A Wrinkle in Time (1962), by Madeline L’Engle

A classic of American children’s literature, this series is particularly powerful for young girls who feel that they don’t fit in because “girls aren’t supposed to be smart.”  Meg Murry was long one of my fictional heroes, and her strength in saving her brother when her father was unable to do so made me feel that girls had abilities that men and boys never could.  It was an empowering thought, raised in small-town BC in the 1960s-80s.  The science fiction aspects of the novel, the dystopic elements of the world Meg’s father is found in, all strike a cord in the heart of girls who want to travel to the stars just as much as their brothers do.

A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

I wrote the introductory comments years ago, but still from memories of reading the series as a youth. Now, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, there has been some discussion of the series on the child_lit listserve run out of Rutgers University (https://email.rutgers.edu/mailman/listinfo/child_lit). In honour of the occasion, in deference to a text that sincerely influenced my life as a youth, I felt I should re-read the novel, as an adult.  Not surprisingly, my opinion differs slightly from my memories…

“It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom, Meg Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed…” Even Snoopy pays homage to the opening of the novel. Repeatedly. The image of young Meg, her normal strength of character overcome by the storm, sets the stage for the battle between strength and insecurity that she engages in through the course of the narrative. Perhaps it is this internal struggle that rings most true with young female readers; I think it was for me. Through it all, Meg does not conquer unequivocally; she does not vanquish the foe; she merely survives, and saves the ones she loves, prepared—later, in a more mature moment—to continue the fight against The Black Thing that is Evil manifested.

A Wrinkle in Time still stands out as a monumental text in the tradition of female protagonists: how many of us have felt inspired by Meg’s need to think outside the box: like Einstein, to be allowed to show her intellect in the way that works for her? I must admit that I never fully identified with Meg, or Calvin, or Charles Wallace—I was not that brilliant—but I lived with someone who should have (my brother) and I now live with another (my daughter, although I have yet to convince her to read the novel!). I was nonetheless intelligent enough to suffer in highschool for my difference (no dates for me!) and thus sympathized intensely with Meg’s position. I dreamed of a way to show that my difference was not “weird” or abnormal, and tutored as many students—both marginalized and popular—as I could, to show that I bore them no ill will, in the hopes that then they would bear me none.  Mostly, it worked; often, though, I would retreat into novels, where I could live vicariously through the (mostly male) protagonists, who managed to find ways to realize their dreams, their possibilities. Meg was a God-send; she was everything Heinlein’s male protagonists were, and more: a loving daughter, a good Christian, a strong girl but with natural and (I felt) inevitable insecurities in a man’s world: a girl I could look up to.

Her story, too, was simple yet profound. L’Engle creates alternate worlds that for all their otherness ring psychologically true—I think still today; certainly they were completely believable (once you suspended your disbelief regarding time and space travel) in the 1970s when I first read the series. Reading the novel as an adult, I am surprised at the simplicity of the prose, at Calvin’s quick and unquestioning acceptance of his role as Meg’s boy-friend-to-be. As a youth, I remember the (what I thought as) subtle romance to be perfectly presented; now I think it a little heavy-handed. But the relationship between Meg and Charles Wallace, and Meg and her father, are perfectly portrayed, even to a modern, mature reader. I remember, too, not knowing—honestly not knowing—what it was that Meg had that IT didn’t… until she discovered it herself.  And I wonder whether modern readers have more narrative expectation behind their reading of the novel. Will they experience the joy that I did as a young girl, discovering L’Engle’s worlds and ideas as new and innovative? How much of it will seem surprising and original to today’s readers, given how much has been written since, piled upon the shoulders of literary giants such as A Wrinkle in Time?

Look for the reviews of the sequels: A Wind in the Door (1973), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), and Many Waters (1986) to follow as I finish them…

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