A Wrinkle in Time
This cover is from before my time,
but it is rad|
Madeleine L'Engle, 1962
After an American scientist disappears, a trio of immortal
creatures help his awkward pubescent daughter Meg and prodigious
five-year-old son Charles Wallace travel to a hive-mind planet
to rescue him.
I first read this book in fifth grade. I remember that I thought it
was cool, but aside from that I don't think I got much of anything out
of it, nor was I really capable of getting much of anything out of
I reread it when I was thirteen and really liked it — I had
missed the romance angle the first time around and this time I was
all "squeeeee" when Calvin remarks upon Meg's "dream-boat eyes"
and whatnot. Its clan of genius outcasts also hit all those notes
that would draw me to Salinger's Glass family a few years later.
I reread it again after college and was extremely disappointed.
It seemed like a pretty transparent anti-communist screed and little
more. I have since learned that in fact L'Engle was also weighing
in on a theological dispute within Christianity, but that could
hardly be of less interest to me.
Latest reaction (spoilers)
One thing that jumped out at me this time around was the extent to
which Madeleine L'Engle is sort of the anti-Sleator, at least in one
respect. In my article on William Sleator's
first 25 books I pointed out that Sleator's characters are
always extremely reticent to express their feelings for each
other. A standard Sleator romantic arc goes: "Girl meets boy.
Girl and boy discover that they share a superpower, have
harrowing adventures, save each other's lives. Girl and boy
will clearly be spending the rest of their lives together. Girl
and boy consider expressing their bond with a handshake or by
saying 'I like you' or something but decide that might be too
A Wrinkle in Time has the same sort of science-fictiony
setting as Sleator's books, with interplanetary travel through
the fifth dimension and whatnot. But, famously, L'Engle ends
the book with an expression of naked emotion that would make a
Sleator character's head explode. For the three of you out
there who have never read this book, Charles Wallace has been
incorporated into the hive mind, which is controlled by a
gigantic pulsing brain called IT. Meg learns from her immortal
guides that she alone can rescue him, for she is closest to him,
and she has "something IT has not." This, of course, is love.
And while Meg can't bring herself to love IT, she can love
Charles Wallace. "I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my
darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure
of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you." So
dangerous, this sort of thing! The slightest off note and you
end up with Hallmark treacle. But if you don't risk it, you
condemn yourself to writing about a world of pathologically
cautious people, their hearts imprisoned in cloven pines.
Now, this was my fourth time through this book, so I knew
how it ended. But I had forgotten the setup. Before Meg
tells Charles Wallace that she loves him, one of the three
immortals, Mrs. Whatsit, tells Meg that she loves her. Then
Meg lands on the hive-mind planet, and IT, via Charles Wallace,
tries to get her to give up by convincing her that the immortals
are actually working for IT and have sent her here to be
absorbed. "Mrs. Whatsit hates you," Charles Wallace says. And
this is the "fatal mistake," for Meg says, "automatically,"
that Mrs. Whatsit loves her, and then she knows what she has to
do to win.
Coincidentally, I was in L.A. this past week working on a
collaborative project, and I found myself arguing for a concluding
moment along these lines, an unadorned expression of love. I lost
this battle; the senior writer pointed out that it wouldn't provide
any extra information, because we already know those two characters
love each other. "But they've never said it flat-out," I said.
"But it's obvious," he countered.
And that was when it hit me. I totally cannot relate to a
character who takes being loved for granted. It just seems
so presumptuous. And it occurred to me when I reread A Wrinkle
in Time that if I were in Meg's place, IT's gambit would
totally have worked. What, I'm supposed to think that Mrs.
Whatsit loves me? Just because she's been helping me all this
time and told me she loved me two minutes ago? That was two
minutes ago! Things change! And she was probably lying anyway.
Meg's many faults play a big role in the story, but for all her
faults, she is fundamentally a healthier creature than I am and
can actually take Mrs. Whatsit at her word. I'm so glad to have
realized this, because I now know that I have to take the following
vow: if and when I ever have kids, my top priority is going to be
making sure that they know, that they really know, know with
every cell in their bodies, that they are loved.
Now if only I knew how to do that...
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