A Brief Introduction

A Ring of Endless Light is Madeleine L'Engle's third novel about the Austin family. Written from the perspective of Vicky Austin, it involves two characters who are involved in L'Engle's other series: Adam Eddington and Zachary Gray. Also mentioned is Dr. Calvin O'Keefe (who should be familiar from the A Wrinkle in Time series.)


  • Victoria "Vicky" Austin is the protagonist. She's (nearly) sixteen, a poet, and although that sounds like a recipe for an emo song, if you read the book, she'll sound like no fifteen year old you've ever known.
  • Grandfather is Vicky's maternal grandfather. He is a minister, knowledgable, tolerant, peaceful, and loving. (He's my favorite character.)
  • Mother (Victoria Austin, nee Eaton) is Vicky's mother. She is a musician, a stay-at-home mother, an excellent cook... but to me, she doesn't quite seem real. She's too ideal.
  • Daddy (Dr. Austin) is Vicky's father, and Mother's husband. He is a medical doctor on a brief sabbatical. A year ago, he left his rural practice in Thornhill for a temporary job in New York City, taking the family with him. (The Austins' adventures in New York are chronicled in The Young Unicorns.) Through A Ring of Endless Light, Dr. Austin is working on a research-based book about the application of lasers in medicine.
  • John, Suzy, and Rob Austin are Vicky's siblings. John (older) is interested in Astrophysics; Suzy (younger) is interested in medicine (she wants to be a physician or a veterinarian); Rob (younger) is interested in being seven years old.
  • Commander Rodney was in the Coast Guard, and died saving a young man who is later identified as Zachary Gray.
  • Nancy Rodney is a nurse, Commander Rodney's widow, and mother to Leo and Jacky Rodney. The Rodneys are the Austins' longtime friends.
  • Leo Rodney is Commander and Nancy Rodney's eldest son. He struggles with his father's death, runs a charter boat service from Seven Bay Island to the mainland, and pursues Vicky (who sees him as more of a brother--nice guys finish last.) He is to be attending Columbia University in the fall.
  • Jacky Rodney is Leo's younger brother. He and Suzy have some sort of romantic relationship; L'Engle doesn't go into too much detail.
  • Adam Eddington is interning at a marine biology research center--the same one as John. Adam's project concerns dolphins; a previous project was on starfish--but you can read about that in Arm of the Starfish. Adam is pursuing Vicky, but not overtly. (Perhaps, since L'engle likes to tie into science, Adam is named for Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, who was a prominent British astrophysicist in the 1930s.)
  • Jeb Nutteley is Adam's boss. His wife and child died in a car accident involving a drunk driver; Jeb was driving. Guilt, of course, ensues.
  • Una, Nini, and Ynid are the penned dolphins at the research center. Ynid is pregnant (and loses the baby due to a weak heart); Una and Nini are dolphin-midwives.
  • Basil, Norberta, and Njord are the wild dolphins. Basil is male and the first dolphin Vicky meets outside a cage; Norberta is female and Basil's mate. Njord is their baby dolphin son.
  • Zachary Gray is seriously fucked up. His mother is dead, and frozen, Futurama-style; his father is rich. Something about him causes him to live dangerously, despite how fragile he is (beyond the emotional issues, he also has problems with his heart.) He is the young man who Commander Rodney died rescuing.
  • Binnie is a young girl, about Rob's age, who has something that seems to be rather like epilepsy. Her father doesn't believe in transfusions and pills, which Binnie needs to live... this leads to Vicky, waiting for Grandfather, holding Binnie as she dies in the emergency room.


It's about death. It's about losing innocence. It's about medicine. It's about nonlinear time.

Deaths are everywhere in Vicky Austin's life--Commander Rodney dies saving Zachary Gray from his attempted suicide. Grandfather is dying from leukemia. Ynid's baby dies of a heart deformity. The swallows on the porch have built a too-shallow nest. Jeb Nutteley fractures his skull in a motorcycle accident. Zachary flirts with death on horseback, in his Alfa Romeo, in a small Cessna-type plane... essentially every chance he gets. Binnie--almost a stranger--dies in Vicky's arms. It seems morbid, but when the baby swallows fly, when Jeb recovers from his coma, when the dolphins splash some sense into Vicky... we learn about hope, faith, and that being oneself does not mean being a selfish, me-me-me-me-me! asshole.

Some Thoughts

This is my favorite book of all time. I just finished reading my well-loved copy for what seems like the millionth time, and I get something new out of it every time. I highly suggest reading it.

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