Academic journal article Mythlore

Listening as Heroic Action in L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Academic journal article Mythlore

Listening as Heroic Action in L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Article excerpt

THE VICTORIAN MYTHOPOEIC AUTHOR George MacDonald once suggested that "[w]e spoil countless precious things by intellectual greed" (222). By this he did not mean to diminish the value of exercising our cognitive abilities; rather, he meant to remind us that not all truths can be grasped by the intellect alone. Strongly influenced by MacDonald's world view, Madeleine L'Engle's Time series evidences a similar challenge to the appeal to autonomy embedded in rationalism. L'Engle, like MacDonald before her, infuses her characters with childlike wonder and openness to intuitive knowledge: characteristics that mythopoeic authors suggest are not irrational, but rather necessary counterparts of rationality. In response to L'Engle's presentation of childlike openness to intuition as a virtue, and a heroic one at that, several critics, including Rolland Hein, Monika Hilder, and Marek Oziewicz, suggest that L'Engle's mythopoeic Time series can serve as a particularly apt challenge to the approaches of both modernism and postmodernism to self-reliant rationalism. While L'Engle belongs neither to strictly modern nor postmodern schools of thought, the mythopoeic imperative of cooperatively embracing possibilities beyond rationality, willingly looking beyond empirically validated facts, and accepting the limitations of rationalism is, in part, compatible with a postmodern perspective.

Like postmodernists who see modernism's idealization of strictly rational approaches to knowledge as limited and untenable, mythopoeic authors such as L'Engle assert that isolated empiricism is an incomplete form of knowledge. Where L'Engle, like most Christian mythopoeic authors, diverges from postmodernists, however, is her fundamental belief in the ordered nature of the universe. Where postmodernists see reality largely as a personal construction resulting from the influences of culture and environment, devoid of meaning in and of itself, Christian mythopoeic authors approach reality as ordered, interconnected, and most importantly, meaningful. So, while L'Engle does not adhere to a postmodernist perspective, that is, one that asserts individuals are the authors of their own construct of reality, and therefore largely bear the burden of ascribing meaning to it, postmodern ideology shares a space with Christian mythopoeic authors such as L'Engle who challenge the demythologizing emphasis of rationalism: a challenge where openness to intuitive ways of knowing, an imaginative sense of hope, interdependence, and a sense of participating in the universal drama can be encouraged.

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, L'Engle's third novel of the Time series, a keen awareness of interdependence and joy in the universal harmony results in an emphasis on listening as a heroic action. Overall, L'Engle's heroic model advocates virtues of love and humble cooperation over traditional heroic qualities of independence and strength. As critics including Kath Filmer, Donald Hettinga, Hein, Hilder, and Oziewicz note, L'Engle's protagonists embrace an ontology based on childlike interdependence and receptivity: a state of being that transcends the individualism often embodied by many traditionally admired heroes. In L'Engle's interconnected galactic community, listening is an activity of supreme importance. When each action and inaction is a thread in the universal tapestry, individual actions count: not because a person is qualified, but because a person is part of the very fabric of cosmic existence. Indeed, it is this very awareness of interconnection that necessitates characters who model a posture of humility. To listen is not merely a passive response to life's circumstances; rather, it is an integral characteristic of the humble childlike hero who is actively attuned to mythological truths of interdependence. Indeed, L'Engle's heroic characteristic of listening is consistent with what critics of fantasy have called a new mythic vision; that is, a highly relevant model of heroism which subverts traditionally celebrated models of autonomy and intellectual acumen, and in their place highlights unity, interdependence, and the sacredness of life. …

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