IVP - Behind the Books - Jigsaw Puzzles with L'Engle and McLellan

December 11, 2012

Jigsaw Puzzles with L'Engle and McLellan

The title of this blog, "Behind the Books," is a bit of a double-entendre. Most of the time, I'll aim to pull back the curtain on this little publishing house and share some of what's going on in here. (I hope that won't take the edge off your appetite, like the old bit about people who like sausage or law being well advised not to inquire into their making.)

But sometimes (and today is one of those times) I fancy that "Behind the Books" suggests an alternate image.

When I get "behind a book" in a different way, it's because I've buried my nose in the pages and I'm deep in the covers. I bet you're the same way. Once in a while, when I think I've found something interesting, I'll emerge from behind that book to pass it along. In many cases, these tidbits will come in strings of connections. I think that's when reading is most delicious.

Here's an example, starting with a snippet of conversation from Madeleine L'Engle's novel, The Moon by Night, between the book's main character, fourteen-year-old Vicky Austin, and her uncle. Vicky's been having a bit of a struggle with theodicy (though she doesn't use the term), and her self-described "black sheep" uncle helps out:

Uncle Douglas…sighed and said, "[I]n my heathen way, Vicky, when I wasn't much older than you, I decided that God, a kind and loving God, could never be proved. In fact there are, as you've been seeing lately, a lot of arguments against him. But there isn't any point to life without him. Without him we're just a skin disease on the face of the earth, and I feel too strongly about the human spirit to be able to settle for that, So what I didi for a long time was to live life as though I believed in God. And eventually I found out that the as though had turned into a reality. I think the thing that did it for me was a jigsaw puzzle."

"A jigsaw puzzle?"

"A jigsaw puzzle. …You know those puzzles with hundreds of tiny pieces? You take one of those pieces all by itself and it doesn't make sense, does it? You look at one piece and it doesn't seem to be part of a picture. But you put all the pieces together and you see the meaning of it all. Well, what I, in my heathenish way, Vicky, feel about life, and unfairness, is that we find it hard to realize that there is a completed puzzle. We jump to conclusions and decide that the one little piece we have in our hand is all there is and that it doesn't make sense. We find it almost impossible to think about infinity, much less comprehend it. But life only makes sense if you see it in infinite terms. If the one piece of the puzzle that is this life were all, then everything would be horrible and unfair and I wouldn't want much to do with God, either. But there are all the other pieces, too, the pieces that make up the whole picture. …The jigsaw puzzle is a nice, stretchable metaphor. You can use it for almost anything."1

He's right: it is a great metaphor, and in L'Engle's masterful writing, this passage helps tie together a number of threads that run throughout the book. (I highly recommend the whole series, L'Engle's Austin Family Chronicles, some of the old books I'm reading these days.)

But reading this passage struck me with a very nice coincidence — because when I happened upon it, I knew I had a meeting coming up with Alex McLellan, the author of a new IVP book titled A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World. And yes, as it sounds, the whole thing is based on the apologetic value of the jigsaw-puzzle metaphor.

When I met McLellan last week, I was curious to ask him whether he had read The Moon by Night, but he hasn't and he's not aware of any conduit between L'Engle's metaphor and his. So in this case the strength of the connection is coincidental, taking place only through the timing of my reading and meeting him. But doesn't that happen a lot? The more you read, the more threads of intelligible conversation you'll pick up. That's one of the best reasons to read, in my book. (Har har.)

By the way, Alex travels all around the world speaking, and I bet he'd be worth your time to go hear. Check out his speaking schedule to see if he'll be near you. In all honesty I haven't heard him at a lectern, so I guess I can't directly testify, but if nothing else, his awesome Scottish accent is one I wouldn't mind listening to for an hour. While speaking with McLellan and having also just reread C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, I couldn't help thinking of the rigorously logical character MacPhee, one of Elwin Ransom's extended household. But that's another connection.


1 Madeleine L'Engle, The Moon by Night (1963; New York: Macmillan, Square Fish, 2008), 179-80.

Posted by Jon Boyd at December 11, 2012 7:40 AM Bookmark and Share

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