2012 marks the 50th anniversary for the publication of the Newberry Award-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle died in 2007 at the age of 88 after a remarkable career that included publishing dozens of books including, not only novels, but also poetry and nonfiction works such as an autobiography and explorations of faith. Wrinkle in Time was the first book she wrote (though not her first to be published) and also her most well known.
For those of you who haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time, here’s a highly abbreviated summary. Meg Murray is the awkward daughter of two geniuses—her brilliant chemist mother and her father who does classified work for NASA. Meg’s father went missing over a year ago and the family’s been split ever since. Meg’s youngest brother, Charles Wallace, is a child prodigy with certain psychic gifts. Meg and Charles Wallace are contacted by Ms. Who, Ms. Whatsis, and Ms. Which, three celestial beings who use a sort of space-time wormhole (aka a “wrinkle in time”), to send Meg, Charles Wallace, and their neighbor Calvin O’Keefe, on a rescue mission to the evil planet of Camazotz where Mr. Murray is now being held prisoner. (Trust me it all makes a lot more sense when you actually read it).
L’Engle was inspired to write Wrinkle after a ten week camping trip through deserts, mountains, and wastelands while reading up on quantum physics. She took her finished book to twenty six different publishers before finding one willing to take a chance. Editors thought it was both too “dark” and too “different.” The naysayers were proven wrong. Since being published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time has never been out of print. What has made it hold out so well for over half a century and counting?!?
Wrinkle in Time has themes that “date it” to the time period in which when it was written. The name of the evil planet, Camazotz, sounds vaguely like “Communist,” and there are distinct echoes in this hideous grey world where everyone must be exactly alike, reflecting life behind the Iron Curtain. The final confrontation where Meg saves Charles Wallace simply by loving him seems almost a prelude to the 60’s era “love-ins” as well as the novel’s theme that expressing anger, frustration, or any negative “energy” is akin to giving in to the dark side. And L’Engle’s book has an unapologetically Christian/Spiritual angle to it.
What gives the book its magic, is not only L’Engle’s beautiful writing and wildly creative imagination (she describes the consequences of visiting a two-dimensional world and “Aunt Beast” is one of the most memorable and benevolent figures in children’s fiction), but the way she speaks specifically to bookish young people who feel like outsiders. Meg is brilliant at mathematics but has trouble in school both socially and academically while enduring endless malicious gossip about her family. Calvin O’Keefe is athletic and popular but neglected at home. Charles Wallace is so completely different from “normal” people that he either earns their contempt or fear. Camazotz may be the planet that most terrifyingly embodies the dangers of conformity run amok but Earth is “shadowed” as well, and the prevailing theme is that we’re always fighting the shadow. It’s a call to arms to bullied outcasts everywhere that preaches love and enlightenment as the ultimate weapons. And as the Happy Medium correctly notes, the battle is never over. Which is why A Wrinkle in Time will most likely continue to enthrall readers young and old for at least another fifty years.
A Wrinkle in Time