The start of the teenage years also marks, often, the beginnings of a deeper exploration of religion. Institutionalized with bar mitzvahs and confirmation, it is part of a search to understand oneself as the definition of that self becomes less clear. So it’s no surprise that quite a number of works for this age group take religion as a jumping off point for adventures in rapidly changing worlds. Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series is a fantasy Paradise Lost for beginners, as Lyra is swept up out of her own Eden into a rebellion against heaven.
Pullman’s trilogy was pre-dated by Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, which approaches its religiosity at a more general level as a quest for order and against darkness. If the world were a just place, movie theaters would be packed with Team Sandy and Team Dennys tee-shirts, but it’s not and they’ve always been the neglected Murry siblings, strangely normal against the misfit and more-written-about siblings Meg and Charles Wallace.
L’Engle gives them a chance to star, finally, in Many Waters. It’s an odd book, not entirely of a part with the rest of the series, much like the twins Sandy and Dennys. Poking around their mothers’ laboratory, the boys are transported from wintry New England to a mysterious desert populated with miniature mammoths, small humans, angels, and unicorns. They soon realize they’ve crossed paths with the biblical Noah and are caught among family arguments, fallen angels, and love triangles, all the while knowing that soon the flood will come.
Underscoring the adventure is a focus on the twins’ exploration of the balance between faith and reason. Through L’Engle’s series, Sandy and Dennys feature as the rational-minded counterpoint to the fantastical adventures of their siblings. But in this desert, nearer to the mystical, they discovery the necessity of reaching beyond the limits of their understanding. Moving the Noah story into a less familiar realm—my Genesis certainly didn’t mention unicorns at the ark—L’Engle steps away from a strict Christianity and universalizes the message.