Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ogden Nash at Wheaton College

The Wheaton College Student Union usually invited quite “serious” public figures to lecture on campus, so it was surely a delight when they snagged Ogden Nash, the American poet of light humorous verse. NashHis poetry was famously featured in The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere. He spoke in Pierce Chapel at 8:30pm on April 30, 1958. Admission to the event was $1.

His books include Everyone But Thee and Me, Parents Keep Out, You Can’t Get There from Here and Custard the Dragon. Among Nash’s New York literary circle were E.B. White, Dorothy Parker and S.J. Perelman.

Campus reaction to Nash’s performance is not recorded, nor is the notoriously liberal poet’s response to his conservative Christian audience. Not noted for theological reflection, Ogden Nash did observe:

God in his wisdom made the fly,

And then forgot to tell us why.

Nash was an active member of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea in New Hampshire, where his bespectacled face was immortalized on a stained-glass window. He died in 1971. At his funeral this poem was read:

I didn’t go to church today,

I trust the Lord to understand.

The surf was swirling blue and white,

The children swirling on the sand.

He knows, He knows how brief my stay,

How brief this spell of summer weather,

He knows when I am said and done,

We’ll have plenty of time together.

Jean Vanier and the Templeton Prize

The Templeton Prize is annually awarded to a living man or woman who, in the estimation of the judges, “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” Recipients include Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Brother Roger, Dr. Billy Graham and Mother Teresa.

VanierThe 2015 recipient of the Templeton Prize is Jean Vanier, awarded “for his innovative discovery of the central role of vulnerable people in the creation of a more just, inclusive and humane society.” Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a community where people with intellectual disabilities and those who accompany them share a daily life rich in mutual relationships, offering an innovative way of living. L’Arche is a Federation of 147 communities in 35 countries and on 5 continents. Jean is the son of Georges Vanier (1888-1967), the celebrated Governor General of Canada.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Roman Catholic British commentator, deeply interested in faith based initiatives, communicated in 1974 with Vanier and his mother, Pauline, about filming the L’Arche story for Canadian television.

Vanier was interviewed by the Chicago Sunday Evening Club in 1995, discussing loneliness, disabilities and belonging. “To hold people tenderly,” he said, “is to reveal to them that they are precious and that they are important and they have value.”

The papers of Malcolm Muggeridge (SC-04) and The Chicago Sunday Evening Club (SC-47) are maintained in the Wheaton College (IL) Special Collections.

A long distance Calle to the Moon

NixonAmong the numerous fascinating oddities stored in the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections is this reproduction of an original drawing first presented to President Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., in October of 1969, depicting the historic first telephone call to the Moon. The framed reproduction was presented to Dr. Hudson Armerding, President of Wheaton College, on January 16, 1970, by representatives of the Telephone Engineer & Management magazine. It is personally signed by artist Paul Calle.


Has the pursuit of truth become irrelevant in the 21st century?

Truth matters—now more than ever. In recent years, I have watched the pursuit of truth wane in popular focus as well as intellectual discourse. A generation ago, Dr. Arthur Holmes ’50, M.A. ’52, encouraged graduates of Wheaton College to scrutinize carefully the truth in all realms of intellectual inquiry. Truth must emerge from biblical revelation in concert with the evidence God has proclaimed in His created order. Theory and evidence are married together, creating a symphony of insights that are relevant on and off campus.

I contend that the neglect of truth is potentially catastrophic for world civilizations, for truth is the gravity that draws human beings to the holiness of our Lord. Truth matters even more in a diverse, complex, and violent world for individuals and social systems alike.

Our Lord stated that possessing the truth makes us free. There has never been a riper time for Christians to pursue knowledge and truth than in this age of confusion. Talk shows promulgate specious ideas without sanctions. Other media outlets regress to levels of simplicity that often border on stupidity. Prophetic voices are muted by vacuous sound bites and petty sensationalism throughout popular culture. Like an epidemic of
obesity for the mind caused by the junk food of ideas, we languish in confusion as great visions and ideals atrophy under the oppression of relativism or the utter foolishness of dogmatism. The Columbia University historian, Jacques Barzun, has suggested in a recent monograph that our civilization has moved toward moral decadence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us generations ago about living in an age of guided missiles and misguided human beings.

