About Me

Rob Pincombe is a prolific television writer, recovering comedian and sometime comic artist/storyboard artist who just wasn't satisfied with a single blog. He writes about sci-fi and fandom at rebelalert.com, Canadian comics at comicanuck.com, and shares thoughts and insights on writing at starkravingadventure.com

Monday, November 16, 2009

By Hook or By Crook - The Prisoner's roots in Henrik Ibsen and the tyranny of blogging

"Where am I?"
"In the Village."
"What do you want?"
"Whose side are you on?"
"That would be telling."
"We want information... Information... Information..."
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook, we will."
"Who are you?"
"The new number Two."
"Who is Number One?"
"You are Number Six."
"I am not a number. I am a free man!"
(Mocking laughter)

-Weekly opening of "the Prisoner"

Welcome to the rebellion.

AMC’s six-hour miniseries remake of the Prisoner began last night starring Jim Caviezel (Frequency, The Count of Monte Cristo) and Ian McKellen, (Richard III, Gods and Monsters, The Scarlet Pimpernel); an occurrence which provides me with a unique opportunity to demonstrate one of the reasons I have don’t blog as regularly as I should.

Several factors have conspired to keep me from my online duties. A great challenge is the constant juggling of television scripts in my day job. As a modern, freelance writer working mainly in animation, I’m not paying rent if I’m not writing on several shows at once. You’d be surprised how much energy and brain power it sucks out of your creative well to switch completely gears every few hours. Add to that the fact that I often work into the night when I desperately want to spend time with my new wife. The last thing I usually want to do is take more time away from her to post a blog. So that lowers the online priority for me.

And November is more or less a bust for posting because this year because, as I did last year, I am attempting to spit out a novel in celebration of National Novel Writing Month. Last year I reached the word count but never ended the story, realizing I had very specific character and theme questions to solve first. This year, I am determined to avoid that but so far other story issues are conspiring to screw me up again.

The second challenge is that I actually write three blogs (with contributions to a fourth one coming soon): Rebel Alert, Comicanuck and Stark Raving Adventure. I began Rebel Alert to post humorous Star Wars items and comics for a fake Star Wars online newspaper I created to go along with a friend’s fan film. (The film is Death Star Repairmen and the newspaper is the Empire’s paper of record, The Imperial News – “All the news that’s fit to censor”.) The blog soon became a vehicle to talk about all kinds of things from a sci-fi bent. So I branched out to better cover my interests and maintain each blog’s identity.

The math on this is pretty simple. Even if I do manage a post a week, it goes to one site or the other. My personal blog on life, Stark Raving Adventure and writing often gets the short end of the stick after a comic or sci-fi. But the biggest challenge for me is my inability to write a short blog post.

I have some success on this front with recent Rebel Alert posts but in general my posts tend to be much more thorough than most. I ‘m not big on just linking to an item posted somewhere. I want my blogs to be more than just a link fest. Other sites dedicated to that do it far better than I ever could. When I discover an intriguing story I usually want to more about what I’ve read or seen. I want to uncover the “story behind the story”. Inevitably I discover intriguing connections and fun questions that other sites haven’t. That is no knock on them. The connections I find are often quite idiosyncractic to my own experience and sense of humour. But it takes me a while for my brain to work through all this and then write a post that takes you on the same journey.

Case in point… I have been meaning to write about the Prisoner for some time but the ideas I wanted to explore are better suited for an MBA thesis than a blog. The sheer magnitude of what I wanted to write about kept me away.

Let me run you through it and watch how the simple summary I planned to give you can bloom into a full essay.

For those of you who don’t know, American born Irish actor Patrick McGoohan was up and coming actor in the late 1950’s, eventually being named Best TV actor of the year in Britain. He rose to prominence starring as secret agent John Drake in the UK’s Danger Man series (titled Secret Agent in the US) for four seasons before growing bored with the role. Setting up his own production company, McGoohan and mystery novelist and script editor George Markstein pitched The Prisoner, about an important government figure with a sensitive post who quits his job, only to wake up the next morning in the mysterious Village: a fanciful Big Brothereque resort cut off from the world where people who know too much are under psychologically and physically manipulated to break down their sense of identity.

Markstein, who devised the setting, background and wrote “Arrival”, the pilot for the series, maintains the character is John Drake and the series is a literal and allegorical sequel to Danger Man. McGoohan denied this all the way to his death, insisting the character of Number 6 was a scientist and had no relation to his previous character. Markstein is glimpsed in the opening credits as the man McGoohan hands in his resignation to.

