With the recent release of the movie "A Wrinkle In Time," I thought I might take a moment to look back on the book.
"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle first hit the shelves in 1962. I wouldn't hear about it until my mother read it to me in the early 70s. I do remember that I was enthralled with the story. It was part fantasy, part science fiction, and part theology. The story centers around Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace Murry as they encounter strange neighbors in their tiny, remote town in Connecticut.
The character of Charles Wallace is an interesting one. He is only five, but has the vocabulary and intellect of a much older genius. He, of all the characters, is perhaps ironically the most rational. In some cases, his attitudes and actions reflect a person more akin to the Star Trek Vulcan Mr. Spock. Meg, on the other hand, can be quite the emotional wreck. At times, she is her own worst enemy and Charles can be too distant.
Added to the mix is the athletic Calvin O'Keefe, a young man who embodies athleticism, but comes from a terrible home life. These three, Calvin, Meg, and Charles Wallace embark on a strange quest to find Meg and Charles' missing father.
Here is the bigger plot: Mr. Murry has disappeared. Both Mr. Murry and his wife Kate are brilliant scientists working for the government. Mr. Murry has disappeared and the Murry family have no idea as to his whereabouts. As it will turn out, he has been whisked off to another planet through a method of travel known as the tesseract, a means of bending time and space to travel a great distance in a short time (and for Marvel Comics fans, this word is sometimes applied to the Cosmic Cube - a major plot device in the more recent Marvel movies). Unfortunately, he is trapped and cannot return.
The children, sneaking out into the night, find themselves meeting the closest neighbors they have in a remote and seemingly abandoned house. The neighbors, suspected to be either eccentric sisters, homeless squatters, or perhaps even witches, turn out to be something far more spectacular than that: they are stars - as in the thing that the earth orbits. More importantly, they are powerful and ancient creatures who only take on human appearance in an attempt to contact Meg and her brother Charles Wallace. It is they who will enable the three children to venture through the tesseract and eventually find Mr. Murry.
I won't go into to much more detail about that plot, but I will say that what they find on the planet on which Mr. Murry is trapped is not the kind of planet one would associate with evil. It is a well ordered, meticulously structured society in which there is nothing but conformity. One thinks it may be a reference to communism given the time in which L'Engle wrote. However, it is far more of the Orwellian dystopia: the end result of a totalitarian dictatorship obsessed with security. In that respect, there is something still chillingly modern about this story.
As I remembered it, I found that the story was imaginative and accessible.
At least it was in the 1970s. After re-reading the book just a few months ago, I found that I didn't identify with the characters as I had when I was a child. Perhaps because this was and is a children's book. Sometimes those ideas just aren't as easy to access with an older mind. I did also find that the main character was hard to get behind. She would often refuse to allow explanations to sink in and would react strongly towards things beyond her control with what would seem to be over-emotive episodes.
However, it is her emotion, especially her willingness to love her brother Charles Wallace, that breaks from the conformity of the dark powers that control the alien planet. It is also their childishness that enables them to speak the truth about the situations around them in a way that the conforming adults of the lands cannot. In that respect, I found that the story still holds up rather well.
The other issue is that of the theology of the book. This is where some might have the bigger difficulty with the book.
L'Engle's work is quite similar to C.S. Lewis in his "Chronicles of Narnia" series. It is best described as a liberal or progressive Christian view, a term that, in 1962, meant something quite different from 2018. Her prominent theme seems to stem from the Gospel of John, a book quoted in "A Wrinkle in Time" by the star-creatures as they try to explain the larger (universal) struggle between good and evil. Jesus is named, as are Moses and Buddha - all as exemplars of righteousness. For some Christians, including anyone else with Jesus is too far. But within the narrative, the point is that the exemplars of righteousness are just that: exemplars. L'Engle makes no claim that one is equal to or greater than another. They are exemplars and are therefore worthy of veneration and emulation.
But more modern conservative Christians would likely balk at the use of crystal balls (even if it is by an alien), witches, or the idea that science and religion need not be opposing forces. In fact, the point is larger than that: science and religion can work towards a common good and for the betterment of humanity as well as working against that which is evil or promotes darkness.
As I re-read "A Wrinkle in Time" I found myself not as taken with it as I was when I was about the same age as the character Meg. But I didn't find it impossible to read or difficult to appreciate. In fact, what I found was that L'Engle wrote a book for an educated reader. The biblical quotes, the passages from Latin, the references to world classics were not dropped in to "smarten" the book. They were there because there was an expectation that the reader was one who read to elevate themselves and their minds. It may be a children's story, but it wasn't dumbed down to say the least.
What I also found was that I was interested in reading the other books that dealt with the Murry family that L'Engle had written. Like Garrison Keillor, L'Engle created more than just characters, she created a world in which she continued to write for all ages.
I would also add that the book is probably still too much to be able to effectively make into a movie. There are too many themes and too much expectation on the education of the audience. The book will likely always outshine any theatrical attempt.
A Wrinkle in Time
(There are several editions of the book. The one I re-read and described above was from the following publisher)
Harrisburg: Square Fish, 2007