A Wrinkle in Time begins very much like many other children’s adventure stories: with an unhappy adolescent. Meg Murry feels unattractive with her braces and glasses, her grades are steadily dropping, and she’s getting into fights at school. Her father went away on a business trip and never came back, and now rumors are flying around town that Dr. Murry has deserted his family for another woman – an idea that Meg knows just isn’t true. Dr. Murry is a famous physicist who works for the government; she believes that he has disappeared because something awful happened to him while he was performing experiments. With all these concerns weighing on her mind, Meg is entirely miserable, and readers will empathize with how difficult her life has become. One scene from the novel that I particularly appreciate is the confrontation that the stubborn Meg has with her principal; you get the sense that perhaps the man might have good intentions, but that Meg is so used to dealing with people who want to ridicule her that she can no longer accept help or friendship from anyone outside of her family.
Then one day, three magical beings calling themselves Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which arrive to inform Meg and her gifted little brother Charles Wallace that their father is in serious danger. There is a mysterious shadow that is taking over different worlds in their enormous universe, and Dr. Murry has been imprisoned by this dark force; the three strange messengers have come to transport Meg, Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin off on a journey to rescue her father. After traveling from planet to planet and witnessing for themselves the way that the shadow is advancing upon various worlds, they arrive on the planet Camazotz, unsure of how to free Dr. Murry and by determined to prevent the shadow from swallowing Earth.
This is, of course, a rather blatant religious message—the dark shadow, creeping across the surface of the planet and overtaking the hearts and minds of each person, is clearly a depiction of spiritual evil: “Above the clouds which encircled the mountain, [Meg] seemed to see a shadow… she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort.”
But although several characters make a habit of quoting the Bible, this novel isn’t your run-of-the-mill Christian allegory. Most notably, A Wrinkle in Time does not directly represent God or Christ, the savior of mankind. Throughout such novels as C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, the Lion Aslan symbolizes both God the Father and Jesus Christ at different times, and his help is absolutely necessary for his subjects to conquer the forces of evil. But in A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit and her companions only deliver the children to the planet Camazotz and then inexplicably cannot remain there with them. Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin must act on their own to save Dr. Murry and defeat the monstrous IT. This suggests that a savior is not necessary for spiritual redemption, and many traditional Christians have rejected L’Engle’s novels because her writings are infused with unorthodox beliefs like these.
Although these spiritual concepts are the foundation for many of the characters’ actions in A Wrinkle in Time, you do not have to be a religious person to enjoy this novel. The story is a sufficient combination of sci-fi, fantasy and spirituality to be an entertaining adventure narrative. There are also some insightful moments, such as the passage where Meg must try to explain the concept of seeing to some sightless creatures:
“What is this dark? What is this light? We do not understand. Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked us [about these things], too. They say that it is night now on our planet, and that they cannot see. They have told us that our atmosphere is what they call opaque, so that the stars are not visible, and then they were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes We do not understand what this means, to see.”
“Well, it’s what things look like,” Meg said helplessly.
“We do not know what things look like, as you say,” the beast said. “We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.”
Just as with this conversation, Meg and her traveling companions encounter several beings who help them to understand their universe in different ways; these are not only insights that they need to complete their rescue mission, but to live more wisely on their own planet once they return home.
But although I enjoy these elements of the story, I must confess that some of the novel’s events seem contrived to me and the characters are not as well-developed as I would personally prefer. The depiction of IT as a writhing, seething out-of-body brain and the love-conquers-all message are both a bit too much for me to swallow with a straight face. (Not to mention that in this latest re-read, I kept picturing the extremely intelligent and well-spoken five-year-old Charles Wallace as Stewie from Family Guy, which was more than a little bit disquieting.) So although this childhood favorite is often enchanting, A Wrinkle in Time sometimes falls a little flat for me in comparison to Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. That could also be because I grew up reading and re-reading Lewis’s series and didn’t discover L’Engle until I was nearly twenty years old, though. I can certainly see how and why this novel could be an engrossing and magical experience for many readers, so although it is not one of my absolute favorites, I would recommend checking it out, particularly if you have an interest in novels about time travel.
Note: this post participates in the Weekly Geek January 14, 2011 Challenge.