The series ran with its bizarre concept, taking it to heights of surrealism and allegory not previously seen on television before. McGoohan served as the series star, director, producer and taking over an increasingly large portion of the scripting duties. Markstein clashed with McGoohan over the direction the series was taking and eventually left the series around episode thirteen or so. The remaining episodes became even more wild and hallucinogenic. In fact, the psychedelic finale caused such a stir in England and continues to baffle and fascinate audiences to this day.

And the legend grew.

Henrik Ibsen is tired of explaining his plays to you.

To me, the Prisoner series, and the behind the scenes circumstances of the production, is pure Ibsen. (some Peer Gynt and a whole lot of Brand and therefore, pure Kierkegaard, but I’ll get to that.) McGoohan himself once played Brand before The Prisoner started, likely to great effect with his commanding presence, precise diction and booming voice. The play follows the life of a priest dedicated to dong the right thing no matter what the consequences are. His Old Testament view of God allows no compromise but the cost to him is great. He loses his wife and ministers to a village “flock” that increasingly fail at the moral tests Brand (and life) confronts them with. Brand’s goal is to save the world and the soul’s of man but his inability to compromise and accept human weakness eventually leave him alone with his moral fortitude.

In the end, Brand suffers from the harsh judgement he subjected others to when he is stoned by his flock, banished to the glacier where he grew up and buried in an avalanche. Brand’s dying words express profound doubt. “Does not salvation consider the will of man?” It is open to interpretation whether or not Brand is abandoned by God with the play’s final words, uttered by an unseen voice, “He is the God of love.” Does that mean he left no room for love in his life or that God accepts him?

Apparently, we modern readers tend to take an unsympathetic view of Brand’s harsh moral code, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, although Rand’s philosophy eschews religion and good works and places mankind as it’s own God, with individual self-interest and achievement as the noblest of activities.

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt stars a man-child who spends his entire life avoiding accepting any kind of responsibility for his actions and yet, somehow comes through unscathed, with others bearing the damage of his choices. Finally, after a lifetime of adopting and abandoning many roles, old man Peer discovers his soul is forfeit because he has never been “himself”. Peer is defenceless, having no idea who he really is and finding no one he knows can vouch for him. He is finally granted a reprieve thanks only to the pure love of his long abandoned sweetheart, Solveig (who really needs to get more).

The key to the philosophy of Peer Gynt can be found in Act Two. While in the Mountain Hall of the Troll King, the monarch asks Peer Gynt, “What is the difference between troll and man?” When Peer Gynt is understandably at a loss for an answer one is provided by The Old Man of the Mountain, "Out there, where sky shines, humans say: To thyself be true. In here, trolls say: Be true to yourself-ish.” Peer adopts his own version of the troll motto from then on, declaring to all that he is himself, whatever that is. Peer spends the rest of his days avoiding facing himself or facing truth in general. You might say, Peer Gynt was Ibsen’s version of the Nick Hornby book, About A Boy, with Will (played by Hugh Grant in the film) as a modern Peer.

Peer Gynt and Brand are flip sides of the same question for Ibsen. Both seem to be based on Soren Kierkegaard’s book, Fear and Trembling, a lengthy consideration of the bible story of Isaac, who was asked to sacrifice of his beloved son in Genesis. Kierkegaard interprets the tale, wrestling with the nature of faith, God, morality and faith’s relationship with ethics and morality. To do this Kierkegaard introduces us to the Knight of Faith and the Knight of Infinite Resignation.

The Knight of Faith, in this case Abraham, gives up everything that is important to him in the world save his faith in of, sure that he will regain everything through divine possibility. When God asks him to sacrifice his son, Abraham does so, secure in the knowledge that somehow God will someone keep he and his son together. He exists in paradox. Likewise, Peer Gynt easily gives up on what’s important in this world, assuming he will gain it all back through divine providence or simply due to the “strength of the absurd.”

The Knight of Infinite Resignation gives up everything in the hopes of regaining it in the next life, but spends their life suffering the pain of their loss. Just as Brand is governed by his faith, he also suffers through it and is punished for it. McGoohan’s Number 6 is totally Brand. Single-minded and indomitable. Heidi MacDonald sums it quite nicely over at The Beat.

McGoohan radiated angry determination to escape, fierce intelligence, and sharp efficiency when physical action was required. He was sexy but remote - unlike some other super spies, Number Six didn't jump into bed with every hot lady he met. Number Six was not a person for whom giving in or internal struggle was natural - no wonder he broke ever Number Two who showed up. In the role, McGoohan was dead fucking cool. His acting was knife sharp. No matter what he did later, McGoohan was dead fucking cool. His acting was knife sharp. No matter what he did later - from ICE STATION ZEBRA to several turns as Det. Columbo's most cunning foe - you could never stop watching Mcgoohan, because he wasnt' just so good he was scary; he WAS scary. He was as enigmatic as he was charismatic.

