The second book in Madeleine L'Engle trilogy involving the Murry family. A few years have passed since the events in A Wrinkle in Time, Charles Wallace Murry is now in elementary school and having a rather hard time with it. Standard problem being too smart in a small town. He contracts a mysterious illness that is battled through the efforts of Meg Murry, Calvin O'Keefe, Mr. Jenkins, a cherubim, and one of Charles Wallace's farandola. It's a rather odd tale, and in my opinion the weakest of the three books. A Swiftly Tilting Planet is the next book in the trilogy.

Caveat Lector: This writeup contains spoilers. The bold headings in the writeup are not taken from the book; they are my own attempt to break up the text for easier reading.

A Wind In the Door takes place approximately two years after the events in A Wrinkle In Time. The second book in Madeline L'Engle's Time Quartet (consisting of the books A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters), this book is definitely a mind-stretcher, and in this reader's opinion, vastly underrated.

L'Engle stretches her creative wings to amazing span in A Wind in the Door, tackling such topics as the relative nature (and therefore utter meaninglessness) of size and scale, the importance of the uniqueness of individuals, and the notion that love is critical for the surivival of the Universe.

The book has something of a dark tone, though always with the golden warmth of hope urging the characters onward. Meg's sense of foreboding grows in the first part of the story; the world all over seems to be growing unpredictable, dangerous, and frightening. Houses in the rural village where the Murry family lives are being broken into and vandalized. Meg's father has been called away by the President, and will be gone for an entire week. Charles Wallace is being beaten up by his classmates on a weekly basis, and is beginning to show pallor and weakness that indicate he might be seriously ill.

Naming, Wings, and Flame

The story begins with six-year-old Charles Wallace's announcement to his teenage sister Meg:

"There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden."

Naturally, Meg is taken aback by this statement. After all, Charles is an extraordinary little boy: his intelligence is "so high it's untestable by normal standards", and he is certainly not given to flights of fancy or hallucination. And Charles is no liar. So, despite her misgivings, Meg goes with Charles through the orchard to investigate the site where the "dragons" were supposedly flexing their eyes and wings and spurts of flame earlier that day.

The children discover not dragons, but a small pile of scales and feathers. Charles supposes that perhaps the small pile is fewmets, or dragon droppings; though Meg is under the impression that fewmets would probably resemble "bigger and better cow pies". Charles takes a silvery feather and tucks it into his pockets. Even his skeptical brothers, the twins Sandy and Dennys, note that the feather does not appear to have come from a bird. The rachis of the feather is solid, rather than hollow, and has a metallic sheen.

In A Wind in the Door, the characters learn that each individual -- whether human or non-human -- has a life's vocation, or special talent that they are meant to nurture during their life. Meg Murry is a Namer, whereas her twin brothers Sandy and Dennys, as well as the mysterious eight-foot-tall visitor Blajeny, are Teachers. On the night Meg learns of the reason behind the darkness enveloping human society, punctuated by a terrible apparition of the local grade school principal Mr. Jenkins, Blajeny appears with another "student": a many-winged, many-eyed cherubim named Proginoskes. It turns out that Proginoskes is actually the creature that Charles Wallace mistook for a "drive of dragons", and understandably so. Proginoskes is described as:

wings, it seemed like hundreds of wings, spreading, folding,
and eyes
how many eyes can a drive of dragons have?
and small jets of flame

Meg, her boyfriend Calvin O'Keefe, and Charles are all startled by Proginoskes' announcement that he is a cherubim; they all have the stereotypical image of a "cherub", with golden hair and "a pair of useless little wings" firmly ingrained in their minds. Proginoskes also explains that he is a cherubim, not a cherub; he is "practically plural", which is indeed obvious to anyone who looks at him. One of L'Engles themes in this book is that things might not always appear the way you might expect them to. Proginoskes is aware that his appearance startles humans, and often uses his ability to de-materialize when he thinks that he might encounter people that would have a nervous breakdown if they were to see him.

L'Engle places great emphasis on the significance of Naming. The word "Name" is capitalized throughout the book, indicating its importance. In many traditions, especially Pagan tradition, knowing or announcing the Name of an individual grants some degree of power over that individual. L'Engle's take on Naming is that by Naming a person (or a star, for that matter), you affirm his or her identity and help to strengthen that individual's place in the Universe. The villains in this book are the Echthroi (Greek for "the enemy"); these formless beings seem to "un-Name" all of Creation. By taking away the Name of an entity, whether it be as large as a star or as small as a tiny creature living on the organelle of a human cell, the Echthroi contribute to the unbalancing of the matter-energy balance of the Universe. Proginoskes speaks to Meg of one of his previous assignments: it was his job to learn the names of all the stars.

"Which stars?" asks Meg.

"All of them."

"You mean all the stars in all the galaxies?

Yes. If he calls for one of them, someone has to know which one he means. Anyhow, they like it; there aren't many who know them all by name, and if your name isn't known, then it's a very lonely feeling.

The "he" to which Proginoskes is referring is probably the Teacher Proginoskes had for his previous assignment. To me, there is an inference that perhaps this teacher was God, but that is up for interpretation.

Dr. Snake? The Riddle of Louise the Larger

The Murry family lives in a beautiful old house, "out in the sticks", so to speak. The descriptions of the Murry house make me want to curl up in front of the fire with a kitten and a good book; it reminds me of my grandparents' place in Vermont. Large, with a walk-in attic and an attached laboratory (formerly a milk storage room). In this laboratory we find Mrs. Murry, perched on a stool, peering into her micro-sonarscope. She is worried, nearly frantic, yet determined not to upset her children with outward displays of distress. Her youngest son is sick, and from what she's seen in her experiments, his illness might be a sign of something much more insidious than a flu epidemic.

