makes very little reference to the earlier one.

Charles, who is remarkably intuitive and bright, has been bullied at school. He’s also getting out of breath, and Meg knows that her mother is worried about him. The Murry parents are eminent - and at times absent-minded - scientists, and Mrs Murry seems to be spending all her time looking down her microscope, trying to find something related to mitochondria (which are real) and their farandolae (which are not)....

In the first half of the story, Meg tries to find out what is going on, both at Charles’ school and with his health. It’s character-based fantasy, mostly set in the real world, albeit populated with highly intelligent animals such as the dog Fortinbras and the snake Louise. The Murry family have everyday discussions and arguments, but clearly care for each other very much. The twins Sandy and Denys are down-to-earth and practical, and make a nice foil for the more mystically inclined Meg and Charles.

In the second part of the story, Meg has to solve some difficult problems, and venture into a very unlikely place, although by the time she gets there, along with her good friend Calvin and a disliked teacher, Mr Jenkins, it all feels quite believable. L’Engle neatly mixes science, fantasy and spirituality in a novel that’s sometimes confusing but which moves at quite a pace, despite a fair amount of conversation and introspection.

I have a few niggles: the way Charles is expected to adapt to school rather than being educated at home (or having the bullies dealt with); the way Mr Jenkins is portrayed so very negatively at first, and yet joins in the adventure with surprisingly little resistance. Still, I liked the way he gradually changes and is shown to have his own positive side.

Underneath the fantasy it’s a story about the battle of good and evil, about the power of love and friendship, and about doing what’s right, even if it seems pointless, never knowing when one small mistake might cause disasters on a cosmic scale. There are clear Christian values if one looks for them, including the importance of being known by name; but the book can be read from an entirely secular point of view too.

Ideal for any fluently reading child of about eight and upwards, or a good read-aloud for any age.

Review copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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