Exactly! And after years of my Brand/Peer Gynt theory percolating in my head, imagine my surprise to discover that my long-held belief was delightfully accurate! In an interview at www.the-prisoner-6 , George Markstein confirms the Brand influence on the development of the Prisoner.

…my feeling is that McGoohan wasn't really very keen on doing any other series. What he really wanted to do I think was to play Brand. He'd had an enormous success some years previously on the stage with Ibsen's 'Brand' and Brand personifies everything I think McGoohan would like to be: God! He was very good as God, so he wanted to play Brand ... again. He was very keen to set up 'Brand' as a film and I think that was really what he wanted to do. What a lot of the people in the studio wanted was to keep their jobs! They hoped he'd go on doing a series and so I sat down at the typewriter one day - you know, any port in a storm - and typed a couple of pages. They were about a secret agent - and after all Drake had been a secret agent - who suddenly quits without any apparent reason, as McGoohan had quit without any apparent reason, and who is put away!

McGoohan as Brand at the Lyric Theatre,

Hammersmith in the late 1950's.

McGoohan also carried the Brand image off-screen, overdosing on multi-hyphenates as he micromanaged production of the Prisoner. At this point, Markstein hit the eject button and bailed on the show when:

“…egomania took over! You know, when McGoohan was everything! When McGoohan was writing, was conceiving, was directing ... and didn't know where he was going. My presence was superfluous - and we've seen the result after my departure… the non-conclusion. I think it was an absurd pantomime. You tell me what it means. I think it was a bit of gross self-indulgence by someone who was fed up with the whole thing and wanted to get out of it and wanted to go out in a blaze of ... something or other… I was surprised because I thought something much better would emerge. After all, when one has conceived something one wants it to die a reasonable death, not some horrific joke!

Like Brand, Markstein feels McGoohan was a Prisoner of his creation.

I think that in many ways THE PRISONER is a tragedy ... because McGoohan became a prisoner of the series and it's never nice to see that happen to a human being, the combination of ambition, frustration, wanting to be writer, director, actor - you name it. It was sad, it was very sad I think. It did something to him that wasn't very good and it was reflected in the series and that's why the series ended like that and that's why people have said "I don't understand the end". Of course they don't understand the end, because there is no end ... I don't think even McGoohan understood the end, or if he does, well, perhaps he does, but that is the biggest tragedy of THE PRISONER that Patrick McGoohan became a Prisoner himself.

Over at Glenn Kenny’s Some Came Running blog, we find a remembrance of McGoohan’s other genre contributions, most notably the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and his intense work in David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Kenny quotes the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg, wherein the director recalls with discomfort the disorganized first shooting day and how it foreshadowed a difficult shot.

"It kept on being that difficult. Patrick McGoohan was part of the reason. He's a brilliant actor; the voice, the charisma, the presence, the face. Phenomenal. And he was aging so well; he looked so great in that beard. But he was so angry. His self-hatred came out as anger against everybody and everything. He said to me, 'If I didn't drink I'd be afraid I'd kill someone.' He looks at you that way and you just say, 'Keep drinking.' It's all self-destructive, because it's all self-hating. That's my theory. He was also terrified. The second before we went to shoot he said, 'I'm scared.' I wasn't shocked; Olivier said that he was terrified each time he had to go on stage. With Patrick, though, it was just so raw and so scary—full of anger and potent. But he was sensing the disorganization; the script wasn't there, so he was right to worry about it. He didn't know me. He didn't know whether I could bring it off or not. We parted from the film not on very good terms ultimately."

In the finale of the original series, Number 6 at last confronts Number 1, yanking off a false face to reveal his own countenance staring back at himself. Apparently McGoohan told close friends this revelation was meant to imply that Number 6, who pictured himself as the ultimate rebel, had imprisoned himself by thinking like a prisoner, thereby always limiting his options. That gives us a reasonable and very clever explanation for the answer Number 6 receives in every episode to the question, “Who is number 1?” The response is always, “You are Number 6.” But could it also he heard as, “You are, Number 6”? This fits into Markstein’s original approach to the series. Number 6’s has faith in his own self-image and ultimately, that faith is the one thing that defeats him.

So where does Peer Gynt fit into the Prisoner? Well, the other residents of the Village appear to be much like Peer; changeable as the wind and whims of the various Number 2’s and generally getting by quite well. That attitude alone makes them anathema to Number 6 and more dangerous to his mindset than any plan of Number 2’s.

But however much Number 6’s defiance and self-image make him an exemplary Brand, he is also very much Peer Gynt himself. He readily accepts and even embraces the routine of the Village and his constant struggle for identity. Intentionally or not, he seems go along with each new attempt to break his will with increasingly practised ease, always on the lookout for a chance to escape –to find something better in life. The Village has given Number 6’s life meaning his previous life lacked, as evidenced by his defiant resignation featured every week in the opening credits. Number 6 accepts that he is a Prisoner and redefines himself in those terms. Like Peer Gynt McGoohan declares himself to be a free man yet why would a free men constantly need to escape? “I am myself, whatever that is.”


