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Literature / A Wind in the Door

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A Wind In The Door by Madeleine L'Engle is the direct sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. Now in school, Charles Wallace has to deal with bullying, in which the school principal, Mr. Jenkins, refuses to intervene. He also suffers from a strange illness that affects the "farandolae" living in his mitochondria, or so Mrs. Murry believes. Charles Wallace's claim of seeing dragons in the garden doesn't help Meg's worries either.

However, it turns out that he is right—sort of. The "dragons" are in fact the cherubim Proginoskes, or "Progo" for short. Meg and Calvin also encounter Blajeny, a "Teacher" who informs them of the Echthroi, beings that seek to destroy the entire universe. The Echthroi are in the process of destroying Charles Wallace's farandolae. Meg, Calvin, Progo, and a disbelieving Mr. Jenkins are sent on a mission to combat the Echthroi and save Charles Wallace's life.

Preceded by A Wrinkle in Time Followed by A Swiftly Tilting Planet

This book contains the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Started as a short story called Intergalactic P.S. 3.
  • Adults Are Useless: Subverted with Mr. Jenkins. He starts out as a perfect example of the trope but goes on to save the kids.
  • Ambition Is Evil: When Meg is mystified at the actions of the farandolae, Mr. Jenkins explains that, for some, ambition is an end in and of itself.
  • Angelic Abomination: Proginoskes looks the part - Mr. Jenkins even faints when he sees him fully for the first time. But he's utterly committed to the side of the Light until he Xes himself at the end as a Heroic Sacrifice. The real abominations - literally hell-spawned - are the Echthroi.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Averted. When Progo and Blajeny show up, Meg, Calvin, and Charles don't question the presence of these aliens at all. Granted, they've been already been through some weird stuff already, but they trust Blajeny pretty fast for someone they just met.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Proginoskes makes it clear that there is a great difference between being Xing oneself and being Xed by the Echthroi. To be Xed by the Echthroi is (it seems) to be turned into an Echthros, but to X oneself is to give oneself "all the way away" to creation, and no one really knows what happens to someone who Xes themselves, or whether or not it lasts forever.
  • Big Bad: The Echthroi. Their goal is to make everything into nothing.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Sporos, as little as a half-pint can get — he's a farandola, about the size of a single protein molecule. The "bratty" part comes in when Sporos quite contemptuously announces himself as superior breed of creature, much more akin to the cosmic cherubim then mere humans. It starts to hurt your head when you realize that to farandolae like Sporos, a human being is a galaxy unto themselves, and they are utterly dependent on their "galaxy" for their survival. Calvin and Mr. Jenkins finally break through his arrogant detachment in the end and encourage him to literally grow up - but at the price of dropping their guard, which allows the Echthroi to possess Mr. Jenkins fully.
  • Big Good: Blajeny fills this role for the most part, but both he and Proginoskes allude to an ultimate Big Good - God.
    Meg: Will the [newly born] star be Named?
    Proginoskes: He calls them all by name.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • The mitochondrion that the final conflict takes place in is called Yadah (יָדָה). In Hebrew, it means "worshipping with hands outstretched" or in more modern usage, "Lifting up one's voices to sing God's praises." The name was no accident.
    • The name Echthros (Eχθρός), in Greek, simply means "the enemy" - and they are the enemies of all Creation.
    • Likewise Proginoskes (Προγινόσκες) means "foreknowledge", very appropriate for a cosmic creature such as a cherubim.
    • Even the farandolae: They're named for the Farandole, an open-chain community dance popular in Provence, France. In effect, "chain dancers."
  • Buffy Speak: Used and subverted. Calvin decides he's going to use fewmets (animal droppings, in this context, those of dragons) as his pet cuss word from now on, causing a minor freak-out from Meg because Charles Wallace has been talking about meeting with dragons.
  • Call-Back: During the Spot the Imposter quest, a fake Mr. Jenkins alludes to a conversation that took place in A Wrinkle in Time.
  • Character Development: In the first book, Meg simply cannot love IT, even if it would mean IT's destruction and Camazotz's salvation. Here, she assists Progo's Heroic Sacrifice by loving the Echthroi; their combined efforts fill them and thus, destroy them, "exorcising" Charles Wallace and curing his disease.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The main conflict in the mitochondrion, between the nihilistic, individualistic, skeptical younger generation, who refuse to grow up and want to overthrow their parents' old-fashioned way of life, and the older generation, whose devotion to invisible truths and time-honored traditions, anchoring themselves in place to literally "settle down," is necessary for the continuation of their world. On the other hand, Meg recalls a conversation between her parents where they lament how humanity's insatiable desire for progress and technology has resulted in a world of pollution and violence, and the farandolae must be taught to listen to the music of the body they live in in order to reach harmony. This sounds more like the counterculture's desire for environmentalism, simple living, and mysticism, contrasted with the rat-race scramble for more at any cost of unrestrained capitalism and establishment power structures. Given that this book was written in 1973, it sounds like this may be the author's view of The '60s, and an attempt to thread the needle by condemning the worst impulses of both the counterculture and establishment viewpoints while promoting their virtues, just as A Wrinkle in Time freely condemned both the small-minded conformist conservatism of American society and the monstrous abuses of state power by the Soviet government in The '50s.
