Book Review: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle In Time Book Cover

Book Name: A Wrinkle In Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
First Published: 1962
Newbery Medal Winner: 1963
Lewis Carroll Shelf Award: 1964
Sequoyah Book Award: 1965

Madeleine L’Engle was born in New York City. Her mother was a pianist and her father a writer, a critic, and a foreign correspondent. L’Engle traveled with her family a great deal as a child. She was clumsy and quiet, making her appear to be unintelligent to her instructors. This view caused her to retreat into a world of books where she began writing stories and keeping a journal at an early age.

L’Engle studied at Smith College from 1937 to 1941. After graduating cum laude from Smith, she went out on her own and lived in an apartment in New York City. It was not much later that she met Hugh Franklin, an actor. They married in 1946 and had their first child a year later. More children would follow as the years went by, including a daughter that they adopted.

After their first daughter was born, L’Engle and her family moved out of the city into a 200-year-old farmhouse known as Crosswicks in Connecticut. Her husband gave up acting and they opened a general store to gain income. L’Engle had published several novels at this point and would continue her career as an author at Crosswicks while she had more children and took on the role of motherhood. However, during these early years, she experienced many rejections to her work. This caused her to feel the guilt that she was not pulling her weight financially for her family. In her early 40’s, she determined that she would give up writing altogether. She and her family decided to return to New York City so that her husband could resume his acting career. Before they went to the city, the family took a ten week, cross-country, camping trip. As L’Engle traveled, she studied a book on quantum physics, and the ideas for her now-famous book A Wrinkle in Time came to her. She resumed writing. Once the novel was completed, she shopped the book to thirty publishers before Farrar, Straus and Giroux bought the novel and published it in 1962. The book was a success and returned L’Engle back to writing as a career.

When the family moved to the city, L’Engle became a teacher at a local Episcopalian school for a time and a volunteer librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, both located in New York City. She gradually shifted from librarian to a writer-in-residence at the Cathedral, spending her winters in New York and her summers back home at Crosswicks. L’Engle went on to write dozens of books for children and adults and became a successful author, winning many prestigious awards and spending her august years traveling to speaking engagements in addition to her writing.

In September of 2007, Madeleine L’Engle died of natural causes. She is buried in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, New York City.

A Wrinkle In Time begins as fourteen-year-old Meg Murry is unable to sleep due to a thunderstorm. She finds her family along with their new neighbor, Mrs Whatsit, in the kitchen. During the course of conversation, Mrs Whatsit mentions that there is such a thing as a tesseract. It is a theoretical mathematical concept that Meg’s scientist father had been working on before his mysterious disappearance.

Meg’s five-year-old genius brother, Charles Wallace, declares the next day that they need to go on a mission to save their father and Mrs Whatsit returns to help them, along with her two friends, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. The three turn out to be supernatural aliens who decide to transport Meg, her genius little brother and the boy next door named Calvin, through the universe by means of tesseract, a fourth-dimensional phenomenon that folds the fabric of space and time.

Their first destination is the planet Uriel, a world filled with happy centaur people. The children learn from the three aliens, former stars, that the universe is under attack from an evil force that appears as a dark cloud known as The Black Thing. The Earth is shown to be partially covered by this darkness, although our religious figures, philosophers and artists have been fighting it off, which is revealed to the children by The Happy Medium and her crystal ball.

The Children are next transported to the planet Camazotz which is dominated by The Black Thing. All the people that live there are controlled by a single entity. He is a red-eyed telepath that is able to cast a hypnotic spell over the children’s minds. This telepath claims to know the location of Meg’s father, who is trapped on Camazotz. Charles Wallace, the five-year-old telepathic genius, allows himself to be controlled by this man so that they can learn where their father is. As it turns out, Dr. Murry is near IT, the disembodied brain that controls the planet.

The good doctor uses the power of the tesseract to escape with Meg and Calvin, but Charles Wallace is left behind. Meg almost dies when she travels through The Black Thing because Dr. Murry does not know how to protect her from its influence. The arrive on the nearby planet of Ixchel with Meg frozen and paralyzed. One of the creatures of Ixchel cures Meg and she nicknames her Aunt Beast.

The trio of original aliens return and charge Meg with rescuing Charles Wallace from IT. They each give her gifts before she leaves. Mrs Whatsit gives her love. Mrs Who quotes a passage of the Bible to Meg. Mrs Which tells Meg that she has something that IT does not. When Meg returns to Camazotz and the place where IT is housed, her little brother is still under its control. She realizes that the power of love is what will free her brother.

When I was growing up, there were few science fiction books that featured heroines as this one did. I was a nerdy, young girl who liked math and science and I felt an instant rapport with Meg Murry, the smart, independent young woman with a gift for math and who traveled through the universe via quantum physic theories. It was like nothing that I had read before. This book is one of the reasons I grew to love science fiction.

The combination of science and Christianity was unusual for the time and it sparked many controversies over the years by both the people that feel that religion has no place with science and by Christians who felt that their faith was not being represented in the manner that they wished. To me, controversy is a sign of a great book. Most of L’Engle’s work has a Christian tone through it, similar to that of author C.S. Lewis’, a Christian writer she is compared to. It has been 50 years since A Wrinkle In Time was first published and it is still a revered favorite of children all over the world and brings a warm fuzzy to those of us who read the book years ago as children.

Disney made A Wrinkle in Time into a movie in 2003, but the author was not very happy with this version. Disney has retained the rights to the novel and is in plans to reboot it in the near future. One can hope for a better outcome this time around.

The novel was adapted as a play by John Glore in 2010. The stage adaptation debuted in Costa Mesa, California, with productions following in Bethesda, Maryland; Cincinnati, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Portland, Oregon; and other cities.

The Time Quintet:

A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
A Wind in the Door (1973)
Many Waters (1986)
A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978)
An Acceptable Time (1989)

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