You can see why it's taken some time to tackle this post. It’s a lot to consider even though I’m trying to keep things simple (More for my own poor, overloaded brain’s sake than your sprightly minds, gentle readers). I avoided the temptation to go into specific examples from the series and compare dialogue and scenes to passages from Fear and Trembling and Ibsen. But it still took ths long to reach the page.

Sigh... Weeks between posts. I try to make them worth the wait.

AMC has the original Prisoner episodes available for free viewing at their remake's website. Something I definitely plan to take advantage of.

Click over to Youtube for a fascinating four-part interview with Mcgoohan several years after the Prisoner phenomenon.

Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. And Part 4 is here.

Next time: Let’s talk about the new AMC version and how it stacks up to the original and for those who’ve never the sixties series) compared to their other exemplary series, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Be seeing you.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

By the Light of the Silvery BOOM!! - NASA set to bomb the moon today!

Welcome to the rebellion.

According to the Huffington Post and NASA’s website (by way of Jonathan Llyr at hardcorenerdity.com) the space agency’s LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) project designed to confirm or disprove the presence of water reaches it final stage today. The shepherding spacecraft is now in an elongated orbit, positioned to separate with an Atlas V’S Centaur upper stage rocket, essentially launching it toward the moon’s South Pole at twice the speed of a bullet.

The intent is to kick up a plume of debris the orbiter can fly through to analyze for signs of water. You can watch it live this morning, Oct. 9th, at approximately 4:30 a.m. PDT. NASA has set up a webpage with all the information you need to watch for yourself on a home telescope (just make sure it’s a very good telescope). NASA also has a terrific simulation of the entire mission.

I suppose that's a reasonable explanation.

Or is it?

This could all be the result of building grudge in the space agency against the moon.

After hearing this summer that the original tapes of the historic moon landing were accidentally erased, we are forced to wonder if NASA scientists have been getting razzed by their cosmological buddies, calling into doubt their moon landing achievements now that they cannot produce video proof. Now every night the moon’s face waxes and wanes into a mocking grin.

Perhaps they’ve simply lost patience and want to blast it out of the night sky. At least that's what NASA's new director, D. Vader, hinted at during his first press conference several months ago when he warned the press that "this technological terror NASA has constructed paled compared to the power of the force" and he couldn't wait to "wipe the smirk off the faces of those holier than thou Selentites."

I know for a fact that this is going to end badly. This morning I blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds. In that time I flashed forward to our future, skipping like a stone across the pond of time, foreseeing where all this will take us.

This is what I saw...



I also saw visions of high-quality cuts of beef in orbit above the lunar South Pole after the Centaur rocket sliced a leaping cow into bits on its way down to the surface. They were being barbecued up by this guy...

Say good night, moon.


FLASH!!! Thanks to Denis McGrath and his blog, Dead Things On Sticks, and Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, we know have the true story behind this historic event.

UPDATE: Well, well, well... we may have have wells on the Moon after all. According to the Times, pulverizing the Moon has led to the discovery of "significant amounts" of water. Whether that's enough to help the planet through it's upcoming water crisis over the next few decades or only enough to hand wash a few sweaters in the sink remains to be seen.

Read the story here.


Eureka!: Times' new science magazine is a must-read, monthly glimpse into our future.

Welcome to the rebellion.

The London Times has launched Eureka, a new magazine focusing on science and the environment. The Times Online announcement cites the paper’s extensive history of science coverage since 1785 and provides a celebratory list of notable moments where great leaps and great reporting converged between their pages.

Landmarks in the history of Times scientific coverage include:

1831: Coverage of the first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 

Letter from Alfred Nobel on the properties of nitro-glycerine

First review of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species

Letter from Darwin on vivisection

Times exclusive: collaboration with Marconi over first transatlantic telegraph message

Founding of the Cancer Research Fund announced (now part of Cancer Research UK)

Albert Einstein writes for The Times on his theory of relativity

The Astronomer Royal writes to The Times to verify Einstein's Law of Gravitation

Special supplement for the centenary of Faraday's discovery of electricity generation

Letter from H. G. Wells, which resulted in foundation of the Diabetes Society

1953: First newspaper to report the discovery of the structure of DNA

Eureka’s early stories include an overview of fifteen scientists confronting fifteen of the “world’s most pressing problems.” It is a fascinating cross-section of today’s cutting edge science and the questions it strives to answer, from the mind-blowing to the mundane. From finding a safer fuel for nuclear reactors than uranium, using quantum theory to create computer’s capable of colossal processing speeds to growing batteries, marketing based on brain scans of what customers like and finding a way to prevent chewing gum from sticking to floors and furniture. Particle physicists and theatre ushers the world over await the results with bated breath.

