Plumbing the depths of my childhood book reading past, I reached for the copy of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel that combines fantasy and science, on my bookshelf. The well-worn pages yellowing with age attest to my longstanding attachment to this book. I have quite fond memories of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. Would my memories live up to reality?
I remember Meg and her teen year anxieties well. I had fuzzy recollection of the three Ws—Mrs.Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. I recalled Aunt Beast with delight upon my rereading. (I love Aunt Beast!)
The focus of the book is on the trio Meg, her baby brother Charles Wallace, and Calvin, a popular athlete at school. The two Murrays (Meg and Charles Wallace) are oddballs in the community, often shunned or ridiculed. Their scientist father has been missing for some time, off on a secret government project, which, as it turns out, involved tessering or folding (= wrinkling) time and space. They encounter the three Ws who lead them on a trek to find their long-missing father.
But it isn’t just about finding their father. It is about combating a darkness, an evil in the universe. The Black Thing envelops worlds; the earth is shadowed by it but not consumed. Yet.
The Black Thing has enveloped the planet that their father tessered to. On this planet, the evil basically robbed everyone of their individualism. All are forced to follow a strict rhythm or regime, a strict sameness—the same houses, the same schedules, the same rhythm in the balls that the children bounce. If they deviate, they are sent for reprogramming.
What can break the spell of people trapped by the all-controlling IT on the planet? Love. Charles Wallace becomes mentally consumed by IT and is only rescued when Meg rejects the hatred she feels for IT and expresses the love she has for Charles Wallace. Love over hatred.
Subtle themes of Christianity abound, as does the celebration of the individual—individualism over collective sameness. One recurring message is looking past what you see to who the person is and who they could be.
“[Meg] realized with a fresh shock that it was not Mrs. Whatsit herself that she was seeing at all. The complete, the true Mrs. Whatsit, Meg realized, was beyond human understanding. What she saw was only the game Mrs. Whatsit was playing…it was only the tiniest fact of all the things Mrs. Whatsit could be.” (page 93)
Meg encounters this truth time and time again, most explicitly with the species that Aunt Beast is. Without eyes, they cannot comprehend the ideas of sight and light. Without eyes, they can’t judge people by superficialities. They see beyond the surface to the person himself.
A Wrinkle in Time is a Newbery award winner and a childhood classic. Strange to think that it may not have been—the story was rejected by publishers more than 30 times before it was finally published in 1962.
Now, on to the sequel A Wind in the Door. I am eager to see what childhood memories come flooding back from between its pages.