In small towns and villages in the United States, there are still a few doctors who make house calls and know many of their neighbors as personal friends. Dr. Louise Colubra is one of these vanishing breed; she is called in one day by Mrs. Murry to check on her young son Charles Wallace. The twins, Sandy and Dennys, notice that the doctor's last name, Colubra comes from the Latin for "snake". They therefore decide to name their pet snake after the good doctor: "Louise the Larger".

Dennys asks Sandy, "Why the Larger?"

"Why not?"

"Does she have to be larger than anything?"

"She is."

"She certainly isn't larger than Dr. Louise."

Dennys bristled. "Louise the Larger is very large for a snake who lives in a garden wall, and Dr. Louise is a very small doctor-- I mean, she's a tiny person. I suppose as a doctor, she's pretty mammoth."

"Well, doctors don't have to be any size. But you're right, Den, she is tiny. And our snake is big." The twins seldom disagreed about anything for long.

The preceding conversation between the twins might seem innocent, even superfluous. But close examination reveals that the twins are confronting the issue of the relative nature of size that permeates the book. We also learn more of the dynamics of the Murry family; the four children have paired off, so to speak. Sandy and Dennys share a close connection and ability to communicate with one another, yet are sometimes amused or confused by Meg and Charles. Similary, Meg and Charles Wallace, being the "weirdos" of the family, understand one another very well and sometimes see the twins as overly practical.

Dr. Louise is honored to have the snake named after her. She turns out to be a snake aficionado, having had a pet boa constrictor when she was younger. She notes that snakes are excellent judges of personality, and professes to always trust a snake in matters of character.

The snake, Louise the Larger, turns out to be a beacon of truth throughout the book. Louise is a highly aware and intelligent snake, whose talents prove crucial at more than one point during the story.

Cosmic Screams and Rebellious Shrimp-Mice

When entities are Xed, or un-Named by the Echthroi, the result is a tear in the fabric of the Universe. L'Engle's idea of the most sinister phenomenon possible is that of the void, of absolute nothingness. When matter is Xed, a rip in the galaxy occurs, accompanied by a horrible soundless noise: an electric, grating terror that is at once eternal and instantaneous. Mrs. Murry knows this sound; it is the same sound made by ailing mitochondria, the organelles within the cells of living things responsible for energy production and transport. L'Engle mixes fact and speculation brilliantly in her discussion of mitochondria; she correctly depicts them as the cell's powerhouse, yet postulates a wild idea of the inner mechanisms of the mitochondrion. Small creatures called farandolae are said to inhabit each mitochondrion. For the immature farandolae and the mature fara, the mitochondrion is a planet and the body of the living creature inhabited by the mitochondrion is a galaxy.

The cosmic "class" consisting of Meg, Charles, Proginoskes, and Calvin is joined by a farandola by the name of Sporos. Sporos is described as:

...rather like a small, silver-blue mouse, and yet it seemed to Meg to be a sea creature rather than a land creature. Its ears were large and velvety, the fur shading off into lavender fringes at the tips, blowing gently in the breeze like sea plants moving in the currents of the ocean. Its whiskers were unusually long; its eyes were large and milky and had no visible pupil or iris, but there was nothing dulled about them; they shone like moonstones. (135)

My first impression was that a farandola sounded like the most adorable thing ever created. Yet this cute, scampering phase is not to last, for it is the duty of every farandola to deepen, or put down roots and become a fara. The fara look more like trees than small sea-mice, and once they have taken root, they are unable to move physically.

Meg and co. discover that the Echthroi are trying to convince the farandolae not to deepen, thereby resulting in the mitochondria's death. In order for proper energy production to take place, each fara must do its part to link the organism to every other being in Creation, through song and thought and harmony. In the words of Senex, the fara that gave birth to Sporos:

It is only when we are fully rooted that we are really able to move.

But how is it possible to move without moving? The answer is found in the practice of kything. Kything is the ability to communicate and exist on a higher plane of existence than the mere physical. It is something like telepathy, but deeper: when a creature kythes, he, she, or it is able to be somewhere else, existing in the form of pure life-essence. The fara which are rooted have infinite freedom to move by kything with one another, with fara on other mitochondria, with the stars themselves. Sporos and many other farandolae are being influenced by the Echthroi to believe that by deepening, they will lose their freedom. They are encouraged to think only in the short term, to think only of their own immediate pleasure, rather than consider the health of their "galactic host". Sporos' galactic host happens to be Charles Wallace.

So What Happens Next?

The latter part of A Wind in the Door is spent in battle and persuasion: Meg and her class, from within Charles Wallace's mitochondrion (named Yadah; even organelles must be Named) must convince Sporos to Deepen, therefore saving Charles Wallace's life and scoring a victory against the Echthroi. This is a battle of the power of love versus the power of nothingness, and in order for triumph to be had, one character needs to make a dramatic sacrifice.

A Wind in the Door is a very complex and demanding book, and though it is supposedly written at a fifth-grade level, the story's conceptual puzzles would challenge even most adults. It is difficult to conceive of motion without movement, or of sentient creatures so small that a human body is a galaxy to them. L'Engle's theme here is that everything matters: no matter how minute or how macrocosmic. Everything needs love and a Name to call its own.

The only text referred to was the book A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle, published 1974. Thanks to dutchess for her suggestions and helpful review!

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