Into this conceptual chaos, the students of Wheaton College must be educated to pursue truth, while recognizing the inherent biases, limitations, wounds, and pathologies of the human condition. Redemption must triumph over idiocy. Truth crushed to the ground must rise again. Good must prevail over evil, as Dr. Roger Depue (a Christian and former organizational leader of the FBI’s legendary Behavioral Science Unit) concludes in his recent book, Between Good and Evil, after decades of confronting the most horrendous evils among humankind.

At Wheaton, the legacy of Drs. Art Holmes, Merrill C. Tenney HON, Sam Schultz HON, Zondra Lindblade ’55, Norman Ewert, Donald Lake ’59, M.A. ’60, and many others, has created an intergenerational tapestry of truth where the integration of faith and learning can extend Christ’s kingdom to the problems of urban schools, crime, missions, inequalities, and churches.

Truth always matters at Wheaton College.

Dr. Henry Lee Allen ’77, Professor of Sociology, teaches courses on the sociology of education, criminology, and urban sociology. He has consulted with the National Education Association, the FBI Academy, the American Bible Society, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Federal Correctional Facility in Pekin (Ill.), the Kettering Foundation, and the Aspen Institute. Dr. Allen has published many scholarly articles about the sociology of higher education and faith and learning. (The above statement was included at the time of publication — Wheaton Magazine, Spring 2007)

A.W. Tozer & Wheaton College

The following passage describes the relationship between A.W. Tozer and Wheaton College and is transcribed from “A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer” by Lyle Dorsett (Moody 2008).

From 1945 until his death in 1963, Tozer poured seemingly unbounded energy into the younger generation. The Sunday evening services at the church on Union Avenue continued to attract hundreds of students as long as Tozer was there. They came twenty-five miles from Wheaton College, and they drove or took the streetcar from Moody Bible Institute. College-age men and women were eager to listen to an intelligent and articulate speaker who assumed the inerrancy of the Bible and used it to call them to radical obedience.

Tozer’s popularity with students on Sunday nights led to other times of interaction with college-age people. Dr. V. Raymond Edman, President of Wheaton College beginning in 1941, became a close friend to A, W. Tozer. The two men shared many experiences and interests. Edman, born in 1900, was three years younger than Tozer. Bespectacled, balding more than Tozer and slightly heavier, Edman served in the United States Army as an enlisted man in World War I. Whereas Tozer was self-educated, Edman worked his way through university, earning a BA from Boston University in 1922. A Spanish major, Edman developed connections with Dr. Paul Rader when he served as head of the C&MA’s Bible Training Institute in Nyack, New York. Through Rader, Edman connected with the Alliance and after marriage he and his wife went to Ecuador as missionaries. Eventually the Edmans returned to the United States because of Raymond’s health, and he went on to earn an (American History) and a PhD (International Relations) from Clark University in Massachusetts.

In 1937 Dr. Edman joined the faculty at Wheaton College to teach history. In 1941 he was appointed president of the college. Tozer’s name was well known to Edman by the time he we Wheaton, because as a member of the Alliance he had read Tozer’s articles in The Alliance Weekly. The two men met personally by 1940 and became fast friends. Both men understood college women and men and sensed God’s leading to encourage them in their faith. Tozer frequently had Dr. Edman come and preach at Southside Church and he urged the college professor to write for Alliance magazine. Once Edman became president of Wheaton College there was seldom a year that passed–at least until the Tozers moved to Canada in 1959–that the Southside pastor was brought to Wheaton College to speak in chapel.

Tozer shared his pulpit with Raymond Edman, and the latter opened the college podium to Tozer because they manifested almost identical understandings of the Bible. As Alliance men, both fully embraced the denomination’s four pillars of Jesus Christ as Savior Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. Beyond this connection, however, both men stood deeply committed to the belief that all born-again Christians are invited by God into a “deeper life” after conversion. Each man had experienced a personal and transformational work of grace after conversion. And while each man knew that the Spirit of Jesus Christ works uniquely with every soul, they nevertheless knew from Scripture, church history, and their personal experience that the Spirit of Jesus Christ desires to continue to grow in and flow through His chosen people in profound, transformational, and God-glorifying ways that are seldom realized by most Christians.

