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`WRINKLE’ WRITER IS VICTIM OF FALSE IMPRESSIONS

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Madeleine L'Engle, author of "A Wrinkle in Time," has a problem. Wherever she goes she finds troubling statements by another female writer of fiction and religious non-fiction who's also named Madeleine L'Engle.

Is there a second L'Engle?Of course not. It just seems that the real L'Engle is a complex person and she often is misquoted.

"Oh, Madeleine L'Engle has been quoted as saying all kinds of things that Madeleine L'Engle has never said, or has never even thought," she said.

She pleads guilty to the occasional difficult statement, however. But when her carefully chosen words are changed or edited, people receive false impressions.

The seeds of one L'Engle controversy can be found in the most famous of her three dozen or more books, the classic novel "A Wrinkle In Time." It seems three characters - "Mrs. Who," "Mrs. Whatsit" and "Mrs. Which" - are elderly women who often engage in works that appear to be magical.

"Mrs. Which" is described as a "figure in a black robe and a black peaked hat, beady eyes, a beaked nose and long gray hair; one bony claw clutched a broomstick."

Critics say L'Engle has placed witches at the center of a book written for impressionable young minds.

"There is no way they are witches. They are guardian angels - the book says so. You don't have to clarify what is already clear," L'Engle said. "Don't people know how to spell? W-H-I-C-H is not W-I-T-C-H."

She linked this controversy to a subject at the heart of her art.

"You know, you're not going to see the Mrs. W's as witches unless you are looking for something to put down," she said. "There are people who are reading books with a list of words. And if a book has any of the listed words, then it has to go into the burning fire. . . .

"I don't want to have to read a book, that way. I want to read looking for something that let's me be uplifted - not to find something to put down."

It should be noted L'Engle is criticized far more often by people on the Christian right than on the left. Which is interesting, since her personal papers will eventually be housed at Wheaton College in Illinois, which is best known as Billy Graham's beloved alma mater. She often lectures there, invited by a research center that studies the work of apologist C.S. Lewis and other Christians rarely called "liberals."

But while she talks about writing in intensely religious terms, L'Engle believes she cannot limit her work to safe "Christian" subjects.

"I have been brought up to believe that the gospel is to be spread, it is to be shared - not kept for those who already have it," she said. "Well, `Christian' novels reach Christians. They don't reach out."

If she had her choice, she added, she would shed the "Christian" adjective altogether when discussing her books.

"I am not a Christian writer. I am a writer who is a Christian," she said. "Now, if I am truly a Christian, then that will show in my work. If I am not, then that too is going to show - whether I want it to, or not."