This Tom Bonaventure/Getty Images picture of Pudong with its Oriental Pearl Tower (which accompanied the phosphorous city article) sends me into a tizzy of wonder that at least some of the things promised to me in the sci-fi of my childhood, are coming true.

Also up is a look at the possible future of our cities. In this case, focusing on efforts to use the examples of nature, like phosphorescent fish, to create bacteria-infused building materials that will allow our urban centers to provide their own light at a fraction of the current cost, perhaps using carbon dioxide from the air itself as its fuel.

Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy

And a wonderful article on Robert Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle, companion of Charles Darwin during the hydrograpic survey of the coast of South Africa that gave rise to his theory of evolution, and father of the modern weatherman/woman. Fitzroy's detailed observations of the weather conditions on that trip eventually led him to the discovery that collating data over a wide area allowed him to predict, or forecast, weather patterns. There’s no mention of whether or not Fitzroy also pioneered plaid sports coats and odd hands gestures over meteorological maps.

All in all, a magazine to keep an idea for a monthly glimpse into our futures.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Giant Gundam Wedding: Speak now or forever hold your fire.

Welcome to the rebellion.

I have been remiss in my posting and have much catching up to do. Joe O'Brien over at my one-stop shop for sci-fi news and discussion, hardcorenerdity.com, reported weeks ago that construction on the giant Gundam robot in Odaiba that led to my Gundam World post, is now complete. And apparently it's open for weddings, bar mitzvahs, proms and graduation ceremonies.

The lucky couple here won out over 547 other entries in the Gundam wedding contest sponsored by the T & G (Take and Give) Wedding Planning Company. No word yet on whether the couple plan to spend their honeymoon in orbit or on the moon. But I suspect they were over the moon during this wild ceremony.

It's a not so well kept secret that giant robo here was a jackass at the free bar later... bragging to the robot brides maids about his hard drive and slurring euphemisms like RAM and fuel injection. Sad really.

More incredible photos of the finished Gundam can be seen at
Shibuya 246's awesome photoblog.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Cannibal Galaxy from Beyond Space! - The undead, zombie Andromeda Galaxy is hungry for stars!

Welcome to the rebellion.

Zombie flicks are so passe. Especially since our poor little Milky Way is due for a deadly cannibal galaxy attack!!!!!!

According to the Calgary Herald, the Andromeda galaxy has developed a taste for the galactic flesh of its fellow star systems!! Researchers at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) have discovered:

"...the "semi-digested remains of dwarf galaxies" and streams of stars being sucked into Andromeda, the nearest galactic giant to the Milky Way that is home to our planetary system.

They've also documented a remarkable encounter in which Andromeda tore millions of stars away from its galactic satellite Triangulum."

Andromeda is surrounded by the remains of millions of galaxies who have been swallowed whole by its massive gravitational pull. The whole thing reads like a James Cameron epic, only entertaining. Only one character in this stellar thriller has evaded the jaws of Andromeda so far; the plucky Triangulum galaxy.

The astronomers have also found evidence of a close encounter with Triangulum, a small satellite galaxy.

"It passed close to Andromeda and started to feel its pull," says McConnachie noting Andromeda is "a big beast" with incredible gravitational power.

Its pull is so strong that Triangulum started losing stars. "Easily millions of stars," he says. Triangulum managed to escape — albeit with fewer stars. But McConnachie says it will ultimately be pulled back in.

"In fact, it is starting to fall back into the Andromeda galaxy right now," says McConnachie, who thinks in extremely long time frames."

Braaaains! Er, I mean, Staaaaarzzz!

A movie, er, simulation of Triangulum's interaction with Andromeda can be found here at the project's Canadian website. I hope it's a rough cut because it needs help with pacing to build the tension.

And worst of all? Andromeda's coming for us! Team Leader Alan McConnachie warns that in three to five billion years we could also be ingested by the hungry galactic cannibal that is Andromeda.

"The Milky Way now coexists in the same cosmic vicinity as Andromeda. But McConnachie says the two giant galaxies, which are moving toward each other at more than 100 kilometres a second, are headed for a major dust up.

"The Andromeda galaxy is heading straight for us, for the Milky Way galaxy," he says, adding that he sees no way around a "full-on collision."

I suppose shooting it in the brain is out since it's so damn difficult to find a brain. It's like looking for a needle in a universe. And the bullet could takes decades to actually reach anything. It's not even traveling at the speed of sound, after all.