V. Raymond Edman laid out his views on what he saw as the liberating and fulfilling life in a volume titled They Found the Secret (1960). A collective spiritual biography of twenty people, Edman presented cameo portraits and deeper life experiences of notable Christians such as Amy Carmichael and Dwight L. Moody.

Tozer set forth a similar view, albeit not through historical biographies, but in a series of articles he published in the magazine Christian Life that were published in a little book titled Keys to the Deeper Life (1957). Prior to this, Tozer had expressed his views on the ‘deeper life’ in several chapel addresses at Wheaton College–ten in 1952 and one two years later.

Young people loved Tozer in the same way an earlier generation loved D. L. Moody. Like the world-famous nineteenth-century evangelist, Tozer knew how to communicate with young adults, and he had a sacred anointing from the Holy Spirit to reach people’s hearts as well as minds. Like Moody and Edman, Tozer did not push Pentecostal doctrines or the gift of tongues. Instead, people were told that knowing about Jesus Christ, understanding correct doctrine, and being a good student of the Bible are only part of our calling. The Lord wants His people to “know Him” not just “about Him.” in the spirit of John 17:3, eternal life is to know the Father and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Tozer, like Moody, urged people to enter into a deeper life with Christ. Tozer often spoke these or similar words:

Tens of thousands of believers who pride themselves in their understanding of Romans and Ephesians cannot conceal the sharp spiritual contradiction that exists between their hearts and the heart of Paul. That difference may be stated this way: Paul was seeker and a finder and a seeker still. They seek and find and seek no more. After “accepting” Christ they tend to substitute logic for life and doctrine for experience. For them the truth becomes a veil to hide the face of God; for Paul it was a door into His very Presence… Many today stand by Paul’s doctrine who will not follow him in his passionate yearning for divine reality. Can these be said to be Pauline in any but the most nominal sense?

Tozer went on to explain this further by quoting The Cloud of the Unknowing, which he argued contained a prayer that expresses the core of deeper life teaching:

God, unto whom all hearts be open…and unto whom no secret thing is hid, I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee. Amen.

Tozer continued:

Who that is truly born of the Spirit, unless he has been prejudiced by wrong teaching, can object to such a thorough cleansing of heart as will enable him perfectly to love God and worthily to praise Him? Yet this is exactly what we mean when we speak about with the “deeper life” experience. Only we mean that it should be literally fulfilled within the heart, not merely accepted by the head.

Words such as these set ablaze the hearts of thousands of young women and men who, admittedly, were longing for something more. Not that they sought emotional highs or spiritual “experiences.” On the contrary, most of the young people at Wheaton College and Moody Bible Institute had encountered enough excesses in the burgeoning Pentecostal movement. This was not their goal. Rather, they wanted to know Jesus Christ better so that they could make Him known to a world of lost and confused souls.

Tozer’s messages to Chicago-area students became famous. Soon he was invited to fundamentalist and evangelical campuses in other places. During the 1940s and 1950s, the Chicago Alliance pastor spoke at St. Paul Bible College (Minnesota) in 1941. He did Spiritual Emphasis Week services at Wheaton College twice in the 1950s, and also at Fort Wayne Bible College (Indiana) in 1948 and 1954, as well as the baccalaureate address at Houghton College (New York) in 1952. He also spoke at Taylor College (Indiana) in 1960 and Nyack College the same year. Wheaton College honored Tozer with an honorary doctorate (LLD) in 1950, and Houghton College bestowed the honorary LLD two years later. Although Tozer never sought to be called “doctor,” he was certainly grateful to be so honored by highly respected Christian colleges like Houghton and Wheaton.

There is no way to measure Tozer’s impact on college people, but the testimonies are nearly legion. Billy Graham remembered going to hear Tozer at the Southside Church several times before he graduated from Wheaton College in 1943, and said he was always deeply blessed, Dr. J. Julius Scott, Professor Emeritus, Wheaton Graduate School, remembered that as a freshman at Wheaton in the early l950s, Tozer’s challenges to “know God Himself,” not just “about God,” left an indelible mark on his soul.23 In the same vein, the late Dr. Bernard King, who graduated from St. Paul Bible College in 1941, said he first met Tozer personally at the college commencement the year we entered World War II. He credited his relationship with Tozer that began at college as being extremely important in his spiritual life and ministry.

