Madeleine L'Engle

From Academic Kids

Madeleine L'Engle (b. November 29, 1918 in New York, New York) is best known for her children's books, particularly the Newbery Award-winning A Wrinkle in Time; she is also the author of several books for adults, including a memoir of her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin, called Two-Part Invention. Her works combine her liberal Christian beliefs with a strong interest in modern science; mitochondrial DNA, for instance, is featured prominently in A Wind in the Door, tesseracts in A Wrinkle in Time, organ regeneration in Arm of the Starfish and so forth.

L'Engle's best-known works are divided between "chronos" and "kairos"; the former is the framework in which the stories of the Austin family take place, and is presented in a primarily realistic framework, though occasionally with elements that might be regarded as science fiction. The latter is the framework in which the stories of the Murry and O'Keefe families take place, and is presented sometimes in a realistic framework and sometimes in a more fantastic or magical framework. Generally speaking, the more realistic kairos material is found in the O'Keefe stories, which deal with the second generation characters.

The Murry-O'Keefe and Austin families should not be regarded as living in separate worlds, because several characters cross over between them, and historical events are also shared.

A theme often implied and occasionally explicit in L'Engle's works is that what humans call "religion", "science" and "magic" are simply different aspects of a single seamless reality: a similar theme may be discerned in the fiction works of C. S. Lewis.


Partial list of works



  • Meet the Austins (1960)
  • The Moon By Night (1991)
  • The Young Unicorns (1968)
  • A Ring of Endless Light (1980)
  • Troubling a Star (1994)
  • A Severed Wasp (1982)

Other Fiction

Katherine Forrester Series:

  • The Small Rain (1945)
  • Prelude (1968)
  • A Severed Wasp (1982)

Camilla Dickenson:

  • Camilla (1951)
  • A Live Coal in the Sea (1996)

Single Titles:

  • And Both Were Young (1949)
  • Ilsa (1946)
  • The Love Letters (1966)
  • Certain Women (1996)

Important L'Engle characters

Recurring Kairos Characters:


  • Alexander Murry — Astrophysicist in the employ of the United States government. He took part in an early experiment in "tessering" and was consequently lost on the planet Camazotz for several years.
  • Meg (Margaret) Murry — Eldest daughter of Alexander and Katherine. Somewhat awkward and plain as an adolescent, she acquired social graces and beauty during the course of her maturation covered in A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. As a child, she was closest to her youngest brother, Charles Wallace; in later life, Charles Wallace was largely absent owing to secret responsibilities. It is sometimes ambiguous whether Meg is merely a mathematical genius or has also acquired her Ph.D.
  • Sandy (Alexander) and Dennys (Dionysus) Murry — Twin sons of Alexander and Katherine. They describe themselves as the "squares" of the Murry clan. As teenagers, they take a trip to Biblical times, specifically the time immediately preceding the Deluge. In later life, Sandy is an "anti-corporate" lawyer, and Dennys is a doctor.
  • Charles Wallace Murry — The youngest of the Murry clan. Charles Wallace is "something new", i.e., superhuman in intelligence (broadly conceived), an evolutionary next step. He is a key protagonist in A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the site for the climax of A Wind in the Door, but mostly absent from the later books.


  • Calvin O'Keefe — Marine biologist, husband of Meg, father of a large brood. As a boy, Calvin was a "sport" among what the uncharitable might call degenerate white trash, excelling academically, socially, and in sports from an early age, but feeling disconnected from his peers. He found a truer home with the Murrys.
  • Polly/Poly (Polyhymnia) O'Keefe — Eldest child of Meg and Calvin. Named, somewhat to her annoyance, by her eccentric Godfather Canon Tallis. Poly takes part in various socio-political intrigues in Arm of the Starfish and Dragons in the Waters, more personal ones in House like a Lotus, and is incorporated into the Murry time-and-space travel tradition with An Acceptable Time.
  • Charles O'Keefe — Named for Charles Wallace Murry, Charles is characterized by sensitivity to others, clairvoyance, and an introspective personal style.


  • Simon Bolivar Quentin Phair Renier — Simon appears in Dragons in the Waters as a young boy of poor but aristocratic southern background, flung somewhat suddenly into the wide world after the sale of a portrait of Bolivar which was one of the last heirlooms of his family. He encounters the O'Keefe clan and Canon Tallis, and eventually comes into contact with another set of noble roots in distant Venezuela.

Crossover characters:

  • Canon Tallis — Tallis is probably the most frequently recurring character without genetic affiliation to the Murrys and Austins. Rather like a cross between G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown and Ian Fleming's James Bond, Tallis provides spiritual leadership and insight into the realms of crime and international intrigue in equal measure.
  • Adam Eddington — Marine biologist. Adam first appears in Arm of the Starfish working as an intern for Calvin O'Keefe. He is caught up in a power struggle between the O'Keefes and an unscrupulous industrialist vying for control of an emergent medical technology. Later, working with dolphins (to which he was introduced by Polly O'Keefe) in New England, he comes into contact with Vicky Austin.
  • Zachary Gray — Extremely affluent, disaffected young man, oscillating between his desires for redemption and self-destruction. Has rather complex relationships with both Polly O'Keefe and Vicky L'Engle

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