The Young Unicorns

Madeleine L'Engle

This article is from Mary Wessel Walker's regular column as the 10-Gong Contributing Editor for Signals from TARSUS.

Spring is springing in Philadelphia! Today, instead of writing this column I sat outside on the green in the sunshine and did my reading for my philosophy of music class. My friend Erin told me that the daffodils are blooming near the gym and everyone seems to be relaxing a bit as the weather warms up. Still, summer is a ways off yet and the sailing season is only just beginning. (My dad only just noticed that all the ice had melted off the lakes near our home in Michigan!) That makes this the perfect time of year for reading, whether outside in the sunshine or cozy inside on a rainy spring evening.

I have to confess that it's been a while since I read a Ransome book all the way through, which has made my ideas for this column a bit difficult to come up with. But lately I've been rereading some of my other childhood favorites and I thought I'd share with everyone my love of Madeleine L'Engle's work. Many people are familiar with A Wrinkle in Time. While a great book, I personally don't regard it as L'Engle's best. So many of her other books are just as good or better but unfortunately less well-known.

I particularly love L'Engle's books about the Austin family. Though L'Engle deals more directly with the challenges of moving from childhood to adulthood than Ransome does, the Austins are much like the Ransome characters. Each member of the family is an interesting and unique person. The children and parents treat one another with love and respect. Though the characters are nice, they never get too stickily sweet. Rather like C. S. Lewis' Narnia books, L'Engle's stories are just good tales, adventure stories that will keep you turning the pages; but she also has some really lovely underlying themes there for those who want to pick up on them. On each rereading I come across another piece of wisdom, often contained in a simple statement by one character or another that you barely notice when you're caught up in the story.

My very favorite L'Engle book (although almost all of hers are very good) is The Young Unicorns. It's not about unicorns, but instead follows the Austin family as they deal with challenges and adventures while living in New York City. Unlike A Wrinkle in Time, The Young Unicorns is not a fantasy novel. Like any adventure story it, of course, features things which are not real or true, but nothing in it is all that far from the realm of possibility (which is somewhat scary, actually!). To say much about the plot would be giving away the joy of this book, but let me say that it is a mystery full of suspense and danger and a plot to take over the city, and that it has a character with the simply fabulous name Canon Tallis.

On my front, plans are in development for a big family vacation of hiking and sailing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in August. But that's still a long way off. For now, like Titty and Roger I have to make do with doodling islands and sailboats and trees in the margins of my notebooks during my classes and reading books in the sunshine whenever I get the chance. Have a good spring, and happy reading!

My personal second favorite (after The Young Unicorns) is The Arm of the Starfish.

L'Engle books about the Austins: Meet the Austins, 24 Days Before Christmas, The Anti-Muffins, Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light, and Troubling a Star.

Article and review by Mary Wessel Walker, April, 2005.

This article is ©2005 by Mary Wessel Walker, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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