Book Reviews

Book Review: “A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle” by Sarah Arthur

A Light So Lovely is a remarkable look at an intriguing woman’s life and contributions to spirituality. At times challenging while at others biographical, Sarah Arthur weaves together tale with theology, fact with fiction in a compelling way.

Madeleine L’Engle is almost certainly best remembered for her book A Wrinkle in Time, but Sarah Arthur exposes readers to the broad range of L’Engle’s work, which seems to rival C.S. Lewis’s output in both range and output. Arthur draws on this comparison herself a number of times, though she never comes to rely upon it. L’Engle is her own person, and one with complexities that demand careful reading.

The book is organized around a number of themes within L’Engle’s thought and work. Arthur notes that one of L’Engle’s driving spiritual themes is that of the “both/and” rather than the “either/or.” As a Lutheran, this resonates with me quite a bit because Lutherans tend to see themes in life as both/and as well (e.g. that Christians are sinner/saints). The chapters reflect this “both/and” narrative with titles like “Icon and Iconoclast” and “Faith and Science.” In each chapter, the both/and that L’Engle affirms becomes clear.

L’Engle’s spirituality is tied up in both fiction and nonfictional works. At times, it challenges the bounds of what some would demand for orthodoxy. Her apparent affirmations of things like ultimate universalism and the like caused some controversy in her own time and continue to do so to this day. L’Engle explored spirituality through myth and mythmaking (using the terms in the technical sense). Arthur draws upon fiction, nonfiction, anecdotes, interviews, the Bible, and more for sources in outlining L’Engle’s thought and spirituality.

So what is L’Engle’s spirituality? It would be hard to sum it up even in paragraph form, but Arthur’s focus in the chapters already points towards a way to do so. Specifically, L’Engle’s spirituality was one which was inclusive almost to a fault, focused on uniting truths together that some would see as at odds with each other. Her spirituality was also deeply practical, with her honest looks at the struggles of working as a mother, dealing with doubt, and more. Another theme Arthur explores is the way L’Engle tied her spirituality into her fiction. It is remarkable, looking back, to see that a book like A Wrinkle in Time, with its explicitly Christian themes, managed to win a Newbery Award, for such awards typically avoid anything explicitly religious. But L’Engle’s work is so magical, so captivating, and her Christianity so matter-of-fact that it becomes its own kind of light, the “light so lovely” that it can inspire others to learn more and seek it out. This central theme of the book is also central to L’Engle’s spirituality.

A Light So Lovely is a delightful work. The highest laud I can give it is that it has led me to seek out more writings of L’Engle to seek a deeper understanding and try to help make my own light shine. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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