Okay, so. Yes, I’m aware this book is now over fifty years old. I’m aware that, probably, everyone in the world has read it. I’m aware it’s a deserved classic.
I’m aware – you may not be aware of this, though – that I own no fewer than three different editions of this book, such is the overwhelming love I have for it.
So, the question you’re no doubt asking is: Why, o Why, are you doing a review of this book today?
Well, this is the reason.
I learned during the week that this book has been turned into a graphic novel – an award-winning graphic novel, at that – and my book antennae immediately twinged into action. Another volume to track down and add to my collection (or assimilate into my book-Borg, if you like), and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. So, this week it is on the review hotseat, for which I make no apologies. I’d like to think that someone, somewhere – perhaps even a reader of this very blog! – has never come across this book, and maybe my words will convince them of their folly.
‘A Wrinkle in Time’ tells the story of Meg Murry, a girl who is the child of gifted scientists but who feels, in her own heart, that she is inadequate. She is the oldest in her family, and the only girl – her twin brothers (Sandy and Dennys) are athletic and confident and her adored ‘baby’ brother (Charles Wallace) is supremely gifted, but appears ‘weird’ to the rest of the world because he speaks in full sentences, like an adult. Meg, however, knows that he can read her mind, and they have a deep and inexplicable connection – and, also, the most moving and believable love I’ve ever read between siblings, which becomes the driving narrative in the novel. One ‘dark and stormy night’ (the clichéd opening line is deliberate) Meg discovers Charles Wallace having milk and bread-and-jam with Mrs Whatsit, a strange old lady who is, she says, their new neighbour. In the course of conversation, she says: There is such a thing as a tesseract.
Mrs. Murry, the children’s mother, immediately starts to worry. Her husband has disappeared as the story opens, and the last thing he was working on before he vanished was – the tesseract. A complex scientific/mathematical concept (and one I fully admit I didn’t understand at all as a child reader, not that it mattered in the slightest), the tesseract is used in this book to mean something which allowed people to move through space and time, much as one can fold several layers of cloth over one another and pass a needle through them all simultaneously. Mr. Murry was employed by the government to do research into the tesseract, and has not been seen since.
Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s schoolfriend Calvin O’Keefe then set off on a quest to find Meg’s father. They enlist the help of Mrs Whatsit, and her two mysterious ‘friends’, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. In the course of their quest they are transported to other planets (including the home planet of the three ‘Mrs W’s’, where they meet them in their natural shape, and not the human forms they take while on earth), and they are shown a huge, universe-devouring blackness, which is threatening the future of the earth and all the other worlds.
They end up on Camazotz, a planet which has many earthlike features, but which has fallen completely under the power of this nihilistic darkness, and is ruled by a gigantic disembodied brain known as IT. This brain pulses to a particular beat, and the entire planet operates to this same beat – people’s footsteps, the rhythm with which children throw balls during playtime, the opening and closing of doors – and, as a child, the concept terrified me. It’s a clever way of using the ‘unheimlich’ – that which is familiar, and yet unfamiliar, and hence terrifying – to excellent effect. Mr Murry is being held captive on this planet, and Charles Wallace – due to his brilliance, and his telepathic abilities – is able to find him, but by doing so he puts himself at enormous risk. Mr Murry tries to tesser away from the planet with Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace – but Charles Wallace gets left behind. The only person who can go back to save him is Meg, because she has the one thing IT does not have, the one weapon which can overpower it and reclaim her brother, and so she sets off alone to bring him home.
‘A Wrinkle in Time’ fascinated me as a child. I loved the familial connections, the bravery of Calvin O’Keefe, the complex portrayal of Meg’s parents, particularly her father – it was the first time I’d ever read about a parent who ‘fails’, and who doesn’t know the answers to everything – and, of course, I loved Meg herself, a girl who puts her brother above everything else. I loved the three Mrs Ws, and their clear, easy ways of explaining huge concepts, and the horror of the world-ending nothingness that threatened the existence of the universe was extremely real, to me. That concept has also been used in ‘The Never-Ending Story,’ of course, but I think it’s even more emotive in this story than in that other towering classic of children’s literature.
Madeleine l’Engle went on to write four other books in this same fictive universe, featuring the Murry and O’Keefe families, and I have also read those – but, sadly, not with the same pure and unsullied love as I have for ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ The later books grow a little too obsessed with religion and morality – there are tones of this in ‘Wrinkle’, too, but they are so quietly present that they’re hard to spot – and I found the sequels overly preachy and not at all in the same league as the earlier book. However, ‘Wrinkle’ stands alone as a prime example of everything that is brilliant in literature, let alone children’s literature, and should be read by all people, everywhere.
It’s just that good.
If you haven’t read it, sort it out. If you have, re-read it. I know I’m about to.