Drok it! Let Andromeda come. It can pry Sol out of our cold, dead, fossilized hands. The human race will be long gone by then so I suggest we start rocketing all out hazardous waste into the sun so that by the time Andromeda ingests it all that mother-$!#king galaxy will get is a galactic case of indigestion.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Got Blue Milk? - Wouldn't you like to get away to galaxy far, far away where everybody knows your clone serial # and they're always glad you came?

Welcome to the rebellion.

First they shared a batch of clone DNA. Then they shared combat duty against rebel assaults across the universe. But when the blaster fuel cells are depleted and the battle is over, they share camaraderie over pints of blue milk.


Thanks to Jonathan Llyr at Hardcorenerdity for the heads up on this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It was a Dark and Stormy Night - The Madeleine L'Engel Effect and Time with Dad

"I believe that good questions are more important than answers, and the best children's books ask questions, and make the readers ask questions. And every new question is going to disturb someone's universe."

- Madeleine L'Engle

Welcome to the rebellion.

Madeleine L’Engle died.

She passed away on September 6, 2007. The New York Times obituary summed up the 88 year-old as an author “whose childhood fables, religious meditations and fanciful science fiction transcended both genre and generation,” joining many news agencies and journalists in pigeonholing her as a children’s author when she was so much more.

L’Engle herself disliked the label, insisting that she did not write down to children. She famously declared in a 1993 Associated Press interview, quoted here by the Washington Post:

"In my dreams, I never have an age," she said. "I never write for any age group in mind. ... When you underestimate your audience, you're cutting yourself off from your best work."

The article suggests her literary output, which included poetry, plays, books on religion and prayer and autobiographical works were all “deeply, quixotically personal” then quotes Marygail G. Parker from the Dictionary of Literary Biography, who described “a peculiar splendor” to L’Engle’s work.

Quixotic? Hardly. Though L’Engle often implied her subconscious was in control of the writing of her most successful works and she was compelled to write them, few authors had a voice so uniquely personal and such command of poetic simplicity.

Like so many, I discovered L’Engle’s work as child through her much celebrated novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Her skillful blend of fantastic adventure, family drama, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Planck’s quantum theory, and human emotion reached me on so many levels at once, the book fairly vibrated with harmonic energy. For many, she was our first introduction to such high concepts.

In her 1998 acceptance speech upon receiving the Margaret Edwards Award (The American Library Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing in the Field of Young Adult Literature) L’Engle addressed some of the controversy attached to her young adult work.

It is still amazing to me that A WRINKLE IN TIME was considered too difficult for children. My children were seven, ten, and twelve while I was writing it, and they understood it. The problem is not that it's too difficult for children, but that it's too difficult for grown ups. Much of the world view of Einstein's thinking wasn't being taught when the grown ups were in school, but the children were comfortably familiar with it.

MEET THE AUSTINS (the book which preceded WRINKLE) took two years to find a publisher—largely because it begins with a family's reaction to the death of a beloved uncle, and children were not supposed to know about death. Largely, I suspect, because it upset their parents).

But again I was writing out of my own experience, and how my family accepted grief and loss and death. I think it made my children stronger than if we had gone placidly along with no traumas to work through.

Madeleine L’Engle had faith. Faith in God. Faith in humanity. She had little time for dogma and that made her difficult to live with for those who preferred using doctrine to control and shame others into conforming to their limited world view. In an interview on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, L’Engle admitted she considers religion and science to be linked.

Religion and science? One and the same. I don't have any trouble with it. A lot of people do. They have to put one here and one there. And I think they're much more like that, each one informing the other… Religion is less accepting than science. Science knows things move and change, and religion doesn't want that. So, I am more comfortable with science. At the same time, I am not throwing God out the window.

I respect that world view and the strength it sometimes takes to stand by it when under heavy criticism. As a writer for children, I have often been confronted by parents telling me what their children don’t like about a show. Inevitably, they share something that disturbs them, not their children. L’Engle never wrote down to children but rather, wrote up to their humanity and search for knowledge, posing questions that encourage them to find their own answers and seek out new questions.

Producers and broadcasters constantly instruct me to avoid big ideas and concepts, use small words rather than ”language.” It’s a constant struggle to expand the worlds of children even as we’re asked to make it smaller and smaller. Horizons aren't meant to be reached by stretching out your hands. They’re meant to instill desire and they’re meant to be harder to get to. How mundane must we make the dreams of children?

For the rest of the world, Madeleine L’engle died on September 6, 2007.

For me, Madeleine L’Engle died the following year, in July 2008.

She passed the moment I stumbled across that uninspired New York Times obituary. Though much of the world had already mourned her passing. I was experiencing the first shock of grief – an emptiness in my heart where L’Engle’s place had been. A space I didn’t realize was there.