  • Dragons Are Divine: The "Drive of dragons" Calvin sees, turn out to be cherubim.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Echthroi, being absolutely hostile to all of creation. They can disguise themselves but even the disguises fall heavily into the Uncanny Valley. Letting them into your mind is a promise of madness, death, and becoming one of them.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The Echthroi have a horrible stench, which only manifests when they aren't disguising themselves.
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: A very... metaphysical example, but the characters do ultimately fix the situation by entering Charles Wallace's body.
  • Fallen Angel: Progo says that our mythology would call Echtroi fallen angels and he would have to join them or destroy himself if he fails his test.
  • Find the Cure!: Meg's overarching goal is to cure Charles Wallace, except that there is no external cure — the only solution is to go into his cells and attack the disease directly.
  • Gentle Giant: Blajeny the Teacher, the Big Good of the novel.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Many ancient creatures on the side of the Light are not particularly nice, but they are completely unwavering in their fight against the Echthroi - win or lose, they will not give up Creation without a fight to the end.
  • Heavyworlder: Blajeny is said to move like he's used to much higher gravity than Earth.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Later Mr. Jenkins, who makes it out alive, and Progo, whose fate is ambiguous.
    • Some of the farandolae save Meg when she accidentally connects with an Echthros-Jenkins in the mitochondria. However, the Echthros then counterattacks, and they are forced to X themselves to avoid becoming Echthroi.
  • Honest Axe: Meg is presented with three identical Mr. Jenkinses and asked to Name which one is the real one. She asks each one what he will do about Charles Wallace and his problems in school. The fakes declare their intentions to help Charles Wallace succeed, one via aggressive methods and one with sympathetic sensitivity with an end goal of making him more like everyone else. She realizes the real Mr. Jenkins is the one who is annoyed by the test and doesn't get what's going on. Played straight in the end when the real Mr. Jenkins begins to understand Charles Wallace and Meg better, and he will work to make things better.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Blajeny, though he's a Big Good and a Gentle Giant, far more angelic than abominable.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Jenkins. The book deals with Meg having to overcome her grudge and see the goodness in him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Sporos lets his own self-importance go completely to his head and joins the raging mob trashing his own mitochondria. It takes an intense, concerted effort by both Calvin and Mr. Jenkins to draw him out and encourage him to mature But the effort in doing so drops Mr. Jenkins' already weak guard, allowing the Echthroi to possess him and necessitating Progo's Heroic Sacrifice to salvage the victory.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mr. Jenkins, at first, to compensate for his weak-willed nature.
  • Otherworldly Visits Youngest First: Just like in Wrinkle, Charles Wallace is the first one to encounter the supernatural. He glimpses Proginoskes from a distance and thinks he's seeing dragons in the vegetable garden.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Proginoskes, the singular cherubim, who is a Deadpan Snarker composite of wind and flame at his heart, extending into dozens of immense wings and myriad, blinking eyes. (He finds it easier to not be corporeal at all, and scorns the human idea of "little pigs with wings.") Proginoskes' great skill is to Name people, and the key to naming is love.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Blajeny is very big, from another planet, and a Teacher (as ordained by the universe). He's also a Gentle Giant.
  • The Power of Love: Just as prominent as the last book.
  • Power of the Void: The Echthroi, whose powers manifest as holes in reality.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Played with. Louise the Larger, the snake that lives in the Murry's garden wall, is not only harmless, she's described in quite handsome terms and, as a Teacher in her own right, is genuinely benevolent... none of which stops Charles Wallace's teacher from freaking out when he brings Louise to class for show and tell.
  • Super-Intelligence: Proginoskes had to memorize the name of every star in the universe as a previous assignment.
  • Synchronization: Kything has elements of this, as seen with the scientist's experiment with his plant.
  • Truth in Television:
    • In point of fact, mitochondrial enzymes (protein molecules, or polypeptides) do go through a maturation process and many anchor themselves in the membrane. Having too many immature enzymes floating around too long is very bad for the cell and eventually causes it to self-destruct. L'Engle merely takes all the parties and applies the Anthropic Principle, turning them all into sentient beings, able to be influenced by the Echthroi.
    • The deadly dance of the farandolae killing the fara is frighteningly similar to the sort of thing prions do - rogue protein molecules that corrupt their uncorrupted versions, turning them into prions. Eventually, the out-of-control prions destroy all the normal proteins and end up killing their host cell. They are released, to kill other cells in the same way. There is no cure and few minimally-effective treatments.
  • Two-Teacher School: In the last book, Mr. Jenkins was Meg's high school principal; now he's Charles Wallace's elementary school principal. Justified by saying that the school board deliberately had him moved from one to the other because the elementary school needed reform. That was just an excuse the school board used. In truth, he was being demoted because he was too weak-willed and couldn't handle the high school students.
  • War Is Hell: Mentioned briefly, though not quite as prevalent as it would later become.
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: A variation from the previous adventure; this time Calvin O'Keefe is the friend, and Meg's partner Proginoskes is the stranger. Charles Wallace is excused from this Cast Calculus on account of his illness.
  • "X" Makes Anything Cool: Unnaming, the ability of the Echthroi, is also referred to as Xing. Xing is categorically a terrible thing, but it does sound pretty cool.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Within a mitochondrion, the heart of the host (Charles Wallace in this case) beats about once a decade.