Thursday, July 15, 2010
1963 - A Wrinkle in Time
I first read A Wrinkle in Time, written by Madeleine L’Engle in 1962, when I was in about the 4th grade. It immediately became my favorite book, a status it kept for several years. It was exciting, mysterious, inspirational, it had colorful characters, and the hero was a girl! I didn’t exactly identify with Meg; her personality was too different. But I did wear thick glasses, have unruly hair and suffer through some of the self-doubt and insecurities just like she did.
When the story begins, Meg’s physicist father, who had been working on a secret project for the government, has been missing for over a year. What with the townspeople’s nosy interest in Father’s disappearance, Meg’s prickly nature, and her feeling the need to constantly defend her unusual little brother, Charles Wallace, she isn’t having an easy time of it. Ahh, Charles Wallace. You either hate him or love him. Unrealistically precocious, he is a caring, intelligent, mature, cute 5 year-old with ESP, who has purposefully avoided learning how to read until he goes to school so “they won’t hate me quite so much.” I can’t help it; I adore Charles Wallace.
Charles Wallace introduces Meg to the three guides he has made the acquaintance of, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, who will take them to rescue Father, who is stranded on another planet. They use an ingenious method called “tesser,” after the word tesseract. (For years I didn’t know this was a real word and concept that was a bit of a mind-bender itself.) The other member of the party is Calvin, a teen who is a kindred spirit to Charles Wallace and who provides a small hint of romance to Meg with hand-holding and a good luck kiss.
During their quest, the Dark Thing is revealed to them, the shadow of evil that engulfs planets, a nameless and faceless evil that must be fought against. Camazotz, a planet that has fallen under that shadow, is their destination. The children’s three guides cannot accompany them there, and they are dumped just outside of town with scanty instructions.
An association was burned into my brain when I read the description of the suburb they passed through on their way to the city center. I’d been listening to Pete Seeger at the time I first read the book.
“Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same…”
The houses and yards were gray and all the same. Everyone moved in the same rhythm. Everyone followed the rules, and everything was predictable. An ominous subliminal pulse seemed to drive this community.
At this point the danger escalates quickly and eerily, and in the end, it falls to Meg to find the courage, strength and unique gifts within her to rescue her family.
I could divide my reading-opinions of Wrinkle into three parts; when I was a kid, when I was a twenty-something, and now as a fifty-something. As a kid, I found few flaws in my favorite book. I took it at face value, living for the excitement and danger of the story. Some of the descriptive elements were well-enough written that they created pictures in my head that have stayed with me. As a young adult, I was very annoyed at Meg’s incessant whining and complaining. Looking at it as an older adult, I can’t see what bothered me; Meg seems pretty normal for an adolescent! But I can see now why parts of it were so unmemorable. Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace are the only characters who have any depth; the others fade away. But I forgive that, as the book is only 211 pages long. Obviously, the Dark Thing is meant to give the story deeper meaning, of good trying to overcome evil, but as a kid, it was the fleshed out villains who sent chills down my back, not a nameless force. The recurring scripture quotations in the book seem a little strange and out of place now, just as they did then. Not bad, just kind of odd.
I no longer have my original book, which I bought from Scholastic Books at school for thirty-five cents in 1967. But I did find a 1982 paperback copy at the thrift store for twenty-five cents. It is interesting how the cover art of a popular book changes over the years in response current artistic fashion. My copy showed silhouettes of small figures surrounded by jagged, electric lines. This one has a noble centaur ferrying children through the sky over a foreground of flowers.
I was first introduced to the “Newbery Award” books through Wrinkle. From that time on, I associated the award with a sure-bet good read in youth fiction. I have rarely been disappointed!