Dr. Tozer had a range of influence on high school–age youth that rivaled his impact on college people. He frequently spoke at Youth for Christ rallies on foreign missions and radical commitment to Jesus Christ. Likewise he became one of the most popular speakers at Christian and Missionary Alliance Youth gatherings in places such as New York and Cincinnati, as well as Chicago.

Royalty in Our Midst

Guest posting by Special Collections staff member

The current King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is known as a stern and tough Monarch. Though his authority is not absolute, he continues to wield considerable influence within his country and beyond. In line with past Kings and Queens of Thailand, he is known for having those who criticize him jailed for 3-15 years under Thailand’s lese-majeste laws. He has been on the throne longer than any living Monarch–since 1946.

It is not as widely known that both the King’s mother (Sangwan Talapat) and father (Prince Mahidol) lived and studied in the United States prior to their marriage in 1920. Sangwan had received a scholarship to study nursing and Prince Mahidol was studying public health at Harvard at the time. This candid photo, dated 1919, shows the Prince and his wife-to-be in front of the home of Mrs. Strong in Hartford Connecticut. Sangwan lived with the Strong family for several months in 1918 and 1919, prior to her engagement and eventual marriage to the Prince. It was apparently Sangwan’s first time to see snow. The photograph is part of the Margaret and Kenneth Landon Collection.


The Margaret and Kenneth P. Landon Papers are housed in the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections and are available for research.

An Instrument of Service

The following article about Conservatory Professor Gladys Christensen ’49 was featured in the Wheaton College Alumni Magazine in June 1987 and is transcribed below.

An Instrument of Service
by Sue Miller ’82

I can remember as a very young child going up and trying to touch an organ, and the organist, of course, shooed me away very quickly,” recalls Gladys Christensen ’49, professor of music at the Wheaton Conservatory of Music.

In spite of her initial brief encounter with the instrument, Gladys went on to pursue organ study in high school and at Wheaton, eventually earning a master of music degree from Northwestern University. She returned to Wheaton in 1954 for a two-year part-time teaching position. At the end of that time, the Conservatory asked her to join the faculty full time.

After 33 years of teaching organ at Wheaton, Gladys knows what works with students. “I think a good teacher is one who inspires a student to do very well and inspires in him or her a love of the great organ literature, as well as the experience of church service playing.” She enjoys teaching a student who will search out material and research the background of the literature. Her goal is to teach students to be independent of her so they can select a piece of music, register it and play it well. “That is the most exciting kind of teaching because I am bringing out something in that student which doesn’t come easily. It’s a developmental process.”

In addition to teaching solo performance, Gladys has the responsibility of instructing her students in the art of church service playing. “Accompanying is the major part of the organist’s work, rather than solo playing…The accompanimental role is a very tricky one because you are dealing with the individuality of the soloist or the choir. You must enhance and support without overpowering.” Teaching this type of sensitivity is difficult for two reasons: There is no choir, soloist or congregation with which to practice, and Gladys can seldom observe her students on location since service.

Church accompaniment has been a vital part of Gladys’ musical career for over 30 years. During the past school year she has been interim organist for several churches. To enjoy service playing, an organist must develop a philosophy of ministry because “what the organist enjoys playing the most is not what he or she is called upon to do in church. Sometimes you feel a little resistant to the number of hours you have to put into preparing music that is somebody else’s choice. You are imprisoned by another’s taste. I was taught that the church organist is very self-effacing…Flexibility and adaptability are two qualities of a good church organist.”

In spite of the inherent difficulties in service playing, Gladys affirms there is satisfaction in knowing that her playing is an inspiration to people in t worship service. “To lead in worship is a privilege. It’s a two-way street: we worship together.”

Last spring, Gladys took a sabbatical in Europe in order to practice organ technique and to study the literature relevant to the instrument for which it was written. She studied with Lionel Rogg, professor of organ at the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, Switzerland. Gladys wanted to become proficient in a technique for the tracker or mechanical action organ. Tracker organs, as opposed to electro-pneumatic organs, were once the only way organs were built, and they have regained the attention in organists in recent years. “With a mechanical action instrument, the organist is actually controlling the speech of the pipe…You do feel immediacy with the tracker organ, which makes it a more responsive action to the artist.”

