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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

14 Apr

My attempt to grapple with large, looming life decisions as I enter (or maybe just continue upon) the end-of-college-stress-craze has meant a lot of nostalgia recently. That’s good for this blog (which has sometimes been left by the wayside) especially when looking to my young adult years to figure out how exactly I got to where I am. And recently, I’ve been revisiting the always lovely and fascinating Madeleine L’Engle, especially A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a near-perfect science fiction/fantasy in my mind: fun, mysterious, a little bit romantic, setting up a world that’s easy to step inside. I remember being so very taken by this book, and truly being breathless at certain passages.

The book is also totally underrated, especially given the “Doctor Who,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and other sci-fi crazes that’ve been around lately. If you haven’t delved into L’Engle, you should. She truly is amazing.

Published:1962

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Quick Read?: Yes.

Difficulty: Not very difficult, though it does take place in (an)other dimension(s), so there can be a lot of detail to pick up on.

Synopsis: This book quite literally begins with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Our heroine Meg can’t sleep because of it, and neither can her brother Charles Wallace, her mother, or her strange neighbor, Mrs Whatsit. As they sit around drinking hot chocolate, Mrs Whatsit tells Meg’s mother “there is such thing as a tesseract,” causing Meg’s mother to faint. It turns out Meg’s father, a scientist who went missing, disappeared while trying to find this tesseract. The next day Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend-turned-love-interest decide they must go to try and rescue her father with the help of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who, who teach them that a tesseract is a fifth-dimensional way of folding space and time in order to visit different planets and worlds (the “wrinkling” of time). As the children travel with Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who, they learn that the universe is slowly being taken over by The Black Thing, and that they must try to stop it to not only save their planet, but each other as well.

What makes this book awesome?: I’ve always thought A Wrinkle in Time is a perfect marriage of science fiction, fantasy, and actual science. I can’t speak for “real science,” being that science is not one of my strong suits, but the idea of the tesseract comes from principles around “wormholes,” an actual idea in physics. Then there were the elements of science woven into the story, as well as alien planets and societies (I still get nightmares about Camazotz, the last place they visit in the book. It’s incredibly spooky and scary) that feel real, especially given the science L’Engle is working with even though this is primarily fiction. All of this is combined with fantasy too–Charles Wallace has some almost psychic abilities, their absent father becomes a mysterious background figure, and what saves them all in the end (not really a spoiler) is done with the power of love. Sci-fi/fantasy can be tough to differentiate, but L’Engle weaves them all together beautifully.

Similar to other science fiction/fairy tales that were aimed at children, the journey these children take is one that is universal–it’s a quest to see how far love can really go, whether or not love can really conquer all. This can be seen in the Harry Potter series, perhaps even in The Lord of the Rings series, yet there is something about L’Engle where it hits home even harder for me. I’m sure you could chalk this up to my own personal affection for the book, but still. Perhaps fantasy and science fiction is more about where science and emotion meet, and how far they can run together or apart.

Mrs Madeleine "I will write what I please" L'Engle

Some neat-o facts:

  • As I stated above, the idea of the tesseract is based on wormholes as they are known in physics. Maybe if the tesseracts were a little more whimsical, like the TARDIS in “Doctor Who,” people would be as excited about them as they are about traveling through time in a TARDIS.
  • Apparently characters on the TV show “Lost” were seen reading A Wrinkle in Time, prompting a group of avid “Lost” fans to read it. They even got L’Engle to have a discussion with them about the show and the book. Who said being an avid TV fan meant you didn’t read?
  • L’Engle has made it clear that her books are based on her interest in her own Christian faith and modern scientific knowledge. Interestingly, some Christian bookstores felt her books were not “suitable” to be sold and refused to stock them, and the books were even banned in some schools and libraries. Secular readers often panned her works for being “too religious.” I suppose you can’t please everyone.

If you like this, try: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, or Many Waters by L’Engle; the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells