First published in 1962, Madeleine L’Engle‘s classic book (along with its subsequent sequels) remains one of the greats of children’s literature, and it is a testimony to her skill that she can get away with using the line “it was a dark and stormy night” as her opening sentence. Widely considered the first science fiction novel written for children, A Wrinkle in Time is a must for any serious young reader’s bookshelf.
Margaret “Meg” Murry is a rather despondent child: her father is missing, she’s having trouble at school and her little brother Charles Wallace is often gossiped about in the community for being “strange.” This is not entirely untrue: after being silent for much of his first four years, Charles Wallace suddenly began speaking in complete and complex sentences when he turned five. Unfortunately, by this stage his father was not around to hear it and the family wait in agony for news of him.
Mr Murray has been missing for some time, but Charles Wallace has come into contact with three strange old women (who call themselves Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which) who seem to have an idea as to where he’s disappeared to. Stopping by on the aforementioned dark-and-stormy night, Mrs Who introduces herself to the family and leaves with the following words to Mrs Murray: “there is such a thing as a tesseract.” A tesseract is a wrinkle in time, and it is through one that Meg, Charles Wallace and their intuitive friend Calvin will be transported to another planet, with the mission to find their father and halt the progress of the terrible being known as IT.
IT is the enemy of mankind that has been fought against by our world’s artists, thinkers and dreamers from time immemorial — and Mr Murray was one of these fighters, attempting to expand the world’s knowledge for the benefit of mankind. But now it falls to his children to save him, as they embark on an adventure filled with creatures that are best experienced by reading A Wrinkle in Time yourself.
There are enough uplifting spiritual connotations here to shake a stick at (though they are not so overt as in, sayC.S. Lewis) and plenty of poignant moments in what is ultimately a coming-of-age story: most memorable is Meg’s realisation that her reunion with her father does not mean that the happy ending can commence and that not even parents can solve everything. The best stories are the ones that resonate even years after they have been published, and the monotonous lifestyle on Camazotz is as chilling now as it was back in the 1960s when Communism was on everyone’s minds. Now the threat comes from religious fundamentalism, and the image of those individuals forced into conformity remains as potent as ever.
It isn’t perfect however; I felt that Meg and Calvin’s little romance was started too suddenly and somewhat unrealistically, and the unmasking of IT as a (well, readers will already know) is considerably dated by now; it feels like it belongs in a silly sci-fi movie-of-the-week. But the pluses far outweigh the minuses, and this is a book that demands to be read more than once, especially since this new edition includes an introduction by the author and an essay by Lisa Sonne that explores some of the real science behind the story.
I’ve said enough. Its time to go get your own copy of A Wrinkle in Time.
There’s always a danger when you go back and reread a favorite story from childhood. All too often treasured books don’t live up the memories you have of them. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle is not one of those books. I hadn’t read about the adventures of the Murry family in almost two decades, but was instantly transported on a fantastical journey by Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin as they go searching for Mr. Murry, who was working for the government on classified research, but disappeared one day and hasn’t been heard from in years.
A Wrinkle In Time, originally published in 1962, is a little dated in some of the details (does any YA reader today remember when computers used to fill up a room?) but the themes that the book deals with — good versus evil, conformity versus individualism, and the power of love — are timeless. L’Engle’s gift is that she is capable of dealing with complicated issues with a level of sophistication that is capable of holding the attention of any adult, while writing for a YA audience, and all the while not sacrificing the story.
L’Engle is a consummate story teller. You have to respect a writer with the audacity to start a novel with “It was a dark and stormy night.” As the action advances, she creates a feeling of palpable dread and horror as the children confront the Dark Thing that is holding Mr. Murry captive. The characters are all well drawn, with recognizable emotional reactions to stress. I especially love Meg. When I first read this book, I was about her age, and like Meg, was a little too smart for my peer group, and didn’t fit in. Meg was a touchstone for me, and will be for many other intelligent, awkward young women.
A Wrinkle In Time is on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books. Some people object to the fantastical elements — witches and centaurs and crystal balls. Others object that the book is too religious, and still others that it is not religious enough. L’Engle mentions Jesus as the three witches/angels (and isn’t that a dichotomy enough to get some peoples’ knickers in a twist) are teaching the children about those who have fought the Dark Thing on Earth. The children first mention Jesus and then they include humanitarians, artists and scientists, Schweitzer, Da Vinci and Einstein. Some readers say that demeans Jesus, but I think they are missing the intended point that we are all engaged in the fight against evil — even a teenage girl who keeps getting in trouble at school.
You can call this book fantasy, you can call it science fiction, you can call it a religious allegory, but whatever it is, it’s a classic for a reason. L’Engle writes about difficult topics in a way that engages young readers, makes them think, and challenges their ideas about what they are capable of accomplishing. It wasn’t until rereading A Wrinkle In Time that I realized how much it influenced my thinking. I found Meg Murry arguing a point that I have tried to make in graduate political theory seminars, and doing it much better than I did. I highly recommend A Wrinkle In Time for any reader.
A Wrinkle In Time blew my mind many times when I was a kid — I read it several times. It’s one of the reasons I started reading SFF.