L’Engle was the first one to teach me that time is fluid. It depends so much on perception. It flies when we’re having fun. It drags when we are scared or worried. It stops when we are at the lightning edge of new revelation. In addition to a pervading sense of loss, I experienced one of those revelations when L’Engle died the second time.. I realized that I had often measured the truth of my words against hers and found my work wanting.

I witnessed L'Engle's death again months later when I told a friend who loves sci-fi about the author's passing. For my friend, the devastating news was new and fresh. Despite the actual death occuring more than a year earlier, her grief was very much happening right now. As I watched her suffer I was carried back on the wave of her anguish to my own moment of loss.

But if our experience of death of someone meaningful to us could happen multiple times, then so too could our experience of that person’s life. Every time I pick up one of L'Engle's books I re-experience the emotions they had first stirred in me, almost as if reliving that first time. The writing touched me in a place I can reconnect with instantly, proving that time, or at least our perception of it (And aren't time and perception of time the same ting really?) is not linear.

Time is not linear. Madeleine L’Engle told me this and Madeleine L’Engle showed me this.

We generally experience time as a linear series of events so we can all communicate and feel we are going in the same direction. That shared perception of moving forward through experience is one of the things that unites us all. But at any given moment we may find ourselves out of sync, be stuck in the past or anticipating the future. Like right now, for me.

Several weeks ago I lost my father and I have been unstuck in time ever since.

I’m thankful that over the past few years my father and I have both made an effort to get to know each other better as individuals and not just as father and son. A great deal of the credit for this transformation to our relationship is due to my wife, whose love for family seems truly unlimited, despite the pain that sometimes brings.

Though Dad’s health had been declining for many months and he and his wife kept us more or less informed as to the details of his ailments, I can’t help but feel they kept the true depths of his decline to themselves as they quietly prepared. Perhaps I was not in touch enough to properly track events. Quite possibly I simply wasn't eager to know.

I now have all the more reason to cherish a surprise visit my wife and I made to my Dad and his wife, Marlene, to spend a day driving in the countryside outside of London, Ontario. Though he was unable to walk very far, he enjoyed being our chauffeur, parking the car and watching through the windshield as Marlene took us through a lavender farm and various roadside attractions. We then ate an early dinner in a lovely, nearly deserted café. My attempts to sit in the car with Dad and chat as Marlene and Jill shopped were gently refused. Dad was eager to see us all enjoying ourselves. In retrospect, is it possible he was subtly preparing us all to move on and enjoy life without him, for the day when his spirit would be watching from a greater distance?

It’s the natural order. No parent wants to outlive their children. They want to know their family will be strong and move on in life, never forgetting but never regretting. It’s part of our growth as people, a growth that will never truly be fulfilled until we experience and survive their passing, taking strength from their memory.

Upon hearing about my father’s passing, a friend pointed out another side to the experience in this way, “Now you get to start a whole new relationship with him.” I suppose that I already have started a new relationship with my father, though where it takes me will only be revealed in time. It certainly worked that way when my Mom passed away while I was in university. I stumbled along and as I learned more about my mother she became more than just a Mom. She grew into a person in my head.

It takes a long time to acclimatize yourself to losing a parent at a young age but I suppose I found it all the more difficult due to the suddenness of her departure. She simply winked out of my life. No warning. No drama. She was there and then she wasn’t. I like to imagine she tessered across the galaxies to spend eternity in the company of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, who, along with Aunt Beast, represented the many facets of familial love in A Wrinkle In Time. With time I grew accustomed to this new relationship and I know in my head that I will develop a similar new relationship with my father. Some time. Just not yet.

Because time is not linear.

We can experience an intense reverse déjà vu (vuja de?) of a future we haven’t been to yet, but we know is coming. Even now I can catch momentary glimpses of my future self, who’s already processed this so the pain is not so fresh and therefore finds everything a little bit easier. Senses can take us back in time. A smell, a song, a taste, or a touch can catapult us backward. And sometimes time holds us in two places at once. Our minds or spirits can be trapped in the past as our present selves go forward, making coffee or reading the paper or getting back to work.

I remember anticipating the premiere of Deep Space Nine after a particularly good season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I found myself surprised at the heady mixture of speculative fiction, political intrigue, the true difficulties in fostering community and the emotional turmoil of DS9’s Commander, Benjamin Sisko played by Avery Brooks. Sisko is a reluctant leader, raising his teenage son as he struggles with the loss of his beloved wife.

The Deep Space Nine space station is on the edge of a wormhole in space occupied by quantum beings that do not exist in linear time. Sisko’s inability to escape the memories of his wife’s tragic, final moments proves to be a point of communication between himself and the aliens. As they exist simultaneously in the then, the now and the future, so he exists in the past and present. Sisko's constant flashbacks to that moment belie his attempts to explain mankind’s linear existence.