Another benefit of Professor Christensen’s sabbatical was the opportunity to become acquainted with the French and German instruments for which the literature was composed. “The instruments in their own surrounding reveal the literature,” explains Gladys. When her students are studying, for instance, a piece written in Germany 200 years ago, Gladys can embellish the lesson with her own experience of having played the original (or restored) organ in the composer’s actual church–or one close to it. “More than for any other instrument, the literature of the organ is directly tied to the instrument of the time and country for which it was composed.”

The dual role of scholar and teacher is what keeps Professor Christensen fresh in the classroom. Her joy in the instrument spreads to all those around her.


Gladys Christensen died on November 8, 2011. She served as professor of organ and harpsichord in Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music from 1954 to 1988. Gladys was very well known in the community and was very active in the American Guild of Organists having memberships with the Chicago, North Shore, and Fox Valley Chapters over many years. She was a graduate of the Wheaton College Class of 1949, and Professor of Music Emerita at Wheaton College at the time of her death. During her teaching years at Wheaton, she also taught Church Music, Music Theory, Organ Literature and Pedagogy. She attended many masterclasses throughout the USA and Europe, and studied organ with many of the great teachers of her time. She was well-loved and well-respected throughout many musical circles in Chicagoland. Gladys had asked that memorial gifts be made to the Lester Wheeler Groom Organ Recital Endowment which funds guest organ concerts, as well as student scholarships at Wheaton College. She established the Foundation years ago with the intention that it will continue to support organ music at Wheaton.

Chaplain Pat

In recent weeks a nondescript box arrived at the Wheaton College Special Collections containing the sermons of Harold LeRoy Patterson, third chaplain of Wheaton College, and affectionately referred to as “Chaplain Pat.” The sermons were originally grouped by subject and stored in a small filing cabinet measuring 12″x10″x16″. They were meticulously organized and written or typed on 4.25″x7″ sheets of paper.

Harold LeRoy Patterson was born in Juniata, Pennsylvania on April 2, 1918 and grew up in a railroad town as a star athlete in track and football. He attended Wheaton College along with his older brother and excelled in wrestling, baseball, and football. He met his future wife, Inez Peterson, from Detroit and the two were married and had three children—Patricia, Linda, and Dale.

He left Wheaton to finish his studies at Gordon College, in Wenham, Massachusetts and then enrolled in Gordon Seminary (now Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). While at seminary, he took the pastorate at a small church in Milton Mills, New Hampshire. After seminary, he joined the U.S. Army as a chaplain and while serving he attended the Nuremburg Trials in 1946. Returning to the United States, he pastored a church in Saginaw, Michigan, and then moved on to serve a church in Lansing, Michigan, where his preaching and leadership led to the creation of a school and youth outreach ministry. He then moved to South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois—just outside Chicago. He spoke at many churches in the Midwest and was a regular guest on religious radio, a prayer-leader for the Chicago Bears and other sports teams. He wrote for local papers and began to write regularly for national evangelical magazines. His wider ministry included flying to and over the Andes Mountains to take Bibles to native peoples in the South American interior and also in India.

In 1973 he returned to Wheaton College to serve as chaplain and was inducted into the inaugural Crusader Sports Hall of Honor class of 1976. In 1982, the Alumni Association named him Alumnus of the Year for Distinguished Service to Alma Mater for his devotion to Wheaton College and commitment to the spiritual and personal growth of Wheaton students, faculty, and staff. He retired to Stuart, Florida where he was a guest minister at several churches and kept up his writing. After a time, he and Inez relocated to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and finally to Media, near Philadelphia, where Reverend H. LeRoy “Pat” Patterson ’40, died on March 13, 2011. Upon his death Chaplain Pat’s family established an endowed fund to support chapel programming at Wheaton College.

A fuller biography by Ray Smith ’54 is available here.

C.S. Lewis and the Mennonite

The Evangelism and Missions Collection, housed on the third floor of the Billy Graham Center in Special Collections, is largely unknown to most undergraduates. Emphasizing autobiography, biography and denominational histories, its countless pages hold boundless curiosities for the questing researcher.

