Editor’s note: Disney’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters tomorrow. While an article on the film (destined, it seems, for mixed reviews) is forthcoming, the original sci-fi fantasy source material deserves more attention. Here’s a thoughtful tribute to Madeleine L’Engle’s classic work and its enduring impact.

Ten-year-old Sally Thomas was, from the story’s opening moments, absolutely mesmerized as her teacher read aloud to the class A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 fantasy classic. It wasn’t the last time she would read it. The book – and eventually others by L’Engle – captured her imagination and fueled her interest in the eternal:

I devoured those novels even as I devoured the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, not because they satisfied my inchoate yearning for something beyond the world I knew, but because they stoked it.

Writing in First Things, Thomas pens an excellent tribute to L’Engle and her ability to unveil the mysteries of the infinite – and ultimately the Gospel – through creative fantasy. Following in the formidable footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis before her, she crafted stories that made readers feel the reality of evil, hold on to undying hope, and ultimately champion the power of selfless love. Thomas’s description is spot-on:

L’Engle’s impulse, like Lewis’s, is to remove [children] from their own world for a time and then to return them from their adventures safe and outwardly unchanged but with new understanding. Their stories are conversion stories.

It’s no secret that L’Engle, through her writing, wanted to pierce through modernity’s watered-down notions of the Almighty: “We’ve built up an image of… a comfortable God. It must be shattered.” (One particular passage in A Wrinkle in Time led to an accusation of universalism, a charge she flatly denied.) The enduring legacy of Tolkien, Lewis, and L’Engle is precisely that – they were master storytellers who sparked a hunger for something beyond ourselves and challenged readers just as much as they fascinated them:

The idea that even the weak and the flawed were called to the battle – that there even was a battle – roused something in my imagination that years of Sunday School had somehow failed to touch. What these novels provided me with was something I cannot remember having possessed before I encountered them: a religious imagination. Perhaps I should have been reading them through the lens of the Bible; instead, as a teenager, I turned anew to the Bible with these stories alive in my mind.

And for every ten-year-old Sally Thomas, there’s a thousand more young readers with hearts and minds awakened to that same spiritual discovery: a religious imagination.