I can remember being deeply moved by DS9’s two-hour premiere and Avery Brook’s charged performance. His willingness to embrace the humanity of his character made me feel less alone in dealing with my mother’s passing years earlier. My memories of Benjamin Sisko will always center on his immense sadness in the pilot and his throaty laughter in subsequent seasons, embracing two extremes of human experience.

A week after Dad's death I found myself at Toronto's Fan Expo, Canada's largest sci-fi, comicbook, anime, horror and gaming convention. I saw Avery Brooks signing autographs and greeting convention goers at Toronto’s Fan Expo and found myself remembering that Deep Space Nine pilot. Somehow, his ability to embrace the entire spectrum of humanity in his role with joy and such joie de vive helped normalize my grief. And the memories of Sisko’s passage through his own grief made me feel less alone in my time loop.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tell him how he helped me with my mother’s passing and now with my father’s. The poor man seemed at a loss for words (not surprisingly). Then he extended both hands to grasp my own and that gentle, generous smile crossed his face. Avery looked at me with his gentle eyes and said… I have no idea what. Something, something in his whole career, something, head nod, something. Couldn’t hear a word he said. I thought he was theatrically trained for God’s sake but he wasn’t projecting at all.

But the connection was precious in that moment and I’ll never forget it.

Like Benjamin Sisko, I have been caught in time loop of my own, reliving my father’s last day as I move through the days and night that have followed. My body types away at my scripts, takes notes at meetings, and tries to sleep but my mind has, well, a mind of its own lately. It gives no warning as it takes me through that last minute call to rush out of town to Dad’s bedside. I relive the near sleepless overnight shift at his bedside, first with my sister and eventually, all alone. Returning after a few hours sleep to relieve Dad’s wife and holding his hand and talking to him after his pain moans turned to steady breathing, which soon would gradually slow to nothing.

Each time I am hijacked in this way, I feel suspended in utter stillness then I find myself right back in that room. I can look around the room and see what time of the day or night it is. I can smell the hospital’s hand disinfectant and hear the steady chug of the oxygen, emitting its gentle mist to reduce the drying effect of pure CO2 on Dad’s throat and lungs. But mostly I hear his breaths grow short and the gap between his final gasps lengthen. I wait, relieved each time a new breath comes and look in his eyes, hold his hand (Jill holds the other) and talk to him about his family, and where each loved one was at that moment, his wife, his children and his grandchildren.

And then, the space between breaths become all there is and he is gone.

A smaller percentage of the time I spend in the past takes place in the hours immediately following Dad’s death. I spent them contacting the family and waiting for my brothers and sisters to have their final time in the room with our father. I suspect they are all experiencing their own time loops. I know my oldest brother is. After a conflicted relationship with my Dad he likely has many things left unsaid. And I know to some extent, his feelings and judgments regarding those old wounds are locked in the mindset of the child who first experienced them. I hope he finds his way out.

Though I am spending extensive time in that final day, I am grateful I’m not alone in those concluding moments. Though I never take my eyes away from my father’s (these instants are too precious), I know that I have but to glance to my left and I will see my beloved wife holding Dad’s other hand as she sends her considerable reserves of love to Dad and for me. But I don’t ever look at her. If I look I may break down, overwhelmed by the unending depths of her love and support and unable to cope with the intense reality we’re facing. I look into my father’s eyes and he looks back, ready to move on and knowing his family is ready for him to go.

I look into my father’s eyes and he looks into mine until he'd no longer there to look.

His eyes see nothing anymore. And where there once were the sounds of his final breaths, now there is silence. I relive that twenty-four hour period over and over in real time. The only bright spot in the day is the knowledge that if I glance to my left I will see my wife. But thankfully, whatever force drags me back there allows me a second of pure transcendence...

Jill and I exit the hospital, the storm of the day (which brewed up a tornado north of Toronto in a masterfully timed example of pathetic fallacy) is over and the sun streams through the clouds like the climax of some widescreen, Technicolor, biblical epic. We breathe in fresh air.

I live this wonderful moment over and over too. And where every other part of the day leaves me with remarkably ambivalent feelings, this instant makes my heart soar. A smiling Jill takes my arm as we walk across the parking lot and after deep breath declares…

“There’s your Dad, shining down all around us.”

And just like that I’m back in the present. My wife is my anchor in the now. Just as Dad’s wife, Marlene, allowed him to live a longer and happier life, so too does mine. Life and death go on as always.

Eventually I will spend less time in that room and more time enjoying the memories of my Dad when he was hale and hearty, young and robust. But if I must be trapped in that final day a little while longer, I am grateful that I am not there alone.

I love you, Jill.

I love you , Dad.