L’Engle’s stories of the Murrys, O’Keefes, and Austins (families at the center of several of her novel series) are among those I like to re-read from time to time. Most people who read L’Engle start with A Wrinkle in Time as children, but I believe I am an exception to this generalization. Memory is a tricky thing, but I seem to recall that the first L’Engle novel I read was The Young Unicorns, a story of the Austin family that involves a chilling mystery connected to the great neo-Gothic (Episcopal) cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. I remember being completely gripped by the sense of metaphysical suspense hovering at the edges of this story and in the other stories involving the Austins, the O’Keefes, and the Murrys (and their various friends).
I’ve read most of the entries in these series, and I’ve always liked (but sometimes been confused by) the way the casts of characters and action interweave among them. When I first read them as a teenager, I was really struck by the way Madeleine L’Engle uses the apparently chance meetings of characters who “belong”to different series to create a sense that we are all part of one great, complex plan, unbound by time or space, in the struggle of good against evil. I don’t believe the Austins ever meet the Murrys or the O’Keefes, but two characters introduced in The Young Unicorns (Mr. Theo and Canon Tallis) play a minor roles in Dragons in the Waters.
Dragons in the Waters, like the other novels in these three series, are usually classified as “young adult” mystery or suspense novels, but I dislike such pigeon-holing. I agree with C. S. Lewis that there are simply bad novels and good ones — the good ones invite, and repay, multiple readings, and the bad ones are utterly forgettable. Madeleine L’Engle’s are among the good ones. Anyway, just because a story is about adolescents does not mean the only audience it will appeal to is adolescent. Here’s one no-longer-young adult who still enjoys reading and re-reading these “young adult” stories.