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Zachary Gray

Zachary Gray is a fictional character in the young adult novels of Madeleine L'Engle. He appears in four novels, and is mentioned in at least one more.

Zachary Gray
Zachary Gray (right) as depicted on the dust jacket of An Acceptable Time
First appearanceThe Moon by Night, 1963
Last appearanceAn Acceptable Time,1989
Created byMadeleine L'Engle
Portrayed byJared Padalecki
Occupationon-again, off-again student
Relativesunnamed parents



Zachary, often called Zach, is a wealthy young man from Los Angeles, California, with parents who show little love for their son or each other,[1] and who seem unable to exert any influence on their son's behavior. Zach is described as having "velvety black" hair, very pale skin, and "steel-grey" eyes. He is considered "gorgeous" by Vicky Austin and is taller than Polly O'Keefe, who considers herself "too tall." Intelligent but erratic in behavior, Zach is "kicked out" of numerous prestigious schools (namely for smoking in the bathroom, cheating as an art form and for poor grades), but demonstrates that he will learn a great deal on a subject that interests him, particularly anthropology. Zach suffers from a heart condition, and is often reckless and self-destructive, but at other times seeks desperately to live. Similarly, he is torn between cynical self-interest and more altruistic desires. Zach pursues relationships with L'Engle protagonists Vicky Austin and later Polly O'Keefe, apparently seeking emotional rescue. In his introductory appearance, he frequently sings "The Merry Minuet" by Sheldon Harnick, a song of black humor and global annihilation. Donald R. Hettinga says of Zachary at this stage that he "looks at human suffering and sees no hope."[2] When his mother dies, he and his father have her body preserved through cryonics in lieu of a "pie in the sky" hope of resurrection. According to Carole F. Chase's study of L'Engle's work, L'Engle considered Zachary to be "a work in progress who will ultimately be redeemed."[1]

The Moon by NightEdit

In The Moon by Night (1963, ISBN 0-374-35049-3), Vicky Austin and her family are on a cross-country camping trip when they meet Zachary Grey at a campground. Zach is there with his parents in a luxuriously equipped tent trailer pulled by a brand new, black, station wagon. As he explains to Vicky, his family is camping its way home from Hotchkiss, the school from which Zachary has just been expelled, presumably for poor grades. Zach then pursues Vicky at other campgrounds across the country. Vicky is flattered by Zach's interest, and intrigued as well as discomfited by his cynical attitude. Vicky's younger sister Suzy and older brother John both heartily dislike him, and think that he is dangerous for her. Vicky's father, Dr. Wallace Austin, deduces that Zachary has a history of rheumatic fever that damaged his heart. Several times, Dr. Austin orders Zach to avoid strenuous exercise as he accompanies Vicky and her family in their sightseeing. Eventually Zach goes missing one evening in a game of hide and seek. As the Austins search for him, Zach lures Vicky to a remote mountainside to speak with her privately. When Vicky tries to return to the campsite and her family, an earthquake causes an avalanche, and Zachary is trapped between some rocks. Before and after help arrives, Zach promises Vicky that he will begin to take better care of himself in the future.

A Ring of Endless LightEdit

In A Ring of Endless Light (1980, ISBN 0-374-36299-8), Zachary reenters Vicky's life the following summer, although having failed to write or call during the period covered in The Young Unicorns. As the story opens, Zach's apparent suicidal behavior in a small boat near fictional Seven Bay Island has, in the eyes of Vicky and her sister, resulted in the death by heart attack of their family friend, Commander Rodney of the Coast Guard. Vicky and her family are on the island caring for her grandfather, the retired Reverend Eaton, who is dying of leukemia. Zach himself has recently experienced the death of his mother "in an automobile accident in California" which he says was "her own fault." This is one of many instances of death and dying mentioned in the book, though the Grays were trying to get Mrs. Gray back through cryonics. As Zachary competes with Leo Rodney and Adam Eddington for Vicky's attention, he takes her to a concert and up in a plane, but again behaves recklessly, both behind the wheel of a car and during a flying lesson. In a moment of crisis, Zach deserts Vicky at a nearby hospital on the island, because the nauseating smell of the hospital reminded him of his time spent there, both during his time with rheumatic fever, and after his suicidal attempt.

A House Like a LotusEdit

In A House Like a Lotus (1984, ISBN 0-374-33385-8), Zach meets Polly O'Keefe in Athens, Greece shortly after a traumatic event in Polly's life. Her makes her feel physically attractive for the first time, has serious discussions with her about Greek history and philosophy as well as more personal matters, and generally helps to rebuild Polly's damaged ego. As a result of his conversations with Polly about her uncle, Sandy Murry, an altruistic "anti-corporate" lawyer, Zach announces his intention to return to school, and possibly aim at a less selfish, ruthless approach to life and to business than that of Zach's father. Later, on Cyprus, Zachary recklessly takes Polly in a rented kayak beyond the marked enclosure into unsafe waters, and overturns the kayak while attempting a kiss. Polly helps to keep him from drowning until help arrives. Despite his poor behavior, Polly forgives him, which in turn helps her to forgive her mentor Max.

An Acceptable TimeEdit

In An Acceptable Time (1989, ISBN 0-374-30027-5), Zach visits Polly at her grandparents' home in rural Connecticut, only to inadvertently travel back in time with her to a period when the fictional People of the Wind are in conflict with the People Across the Lake over a devastating drought. Hoping that a tribal healer will repair his failing heart in return for his cooperation, Zachary helps the People Across the Lake to abduct Polly, even though there is a strong likelihood she will be subjected to human sacrifice. This time, when the crisis is over, Polly is less inclined to forgive him immediately. Nevertheless, she helps the healers to restore his heart, averting the death he so feared. Once again Zachary promises to make a new start and change his selfish, self-destructive ways.

TV adaptationEdit

Jared Padelecki as Zachary Gray portrays a less troubled character than the one in the books.

In the 2002 Disney Channel Original Movie A Ring of Endless Light, Zachary Gray is played by Jared Padalecki. The film version of Zach is less "dark" than the character in the books, both visually (having lighter hair and being less prone to wearing black clothing) and in the way the character behaves. In the film, Zachary does not cause death, does not frighten Vicky during a flying lesson, and does not abandon Vicky as he does in the novel, in part because there are no equivalent scenes in the film. Instead he gets reckless driving a boat while Vicky is on it, and stands up to his father about an illegal fishing practice that kills dolphins, a plot thread that is only mentioned as a thematic conversational topic in the novel.


  1. ^ a b Chase, Carole F (1998). Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine L'Engle and Her Writing. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press. pp. 48–49, 60, 61, 89, 95, 143. ISBN 1-880913-31-3.
  2. ^ Hettinga, Donald R. (1993). Presenting Madeleine L'Engle. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 61. ISBN 0-8057-8222-2.

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