“There are dragons in the twins’ vegetable garden.”
This is why I love Madeleine L’Engle. She has a way of making the bizarre banal and I absolutely love it. This is the opening line from A Wind in the Door, the sequel to one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time. Basically, the books follow the Murry children, Charles Wallace and Meg, as they dabble in the metaphysical and more or less save humanity from time to time.
Even after the stunning events of A Wrinkle in Time (in which she talked to an evil brain creature to free her father on another planet) Meg still has some trouble believing that Charles Wallace has seen dragons in their yard. I have no trouble believing Charles Wallace, and not for the obvious reasons that he’s already proven himself to be both clairvoyant and a reliable narrator. So why do I have no problem believing Charles Wallace when he says there are dragons in the vegetables? Because he is the COOLEST. KID. EVER.
Life Lessons from A Wind in the Door
I’m well aware that Charles Wallace is supposed to be the ultimate nerd/smart/socially awkward kid. But really, I only wish I had known Charles Wallace when I was in elementary school. It’s possible that he would have been so smart that I wouldn’t have understood how to interact with him. But I do owe his fictional character a debt of gratitude for making mitochondria sound interesting before I was old enough to study them. (Let’s face it, the kid was on to something. Mitochondria are pretty interesting…but I digress).
“Why do people always mistrust people who are different? Am I really that different?”
Oh Charles Wallace, you ARE that different. In your case, that’s good thing, but people are usually afraid of what they cannot understand. When never know exactly how the Murry kids grow up. Meg’s a full fledged adult at the end of the series but CW is still a teenager. I’m sure he grew up to be some kind of a scientist, but I hope that all of his surreal experiences as a kid also led him to be an inventor or something innovative like that.
Unfortunately, different is scary even for people who are generally okay with difference because difference often challenges our own beliefs. Especially when things happen in the early 1970s and involve mitochondrial DNA.
“A life form which can’t adapt doesn’t last very long.”
“Charles Wallace’s problem is to learn to adapt while remaining wholly himself.” Obviously, this is the great crisis of adolescence and early adulthood, which I did not at all understand as a nine year old reading this. I should probably reread all of her books to see what else was actually meant for an older person because she really packed a lot of that stuff in here in a very subtle way. So cool and crafty, Madeleine.
The Farandolae and Some Strange Forest in Your Mitochondria
At this point, things get a lot more scifi. So basically the mythical farandolae are small mouselike creatures with fish tales at the end of their mouse tales…and they live inside of mitochondria. If the farandolae count gets too low within the mitochondria, then the mitochondria die and this appears to be Charles Wallace’s problem. Someone on the internet cared enough to try to recreate this “Farandola.” The Farandola are born on trees, apparently, and come from fruit. This poor Faranolda, or Sporos as they call him, was the only fruit on his tree and that’s part of the problem. I mean clearly, if the trees inside of his cells are not producing enough fruit the OF COURSE Charles Wallace is going to get sick and die.
I for one am glad that this small mouse creature does not live in my mitochondria because a. it’s creepy and b. Sporos is really pretentious and condescending to all of the humans. Which like obviously if my body is the host agent that functions as your “galaxy” then you better shut your mouse-fish mouth about how you are smarter than I am. But of course this is all a great life lesson in how not to lose yourself and collaborate with the team even when everyone is being a jerk, so I really shouldn’t be too surprised that everyone is being all high and mighty to Meg and crew.
If you are a child of the ’90s then you’ll probably recall that episode of Magic School Bus when Ralphie gets sick and Ms. Frizzle decided to take the rest of the class inside of his body to explain white blood cells.
That’s basically what the plan is for Charles Wallace’s mitochondria as well. Meg, Calvin, their school principal with a bad case of low self esteem, and their alien friends go to a place where everyone is the same size and they can all talk to one another even if some of them are microscopic cell parts. At this point, they have to use all of the self-awareness and communication techniques they’ve figured out over the course of the book to keep Sporos from being pressured into killing the fara (or super cool tree with fronds) from whence he came with all of his vigorous dancing. I kid you not, that’s the actual mitochondrial issue here in this book and all of the world depends on it. But I promise it’s much less trite with this lady is telling the story and not me: