Thursday 6 March 2008

An unexpected visit from a dear old friend

Late last year, Brook and I were wandering about in the lovely Type bookstore on Queen St. West when I discovered, much to my extreme surprise and pleasure, that there is a fifth book in Madeleine L'Engle's Time series: An Acceptable Time, published in 1989.

When I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters (but especially the latter two) were among my favourite books and I would stay up half the night re-reading them on a regular basis.

The Time Quintet (as I now know these books are called) are a strange mix of science fiction (there is a lot of stuff about how space and time are related, and the implications for the characters who invariably end up messing with time somehow in their adventures), Little House on the Prairie, and religious fiction sometimes bordering on religious fantasy/horror. Niiiice.

I don't think I got the religious stuff so much when I was a kid - all I knew was that these books were rockin' good reads and that I wanted the Murry's to be my parents and teach me particle physics when I was 12 over a dinner cooked on the Bunsen burner in my Nobel-prize winning mother's lab. So cool, in that very nerdy way that defines me.

I taught A Wrinkle in Time to some students back when I was in South Korea, and thought the climax was perhaps a bit too gushy or preachy but pushed it out of my mind; I had fond memories of those books that I really didn't want to dislodge.

So, over the past two days I finally read the fifth book, An Acceptable Time. And like the title of this post indicates, it was like being visited unexpectedly by a dear old friend - a dear old friend who, while mostly as engaging as I remember, also turns out to be incredibly preachy and maybe even a little bit of a religious fanatic.

An Acceptable Time takes place on the Murry's farm as all the books do but this time the erstwhile heroine/time traveler is Polly, their grand-daughter, who's come to learn with them because like many of the members of this family, she's too smart for regular school. She soon starts meeting people who have been dead for approximately 3,000 years because, as it turns out, two circles of time are overlapping and for some mysterious reason, a gate between the two has opened.

Polly goes back and forth trying to figure out 1) why the gate is open, 2) what the heck Druids are doing hanging out with Native Americans 3,000 years ago, and 3) why this jerk, Zachary, who she met in Greece the summer before is suddenly back in her life when the time gate closes while they're hanging out in pre-Christian New England.

I still loved the time travel stuff but the cultural negotiations between Polly's 20th-century mentality and those of Druids and Natives was a bit too preachy. There was a lot of stuff about how while we think the Natives are savages, look at what we do now! That was made even worse by the way Christian values became increasingly imposed on the Natives, ostensibly as part of teaching them how to use their powers and learn a new language....Um, hello? Isn't that sort of why residential schools were such a bad and destructive idea?

Besides the crazy Christian stuff, this book relies very heavily on the very 80s/early 90s noble savage stereotype, which is extremely too bad - in part because the flip side of that stereotype is there too: while the People of the Wind are good and proud and grateful for the influence of the Druids and people from Polly's time, the People Across the Lake are sneaky, stupid, and bloodthirsty. Oh dear. Of course, the Christian influence of peace and cooperation wins out but not before Polly has resigned herself to being sacrificed, Christ-like, for the undeserving Zachary.

So, yeah, it was good to see this old friend but I'm glad we don't have to spend every day together. *Sigh*

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