Women authors have historically played a significant role in the literary sub-genre of young adult speculative and science fiction. Truly emerging as a genre in the mid 1960’s with the publication of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the genre has evolved to include such contemporary authors as Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling, whose novels have been adapted into award-winning films. Throughout the works of the following women authors, we see the eternal themes of good vs. evil and the human search for meaning and connection explored in fantastic worlds that act as a great metaphor (and opportunity for criticism) of the current societal and political conditions that define our contemporary society. For the young adult reader, the introduction to these ‘new worlds’ of fantastic and literary complexity can warrant an important turning point in their intellectual lives.
American author Madeleine L’Engle was born in New York City, the daughter of a pianist and foreign correspondent. She attended Smith College and later settled with her husband, actor Hugh Franklin, in Goshen Connecticut. L’Engle completed A Wrinkle in Time in 1960. It was rejected more than thirty times and was finally published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux two years later.
Considered to be one of the most significant novels of our time, A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a young girl named Meg whose father, Charles Wallace Murry, a government scientist, has gone missing after working on a mysterious project called a tesseract, or ‘wrinkle in time’. Murry finds himself on an evil planet where all forms of life are enslaved by a giant brain know only as ‘It”; the story proceeds to chronicle Meg and her older brother, Calvin’s, adventure to find their father throughout the wrinkles and layers of time in a fantastic universe.
English author Susan Cooper grew up in England and Wales and, upon graduation from the University of Oxford, worked as a reporter for London’s The Sunday Times under Ian Fleming. It was at this time that Cooper began work on what would become one of the most celebrated fantasy sequences of all time, The Dark is Rising Series. Published between the years of 1965 and 1977, the series is a searing, epic rendering of the timeless conflict between good and evil, heavily influenced by Arthurian legend, Celtic and Norse Mythology.
The sequence began with the publication of Over Sea, Under Stone; Volume four: The Grey King won the Newbury Medal upon its publication in 1975. Throughout the series, 11-year old Will Stanton learns to yield his magical powers in the ancient struggle between the powers of The Light and The Dark in a world inhabited by both mortal and time-traveling supernatural beings, or “Old Ones”. Themes and characters from the The Legend of King Arthur appear throughout the sequence frequently.
Ursula Le Guin
The daughter of both an anthropologist and writer, American author Ursula K. Le Guin received degrees in French and Italian literature from Radcliffe College and Columbia University. She later pursued a PhD in France where she met her husband, historian Charles Le Guin, and the two returned to the U.S. and settled in Portland, Oregon.
Le Guin first received wide recognition as an important science fiction author with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1970, and The Dispossessed the subsequent year; both of which won the Hugo and Nebula literary awards. Le Guin was influenced by both science fiction authors, particularly J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip K. Dick, as well as fantastic children’s literature such as the works of Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling. Her novels take place in a variety of future galactic civilizations where disparate political and social planetary systems coexist in a fantastic Utopian universe. The societal and political conflicts that occur in this universe act as a penetrating examination of society and humanity.
Published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. The emissary’s goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization, but to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness was considered a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
The Dispossessed takes place centuries ago when a group of utopian anarchists depart from their native Earthlike planet, Urras, in search of a better world and new beginning. A lone physicist sets out to reunite Urras with the more recently settled Anarres. His noble quest to ignite the fires of change amidst the layers of history and hatred that exist between the estranged planets offers a unique insight into the human ability and drive to effect important social change.
Read more in our upcoming post: Women Authors of Young Adult Speculative and Science Fiction – Part II, featuring the rare signed first editions of the works of Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling currently in our collection.