Thursday, October 11, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle and Aliens

You've probably heard about the recent death (in early September) of Madeleine L'Engle. Her award-winning book A WRINKLE IN TIME was one of the first SF or fantasy novels I ever read. She's one of the great children's and YA fantasy writers of the twentieth century (and right up there with C. S. Lewis among the great Christian fantasy authors). One aspect of her fiction that I admire most is her portrayal of human characters in friendly relationships with "people" of other species. In WRINKLE, Meg travels the universe with three mysterious old ladies who turn out to be something like angels and meets a lovable monster she calls "Aunt Beast." She interacts with a "singular cherubim," a large snake, and sub-microscopic creatures living inside her little brother's body in A WIND IN THE DOOR. Her brother Charles Wallace is befriended by a unicorn in A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET. The teenage heroine of RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT communicates with dolphins.

C. S. Lewis' fiction displays the same gift, most obviously in the cooperative society formed by the intelligent talking animals of Narnia. In his adult SF novel OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, the kidnapped Professor Ransom becomes the guest of three different nonhuman, intelligent species on Mars. In the third novel of Lewis' space trilogy, THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, the good guys keep a strangely assorted menagerie of pets, including a tame bear. Lewis' close friend J. R. R. Tolkien, in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, portrays a multi-species alliance that engenders a deep friendship between members of two traditionally hostile races, elves and dwarves.

This theme of relationships across species boundaries permeates STAR TREK in its best moments, as exemplified by the Vulcan motto, "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations." Television celebrates this principle for children on SESAME STREET, where people of various ethnic groups live in friendly proximity to a giant, talking bird, a Sufflelupagus, and “monsters” of many different shapes and colors. One of Lewis' Martians feels pity for the inhabitants of Earth in having only one intelligent species on our planet. How can we evaluate the validity of our own thoughts if we can't compare them with “thought that floats on a different blood” (from which I adopted the title of my book on the vampire as alien, DIFFERENT BLOOD)? Both Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle hint that in an uncorrupted world (such as Venus in Lewis' PERELANDRA), instead of the suspicion, fear, and loathing we often feel for beings different from ourselves, we would react to them with affectionate curiosity.


  1. Cool observations, Margaret.

  2. Another really splendid (IMHO) YA speculative author is Vivian Vande Valde.

    Her superb book "Dragon's Bait" (with a shapeshifter dragon hero) was way ahead of the current fashion.

  3. Yes, Vande Velde's books are wonderful. Her COMPANIONS OF THE NIGHT is one of the best YA vampire novels I've ever read. I also love DRAGON'S BAIT. It helped to inspire my erotic romance "Dragon's Tribute" (Ellora's Cave).