As I mentioned last time, I recently traveled to Wheaton College‘s Special Collections to do research on Oswald Chambers for a book I’m working on. I made my arrangements in advance and arrived ten minutes early on a Thursday morning.
While I waited for the archivist to arrive, I noticed a table full of pamphlets detailing the other writers whose manuscripts and letters also were in the collection.
After I introduced myself to the librarian, I laughed about Madeleine L’Engle. “Gee, I wonder if you’ve got the letter I wrote her a long time ago.”
Archivist Keith Call smiled. “Maybe.”
Caught up in Oswald and Biddy Chambers’ writing–including the thrilling moments I held their Bibles–I didn’t think again about Madeleine L’Engle until I wondered if maybe I could take a photo of Madeleine’s Bible and write a blog post on Bibles (reprising my post on paperback Bibles, perhaps? I see it, too, references Ms. L’Engle).
Keith was working through an archival box at another table, but during a lull in my I-Pad photo clicking, I asked about her Bible.
“I haven’t got it. But I have found her letters from 1977.”
I went totally still.
He smiled. “You probably didn’t have the same name then, did you?”
“It was the summer before I got married,” I stuttered.
“Does this number sound familiar? 1525 West Fifth Street?”
He had found my letter.
I had tears in my eyes as I took the blue stationery, words written in my then-loopy handwriting on both sides. I swallowed. It was hard to read. I certainly remembered writing the letter (see this post) but not that it was so long.
I lost my copy of her response long ago and I’d not seen my handwritten letter since I dropped it in the mail box.
Here it is, written two weeks after I graduated from UCLA. I was young and I cringe to read this now. But I was, as always, earnest and wanting to connect with someone I admired and for whom I was thankful.
(You’ll note I addressed her by her married name–I knew information like that. Still, I was surprised to see the publishing house forwarded my envelope to “Mrs. Hugh Franklin”).
September 7, 1977
Dear Mrs. Franklin,
I don’t know how many times I’ve been tempted to pick up my pen and write you how much I appreciate the stories and people you’ve shared with me in your books. And each time, except this one, I’ve put the pen aside and said, “No, I don’t want to bother her with something unimportant. I don’t really have anything to say.” But, too bad this time, I want to write and tell you I’ve loved your books.
I’m moving through A Circle of Quiet now for about my fifth time and it’s a new joy each time I read it. I feel like I know you, as if I were one of your young friends chancing in on a conversation at the Cathedral and it’s fun!
I remember the first time I found out you were “struggling to be” a Christian. It was Christmas time three or so years ago (before I’d read A Circle of Quiet or Lines Scribbled on an Envelope). We were casually circulating through the bookstore at our church when I saw a book of Christmas poems (I can’t remember the title, but I suppose you know it anyway). Your name was on the cover with a bunch of others and a light went on in my head as I gasped joyfully, “She’s a Christian!” The next summer, following my first year at college, I read everything you’ve written, many for the umpteenth time. And I could pick out hints of your love for the goodness, the LOVE, and your fearful determination to face the darkness of evil.
I love the light too and I share a horrified knowledge of the blackness coming over the world. And that’s why I’m so glad so many people, so many children, read your works and remember that some love does exist in the world; whether it be family, agapé or Godly.
There are a lot of “I”s in this letter and I (!) feel a little self-conscious because of it. This wasn’t intended to be gushy, but rather a confirmation of appreciation. You’ve taught me so many things and made me really THINK about ideas and attitudes. Your desire to express the vitality of the English language is one I shout amen to. I also love the way you keep mentioning your fallibility. It’s nice to think you’re human too!
When I was in New York a couple weeks ago I had a free day before I caught my plane back to LA. I sat down and tried to think what I’d really like to do now that I was in this important center of so much. I jumped up and thought, “I’ll go find Madeleine L’Engle!” But the city is large and it was summertime and no one really knew what I was talking about when I asked where the Cathedral was so I never found you. Perhaps another time in the winter.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and thank you for enduring those long ten years without an acceptance. I appreciate your struggles.
God bless you richly,
It amuses me to see those determinedly underlined titles, THINK in capitals and the accent mark on agapé. I so wanted to be “one” of hers.
Reading it now, I see my youthfulness with different eyes and am surprised, delighted, amazed that some parts of this letter reflect who I still am.
I’ve long been conscious that I adopted some of the parenting traits L’Engle described in her book Meet the Austins. I’ve acted like the mother in that story every time I’ve turned on classical music LOUD when I’ve cleaned. The strange times I’ve chosen to paint things, is just like Mrs. Austin. The reading aloud, cooking, affectionate names–all were part of my mothering style that I did not learn from my mother.
While I was never a member of Madeleine’s young women friends, obviously, I have been the older woman to a delightful chorus of young women floating in and out of our house. I’ve talked long into the night on important issues–just as Madeleine used to. I’ve done stints in libraries.
It took me only seven years of waiting to be published–but I knew not to expect instant acceptance because of Madeleine L’Engle’s writing.
I learned so much from her.
Her response to my letter was generous and gracious.
September 25, 1977
Thank you, indeed, for your wonderful sharing letter. The next time you are in new York, I do hope that you will find the Cathedral, which is at Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street. It will have to be in the winter, because I am seldom there in the summer.
It pleases me that you think A Circle of Quiet is a friend to you, and I hope you will read the two books which follow it, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and The Irrational Season.
I have just finished a new fantasy, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which follows A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door. I think it is the fantasies which stretch my thinking the most.
I think you might also like two of my adult novels, The Other Side of the Sun and The Love Letters, both of which contain a considerable amount of theological searching.
Thank you, again, for your letter.
She must have had some sort of a form–who could keep up otherwise? Like a good writer, she pointed to her other books–all of which I had read and loved.
I remember receiving that letter a week before I got married–standing in the living room, shaking with awe that she wrote back.
But I’d touched a hero and she’d recognized me if only for a fleeting response. I hope I remember to be as gracious to others in my life as Madeleine L’Engle.
Enough about me, if you’re a Madeleine L’Engle fan, which is your favorite book? Click to Tweet
A Ring of Endless Light.
For this exciting experience, thanks be to Keith Call. Thanks be to Madeleine L’Engle. Thanks be, of course, to God.
Finding a long-lost Madeleine L’Engle fan letter. Click to Tweet
My fan letter as a Wrinkle in Time? Click to Tweet