This article probably had the longest way to travel – it came all the way from New York and I’m so happy my Sci-Fi Buddy Pingkan Lucas (Pinky) was able to participate in this series. She is one of the people I have known the longest in Munich, where she lived before she dashed off and she always introduced me to the coolest stuff (I just say TED (!) – Girl I’m still so grateful to you for that one or NPR etc) when nobody in Germany had even heart about it. I think it was during one of the early Bookclub meetings that we realised we are both SciFi nerds and this series would simple not be complete without an article by Pinky. She is a great writer by the way and I can’t wait for her book… (no pressure)
OK – let’s get started. Before we all rush to the cinema to see the movie, here is a chance to hear about this SciFi Kids classic that was a role model for a lot of girls growing up: „A Wrinkle in Time“ by Madeleine L’Engle:
A Wrinkle in Time, as many in the English-speaking world know, is a classic.
Its film adaptation, which I have not yet had the pleasure of watching, is surfacing at a timely moment, espousing a most-needed message of ‘courage and love conquers all,’ and featuring, true to the book, a young heroine. Today, in a world where angst for accelerated change, technological progress and uncertainty has resulted in a troubling and demoralizing semi-dystopian state of affairs in which truth is imminently malleable and asininity has become commonplace, this is indeed welcome.
In the excitement of re-visiting A Wrinkle in Time for this book review, and in anticipation of seeing the movie, I immediately bought the entire boxed set of the Time Quintet. A decision that I am not quite sure I might not regret.
At the start of the book, during a „dark and stormy night“, we encounter young-adult Meg, the oldest child of the Murry family. Awkward Meg, her five-year old genius younger brother Charles Wallace, and their two somewhat middle-of-the-road twin brothers Dennys and Sandy live in a house in a small village with their brainy and beautiful mother Dr. Katherine Murry. Their equally brilliant father Dr. Alexander Murry had mysteriously disappeared nearly a year before.
Mrs Whatsit, their eccentric neighbor, drops by for a visit, and in the interlude during which the Murrys – sans twins – and Mrs Whatsit converse in the cozy kitchen, the word „tesseract“, which has immense significance related to the disappearance of Mr. Murry, was mentioned. Thus began the search to find the missing Mr. Murry. Schoolmate Calvin O’Keefe joins Mrs. Whatsit, Meg and Charles on this quest, which, having started off quite innocently, later evolves into nothing less than the ultimate battle between good and evil.
For its time, the book must have been leading-edge, weaving within in compelling themes that still resonate well today. It’s quite feministic – featuring a young female protagonist and three powerful women mentors. And, contrary to the 1950s American television sitcom Leave it to Beaver that was widely popular during the writing of the book, father does not know best, nor is he omniscient. Instead, here he, and later also his son, needs rescuing.
Other sociopolitical themes dot the novel’s 256 pages. In my eye, the world of Camazotz is a reproach of the soul-depriving uniformity of the paradisiacal suburban life of the American 1950s and the mind-numbing post-industrial office work that accompanies it. It also reflects the anti-communist, Orwellian sentiments of not toeing the party line and not blindly accepting, without question or resistance, what is expected of and being fed to one.
Coming-of-age themes are also present – all of which are relatable for readers of any age – such as the realization that your parents are as infallible as you are, and understanding that your shortcomings can also be your biggest assets.
A Wrinkle in Time moves along at a quite brisk pace, tesseracting from one idea to another and taking you along on its unexpected ride. I did enjoy reading it. However, we barely came into contact with the realms, flitting about from place to place like contestants of The Amazing Race. The jumps between the worlds and the ideas they embody came off rather clumsily. Also, too often the characters were two-dimensional, save for perhaps Charles Wallace and Meg herself. They would also have certainly benefitted from more depth and description.
The worst sin that Mrs. L’Engle committed, I felt anyways, was in writing its shockingly short and simplistic climactic showdown. After taking us on quite an elaborate journey to reach Mr. Murry and rescue Charles Wallace, whose mind has been commanded by the evil IT, the book comes to a screeching halt, revealing to us rather quickly that it is “love” that is the antidote to darkness. Meg’s love is what rescues Charles Wallace from being absorbed by a mass of automatons and from being damned to a life of mind enslavement. It is as if Mrs. L’Engle was caught rather suddenly by a tired spell, and realizing that it has to come to an end, this story, decided “Right, well, let’s get to it.” And love conquers all, The End. Which is, hmmph.
I surmise that for the time during which this book was written, the love-versus-fear thematic may not quite have been so prevalent. Which could have made this book stand out. But today, having that be the all-important message is…trite, dare I say? To someone like me at least.
Granted, I am not the book’s target audience. It is meant to be a book for older children and young adults, some say for eight and above. And I think for that, it is quite successful.
And now, waiting at home for me in a pretty little box, lined up like ducks a row, are four more from the series. Both curious and wary of the material, I am not rushing towards it. I do know that I will most likely continue, I just don’t know when. The right moment for finishing the Time Quintet will reveal itself to me, I am sure.
A Wrinkle in Time will continue to delight generations of children. A lot of important life lessons can be gleaned from its pages. It reads well, even if the plot is jumpy. The characters are sympathetic, if somewhat flat. The ending is predictable and is both satisfying and displeasing at the same time. So, yes, do read it to your children, your friends‘ children, and nieces and nephews. But it would not hurt to have something else on hand to satisfy your more nuanced, the-world-is-neither- black-nor-white, complex, 21st century self.