Recently one such treasure revealed itself. Investigating the history of the Mennonites, a patron randomly pulled J.C. Wenger’s Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine (1947) from the open-access shelves. Perusing the front matter, the researcher was surprised to read the inscription: “To C.S. Lewis, in gratitude. Goshen, Ind. 10-9-47. J.C. Wenger.” John C. Wenger (1910-1995), Mennonite historian and theologian, taught at Goshen College and Goshen Theological Seminary and wrote over 20 books.

Not only was this a book inscribed to C.S. Lewis, but it was sent to him by a renowned church historian, suggesting a relationship between the famed apologist and American Mennonites. But for what was Wenger grateful? wondered the patron. Was there significant interaction between C.S. Lewis and the Mennonites? Were the “plain people” of the Radical Reformation somehow connected to the committed Anglican?

Curious about the history behind this gift from Wenger to Lewis, the patron contacted Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, inquiring of its archivist as to whether their archive possessed a reciprocal letter from C.S. Lewis to Wenger. Searching the J.C. Wenger collection, the archivist located the actual note that had initially accompanied the book:

Dear Mr. Lewis:

Under separate cover I am venturing to send you my recent book, “Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine,” in the hope that you may find a bit of pleasure in it. Permit me to state that I appreciate tremendously the influence of the good which you are exerting in our modern world.

Very sincerely yours, J.C. Wenger, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, U.S.A.

So Wenger was simply thanking Lewis for his Christian testimony, expressed through literature. Lewis, a fellow academic typing from his desk at Magdalen College, Oxford, relays gratitude in a note also filed among the Wenger papers:

Dear. Mr. Wenger:

Many thanks to you for kindly sending me a copy of your “Glimpses.” With all best wishes,

yours sincerely, C.S. Lewis

A sticker in the front flyleaf of Glimpses indicates that it had been shelved among the inventory of Blackwell’s of Oxford, England, where Lewis lived. After Lewis or whomever donated or sold it to the shop, an unknown customer bought the book and so began its trans-Atlantic voyage back to the States and ultimately Wheaton College, possibly falling in and out of many hands throughout the years.

Material housed in the Marion E. Wade Center, which includes writing by Lewis and six other British authors, is the result of deliberate acquisition and is not available for circulation, but this intriguing item arrived quite by accident at some point to a completely separate campus library. Books in the Lewis collection frequently display his penciled notations, indicating concentrated engagement with the material. Since Glimpses of Mennonite History contains no notes, in addition to the fact that it wound up at an Oxford bookstore, we might conclude that his interface with midwestern Mennonite Christianity was short-lived and largely disinterested, though respectful.

And now the Evangelism and Missions Collection awaits your own discoveries.

50th Anniversary of “A Wrinkle in Time”

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of “A Wrinkle in Time”, this Newbery Award-winning novel written by Madeleine L’Engle has over 10 million copies in print. The following article was written by the author at the novel’s 25th anniversary.

It’s been twenty-five years since the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, and longer than that since I wrote it, and it is hard to believe that more than a quarter of a century has passed.

When I wrote Wrinkle, I was in a state of transition. We had been living in northwest Connecticut for nearly a decade, and were ready to move back to New York City. When we left the frustrations and stresses of Manhattan and decided to raise our family in the protected environment of a small, dairy-farm village where there we more cows than people, my husband thought he had left the theater forever. But forever (to my joy) was over, and Hugh was going back to the theater, and this move was going to be what is now called “culture shock” for our children. So we bought a tent and five sleeping bags and set off on a cross-continent camping trip.

As we crossed the North American continent I continued the thinking that had begun a few months earlier when I had stumbled across a book of Einstein’s and discovered that for me higher math is easier than lower math. My background in science was nil, and in any case the new sciences that excited me weren’t being taught when I was in school and college.

There’s nothing like marriage, children, leaving home (I was born in Manhattan) to start one asking all the old questions: What does life mean? Does it matter? What is the universe like? Is there a pattern and a plan? And am I a part of it?

The old philosophies left me unsatisfied. The religious establishment made the mistake of answering the great questions to which there are no answers, only new questions. I would walk the dogs at night, looking at the incredible sweep of stars above me, and philosophies and theologies centered only on his planet, and usually on only a small segment of the population, seemed totally inadequate. They left me hungry for something more marvelous.

