Book Review: Madeleine L’Engle (Herself)

Book Review: Madeleine L’Engle (Herself)

Madeleine L'Engle Herself

I loved this book and give it five stars. It struck me on many levels as it discusses the spirituality of creativity and making art, as well as techniques on writing better and enjoying reading more. Madeleine L’Engle is the author of one of my favorite books for young adults, titled A Wrinkle in Time, which is truly an awesome book. Also author of over fifty other books, this one is a compilation from speeches or workshops that she had given. This amazing woman personally responded to all her letters from fans, approximately 300 per week! I’ve assembled some of her illuminating statements from this collection of reflections below:

  • “Over the years I have come to recognize that the work often knows more than I do.”
  • “Picasso says that an artist paints not to ask a question, but because he has found something, and he wants to share – he cannot help it – what he has found.”
  • “Art is an affirmation of life, a rebuttal of death.”
  • “When the artist is truly servant of the work, the work is better than the artist… When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere… Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer.”
  • “I used to irritate my children by frequently quoting Marlowe: ‘Comparisons are odious.’”
  • “The faith of the artist is the faith of vulnerability.”
  • “In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move unfettered, among the stars.”
  • “Well, make no mistake about it, a work of art –great or small, major or minor–is work. It’s hard work. And it encourages me to think of the enormous amount of rewriting Dostoyevsky did–thousands of pages just thrown out.”
  • “It is an extraordinary and beautiful thing that God, in creation, uses precisely the same tools and rules as the artist.”
  • “In kairos we are completely unselfconscious… The saint in contemplation… is in kairos. The artist at work is in kairos… This calling should not be limited to artists –or saints– but it is a fearful calling.”
  • “Creativity opens us to revelation… In the act of creativity, the artists lets go of the self-control which he normally clings to…This means not to set aside or discard the intellect but to understand that it is not to become a dictator, for when it does we are closed off from revelation.”
  • “In the creative act we can experience the same freedom we know in dreams… In a dream, I do not feel I have to dictate and control what happens.”
  • “In prayer and in the creative process, the mind and the heart, the intellect and the intuition, the conscious and the subconscious stop fighting each other as they so often do and collaborate.”
  • “Creativity is an act of discovering.”
  • “It’s very important to set down what you’re feeling while it is happening.”
  • “If what you say and what you are are the same thing, then you’re going to make a fine teacher.”
  • “God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”
  • “If you write a book that says something and it pleases everybody, you’ve failed.”
  • “Though the chief reason that A Wrinkle in Time was rejected for over two years and by thirty-odd publishers was because it is a difficult book for many adults, the decision was made to market it as a children’s book; it won a medal for children’s books.”
  • “A friend sent me an article from the Washington Post listing the ten most censored books in the United States. A Wrinkle in Time was one of them, and I felt very honored, because it was listed along with books by writers who have been my mentors: Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Teilhard de Chardin.”
  • “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
  • “As I understand the gift of the spirit in art, so I understand in prayer, and there is very little difference for me between praying and writing.”
  • “To serve a work of art is almost identical with adoring the Master of the Universe in contemplative prayer.”
  • “The largest part of the job of an artist is to listen…. This involves faith… To pray is also to listen. To move through my own chattering… to what God may have to say.”
  • “Daily I need a deep and penitent awareness of how much greater God’s love is than my own.”
  • “The challenge is to let my intellect work for the creative act, not against it. And this means, first of all, that I must have more faith in the work that I have faith in myself.”
  • “I find that my forbearance is widened, my understanding of human potential expanded, as I read fiction…”
  • “Christians have given Christianity a bad name. They have let their lights flicker and grow dim. They have confused smugness with joy.”
  • “Children are far better believers than adults; they are aware of what most adults have forgotten.”
  • “When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. The throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity.”
  • “Nobody can teach creative writing– run like mad from anybody who thinks he can. But one can teach practices, like finger exercises on the piano; one can share the tools of the trade, and what one has gleaned from the great writers.”
  • “These are my three recommendations: read [at least an hour a day], keep an honest journal, and write every day.”
  • “You must write out of your own experience. There simply isn’t any other way to write. Stanislavski, the great director of the Moscow Art Theater, always taught his students that you have to act out of your own experience, and that you can’t act anything you haven’t experienced. Once when he was doing a production of Othello, the young man playing Othello went to him in great frustration and said, ‘Mr. Stranislavski, you tell me I have to act out of my own experience. And Othello has to murder Desdemona. I never murdered anybody. How can I act out of my own experience?’ Stanislavski just looked at him and said, ‘Have you ever gone after a fly?’”
  • “Authors to read: Dostoyevsky (particularity The Brothers Karamazov), Roberston Davies (start with the Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders), The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zucov, Marjorie Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio March, Josephine Tey…”
  • “There’s confusion today between a simile and metaphor, but it is a very, very different thing to say that Jesus is like God than to say Jesus is God. So allegory is what something is like, and analogical work shows you what something is.”
  • “The motivation behind a mythic book has got to be implicit. It’s got to be there, but it mustn’t show.”
  • “Structure provides freedom.”
  • “‘Describe this room in which we’re sitting,’ I say, ‘and make use of all five senses. Don’t tell us. Show us.’ I have to repeat and repeat: fiction is built upon the concrete.
  • “A reader must be placed in action, space, and time. In a good story we find out very quickly about the hero the things we want to know about ourselves.”
  • “When a character wants to do one thing and I want him to do another, the character is usually right.”
  • “When language is limited, I am thereby diminished too.”
  • “Words I love: namaste (I salute the God within you), ontology (the word about being), ousia (the essence of being), ananda (the joy of existence without which the universe would fall apart and collapse).”
  • “The fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts.”
  • “Will Campbell told of seeing two bumper stickers on one car. One said, ‘US Army. Be All You Can Be.’ The other read, ‘Abortion Kills.’ … an example of how horrendously we can deceive and contradict our own selves.”
  • “Art heals us, puts us all together, but only if we’re willing to open ourselves to it and collaborate with it.”
  • “A myth deals with those things which never were but always are.”
  • “I had written a story for [Leonard Ehrlich] in fulfillment of an assignment, and when he returned it to me, he said, ‘It’s well written, Madeleine, but I don’t believe it.’ ‘But it’s true,’ I defended hotly. ‘I wrote it exactly the way it happened. It’s true.’ Calmly he replied, ‘If I don’t believe it, it isn’t true.’”
  • “The truth of an incident may lie artistically far from the facts of that incident. The most difficult part of trying to show truth lies not only in believing in it oneself but in making it believable to the reader, viewer, listener.”
  • “And what about the word ‘fiction?’ For many people it means something that is made up, is not true. Karl Barth wrote that he took the Bible far too seriously to take it literally. Why is that statement frightening to some people? There is no way that you can read the entire Bible seriously and take every word literally. Contradictions start in Genesis. And that is all right. The Bible is still true.”
  • “There is no such thing as objective history.”
  • “When I am deep in a story and am interrupted, I am jerked out of the ‘real’ world into a much more shadowy world.”
  • “I think the glory of writing lies in the fact that it forces us out of ourselves and into the lives of others.”
  • “Abraham Heschel says, ‘As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines.’”
  • “Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”



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