Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? by Madeleine L'Engle Read Free Book Online

Book: Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? by Madeleine L'Engle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Madeleine L'Engle
    â€œDo I dare disturb the universe?” asks T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock. It’s not an easy question, and there are no easy answers. Robert Cormier, in his cautionary tale The Chocolate War , has his young hero ask J. Alfred’s question, and because this is not a novel of realism, as many people think, but a cautionary tale, the answer is, “You’d better not dare, because if you do, you’ll get hurt.” In this book, Cormier takes something which is already in existence in a small way and has it burst out into enormous proportions, in somewhat the same way that James Clavell does in The Children’s Story , a small chill book which he was inspired to write when his daughter came home from school, having been taught by rote to say the Pledge of Allegiance, gabbling it with no understanding, and he saw how easily the tender mind of a child can be manipulated.
    The writer whose words are going to be read by children has a heavy responsibility. And yet, despite the undeniable fact that children’s minds are tender, they are also far more tough than many people realize, and they have an openness and an ability to grapple with difficult concepts which many adults have lost. Writers of children’s literature are set apart by their willingness to confront difficult questions.
    Perhaps for this reason, the content of children’s books is often a matter of controversy. There are, of course, built-in restraints in the writing and publishing of a book marketed for children. Responsible editors and publishers are going to exercise these restraints by refusing to publish a book they consider pornographic, or ethnically prejudiced, or in any way potentially damaging to children. And here we come to a very fine line: what is the difference between honest editorial advice, and the manipulating of a writer?
    Many years ago, when A Wrinkle in Time was being rejected by publisher after publisher, I wrote in my journal, “I will rewrite for months or even years for an editor who sees what I am trying to do in this book and wants to make it better and stronger. But I will not, I can not diminish and mutilate it for an editor who does not understand it and wants to weaken it.”
    Now, the editors who did not understand the book and wanted the problem of evil soft-pedaled had every right to refuse to publish the book, as I had, sadly, the right and obligation to try to be true to it. If they refused it out of honest conviction, that was honorable. If they refused it for fear of trampling on someone else’s toes, that was, alas, the way of the world. Finally, in John Farrar and Hal Vursell I found a publisher and an editor who did understand the book and helped me to know what I needed to do to make it more the book I was trying to write.
    After a book is published, we then come to the problem of outside interference. I am very wary of those individuals who are neither writers nor editors nor even, in some cases, readers, who feel that they have the right to apply their own moral criteria to the books in public and school libraries. I have enormous respect and admiration and love for the librarians who are rising up to protest this, because they are putting their very jobs on the line.
    Recently I was lecturing in the Midwest, and the head librarian of a county system came to me in great distress, bearing an epistle composed by one woman, giving her all the reasons she should remove A Wrinkle in Time from the library shelves. This woman, who had obviously read neither Wrinkle nor the Bible carefully, was offended because she mistakenly assumed that Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which were witches practicing black magic. I scrawled in the margin that if she had read the text she might have noted that they were referred to as guardian angels. The woman was also offended because they laughed and had fun. Is there no joy in heaven? The woman belonged to that group of people who believe

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