Beauty and Christian orthodoxy

I had heard of Madeline L’Engle’s, “A Wrinkle in Time” a long time ago, but only recently decided to read it after hearing on the TV program, Jeopardy, that this work was inspired by Quantum Theory and Einstein’s theory of relativity (my younger son completed Ph.D. requirements in the former subject).

As I read it, at first, I kept thinking about how much “less rich” L’Engle’s work was than Lewis’s. But towards the end, she blew me away with the combination of beauty and Christian orthodoxy that I found: the beauty primarily expressed in the depiction of the creatures like “Aunt Beast”, and the Christian orthodoxy in the words of Mrs Who:

“The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble , are called, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”

And, of course, it is Meg’s love for her brother which ultimately brings him out of the grasp of the Power of Darkness.

I think the primary attraction of Lewis’s works is the combination of the beauty of his art (for me, primarily in the Chronicles of Narnia) and the Christianity found in them.

I was delighted to learn that in L’Engle we have yet another renowned writer whose work is dedicated to fighting the good fight.


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

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Shortly after they were published I read what was then her trilogy (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet) and, like everyone else I knew who read them then, we regarded them as good reads, but not on the same exalted level as Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One thing I did not know until now was that later on L’Engle wrote other books. Two of these books (Many Waters and An Acceptable Time) were sequels to her trilogy (which thereby became the fourth and fifth books of the resulting quintet). I intend to reread the trilogy plus the two new books. It has been so long ago that I now remember little of the trilogy.


I have known Madeleine L’Engle for a long time and have read 12 of her books.

Of her original trilogy and subsequent books (Kairos, her main fantasy books) I liked a lot the first two (A wrinkle in time and A wind at the door), but less the others (A swiftly tilting planet, which I found disappointing, and Many waters, which I didn’t like at all).

Of her “normal life” series (Chronos, the Austin family chronicles) I liked a lot “Meet the Austins”, “The moon by night” and “A ring of endless light” and somewhat less “The young unicorns”.

I have read another four books by her, not included in both her main series, but didn’t like them too much.


I read A Wrinkle in Time once, about 35 years ago; I remember it not making much sense to me at the time, which almost certainly says more about me than it does about the book. But I think it’s to be expected that truth (which Christianity is–one of Lewis’s greatest contributions to my own understanding) will be beautiful; it’s a classic theme that goes back centuries. Ophelia (no deep thinker she) quotes it to Hamlet: “Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?” It’s the ending of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn from 1819: “beauty is truth, truth beauty”. I have a vague recollection that the concept goes back to the Greeks at least, but I don’t find any particular references I can cite there.

Then, of course, Douglas Adams appropriated it as only he could:

when the Editors of the Guide were sued by the families of those who had died as a result of taking the entry on the planet Traal literally (it said "Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal for visiting tourists: instead of “Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal of visiting tourists”), they claimed that the first version of the sentence was the more aesthetically pleasing, summoned a qualified poet to testify under oath that beauty was truth, truth beauty and hoped thereby to prove that the guilty party in this case was Life itself for failing to be either beautiful or true. The judges concurred, and in a moving speech held that Life itself was in contempt of court, and duly confiscated it from all those there present before going off to enjoy a pleasant evening’s ultragolf.

The only way that the Truth = Beauty equation is correct if both “truth” and “beauty” are defined as GOD’S Truth and Beauty.


But that’s axiomatic, isn’t it? All truth is God’s truth. All true beauty is God’s beauty. Surely, we often misapprehend both (leading to the nonsense of “how can it be wrong when it feels so right?”), but that’s a matter of our own fallen nature and hardened hearts.

Yeah, I know! That is why I said the equation only holds if the correct definition of each is used, i.e. GOD’S truth and GOD’S beauty.

I agree with Forrest. In fact, I used the same distinction years ago in a meeting with a classroom of teenager girls who had read one of my novels. One of them asked: “do you think goodness and beauty are the same thing?” and I answered: “in God they are, in us they are not.”