We left on our cross-country trip in the early spring of 1959 and the first idea for Wrinkle came to me as we were driving across the Painted Desert. The names Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which simply popped into my head. I turned around in the car and said, “Hey, kids, I’ve just thought of three great names, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. I’ll have to write a book about them sometime.” And so the names of the three cosmic bag ladies went into the subconscious creative slow cooker. In the evenings, in the tent, I read from the box of books I had brought with me: more Einstein; Planck, and his quantum theory; books on the macrocosmic world of astrophysics; books on the microcosmic world of particle physics. There I found ideas about the nature of being which stimulated and fascinated me. When we got home, my husband went right into a play, and I sat down at the desk and typed out, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the book poured out of my fingers. Evenings, I would read to my children what I had written during the day, and they would say, “Oh, Mother, go back to the typewriter!” (They didn’t always say that.)

When I finished the manuscript, I was drained and excited. I believed it to be not only totally different from my six previously published books but by far the best thing I had ever written. My children loved it; my husband loved it; my agent loved it. I hope that its publication would end a decade during which I had received countless rejection slips for more traditional books, half a dozen of which are still in typescript upon my shelves.

Well, I was kept hanging for two years, by many different publishers.
“What is it?” I would be asked. “Is it fantasy or science fiction?”
“It’s a book.”
“But who is it for? Is it for children, or adults?”

Over and over again, I received nothing more than the formal, printed rejection slip. These cold, impersonal rejections hurt. I began to doubt myself. Didn’t any of what I saw in the book get onto the typewritten page?

I had written Wrinkle beginning in the late summer of 1959 and finished in early 1960. The world was still in chaos. While my husband was reestablishing himself in the theater, the children and I stayed in the country. War with Russia seemed imminent. At school, the children were taught to crouch under their little wooden desks, their hands over their heads, in case an atom bomb fell on the school. What insanity! Some of my feelings about this insanity are expressed in Wrinkle. In it, I was trying to write about my own questions, my own affirmation of meaning despite seeming chaos.

(After Wrinkle was published, I was frequently asked if Camazotz didn’t represent Soviet Russia. Interesting: nobody asks that anymore.)

We moved back to New York, which no longer seemed more insane than the rest of the world. Air-raid sirens going off every day at noon, signs for air-raid shelters, for closed highways “in case of enemy attack,” seemed no more realistic than crouching under a desk.

And the rejection slips continued. How could they seem important against a background of a planet gone mad? They did. My book was a candle in the dark for me, and a hope.

A form rejection slip came on the Monday before Christmas 1961. I was sitting on the bed, wrapping Christmas presents and trying to feel brave, and thinking I was succeeding. After Christmas, I discovered that I had sent a necktie to a three-year-old girl and a bottle of perfume to a bachelor uncle. I called my agent. “Send it back. It’s too different. Nobody’s going to publish it. It’s too hard on my family. Every time it’s rejected, I bleed all over the living room rug.”

He sent it back, and that ought to have been the end of it. But my mother was with us for Christmas, and I gave a party for some of her old New York friends, and one of them happened to belong to a small writing group led by John Farrar, co-founder of Farrar, Straus and Company. She insisted that I meet him. I was, at that moment, not particularly interested in meeting any publisher. But she set up an appointment, and I took the subway down to Union Square, bearing my very battered manuscript.

John had already read my first novel, The Small Rain, and had admired it. I told him that Wrinkle was very different, but he was eager to read it. In two weeks I heard from my agent that he had read it, and really liked it, but was afraid of it. My heart sank. I had been so hopeful, after leaving John’s office, that the long wait might be at an end.

John and Hal Vursell (who was to be my editor from then on until his death) sent the worn manuscript to a librarian for assessment. She wrote back, “I think this is the worst book I have ever read. It reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.”

I’m not sure how many more weeks it was before John called me to tell me that he was going to publish the book. I went back downtown to have lunch with him and Hal, and they warned me, “Now, dear, we don’t want you to be disappointed, but this book is not going to sell. It’s much too difficult for children. We’re publishing it as a self-indulgence because we love it, and we don’t want you to be hurt.”

And then, in the spring of 1962, A Wrinkle in Time was published, and it took off like a skyrocket.

The problem wasn’t that it was too difficult for children. It was too difficult for adults.


The Papers of Madeleine L’Engle are housed in the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections and are available for research.