The power in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door is the power of Naming (which she writes with a capital N). For most of the book, the main character, Meg Murry, is learning what this means.
What do Namers do? They help those they Name become more particularly who they were meant to be. If your name isn’t known, you’re lonely, explains Meg’s new friend, a dragon-sized, many-winged cherubim. Being Named makes you more you.
A Wind in the Door is the second book in L’Engle’s Time Quintet. (An Ava DuVernay movie based on the first, A Wrinkle in Time,premieres this month.) The series blends fantasy and science fiction, religion and mythology. Its characters travel across space and time.
In this book, the foes that must be overcome are the Echthroi (“enemies” in Greek). “War and hate are their business,” the cherubim tells Meg, “and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming—making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers.”
When the fate of the universe hangs in the balance, Meg discovers that her brother’s life is the fulcrum. To save him, she must make it through three trials. The first is too hard and she wants to give up: She’s expected to Name the person she dislikes the most. Why is this hard? Because the power behind Naming is love, and she must find something to love about the person she hates.
But it’s Meg’s final trial that seems truly impossible. In the climactic moment, she realizes what she must do: She must take hold of the Echthroi and fill their nothingness with love. Even though they are the enemy, she must Name them.
Reading fantasy may seem escapist, but it can help us make sense of our nonfiction lives. How do we respond when each day brings news of another un-Naming? Can we imagine another way of living? How do we summon love not only toward the ordinary unlovables but toward an outright enemy?
We can keep our eyes on the One who Names the sparrows and the lilies, the tax collector and the woman at the well, the Roman soldier and the disciple who falls short. In the divine story, we see that fearsome enemies are no match for fierce love. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.