My choice for the spReAd the love book challenge: A Wrinkle in Time

Logo designed by Gisborne's BoyA post in response to the 2014 spReAd the love book challenge. If you enjoyed this, read Trudy Brasure’s wonderful post about a book that created lasting memories for her family (and mine, too!) here. More of these will be coming in the runup to Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2nd.

In honor of the spReAd the love kindness campaign, and the daily inspiration Richard Armitage provides me, a copy of the graphic novel version of this work has been donated to the Golden Learning Center Library in Balmertown, Ontario, which serves 210 students in grades K-8. If you’d like to help them out, their very modest wish list is here. If you’d like to go beyond the list, they request in particular donations of books on the Olympics, graphic novels, and copies of the longer classic stories of Dr. Seuss (not so much the easy reader titles).

If you enjoy these posts and would like to participate in the challenge yourself, let me know. I can host a guest post; we also have other Armitage bloggers ready and waiting to host you.


wrinkleintimeIt was really hard for me to pick a single book for this challenge! I may write some more posts this week, as time and budget permit, but when I saw that a friend was looking for donations to her school’s library, the choice made itself. I saw this title on her list (in the graphic novel format — o tempora, o mores!) so I picked this one, which I read dozens of times. As you’ll see, it did indeed change my picture of myself. Stories give us the capacity to hold on another day and to see our experiences in a different light and that’s part of why I was such a crazy reader as a kid.

I received Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) as a birthday present from my aunt when I was seven, in a box set of Newbery Award winning books. I had the copy with the cover at right; I don’ t have it anymore, though, although I replaced the book a few years ago. I don’t remember all of the others, but they included Louis Lenski’s Strawberry Girl (1945) and William Pène du Bois’ The Twenty-One Balloons (1947), both of which were also memorable. I would recommend them to any young reader. L’Engle had written a number of other works for young readers, which I borrowed from the public library and devoured, piece by piece. When I was a teenager, I discovered her novels for adults, and I particularly loved A Severed Wasp (1982), which for a time inspired me to try composing simple not-very-good pieces for the piano.

Many readers of this blog have probably read A Wrinkle in Time. It was in every library in the 70s and 80s, although it’s apparently been on some banned book lists as well. But in case you haven’t — the obligatory synopsis!

Meg Murry is a misfit at her small town school due to her unwillingness to cooperate with teachers or fellow students, an inability to suffer fools gladly, and the growing conviction that she’s both stupid and ugly, which seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. She loves her odd smart-ass younger brother, Charles Wallace, fiercely and beats up people who pick on him, to the frustration of her more conventional other siblings. Her typically teenage problems are compounded by the sorrowful absentmindedness of her chemist mother and the physical absence of her father, a scientist who has disappeared without a trace while participating in an unspecified government project. One night a storm blows a strange visitor into the Murrys’ house — and Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, along with neighbor Calvin O’Keefe embark on a journey through space and time as the trio encounters a destructive authoritarian intelligence, “It,” that they must challenge in order to rescue Mr. Murry.

But the real journey is Meg’s. To an out-of-place teenager like me, Meg as heroine offered an inspiring example. Her weaknesses hold her back at school, but her unconventional wit and strange facility with solving math problems “the wrong way” draw Calvin, whom Meg admires, and aid them in their quest. And in the end, it’s not even Meg’s scientific strengths that solve the problem of how to get Mr. Murry back. She does not have to calculate, but she has to feel, and comb her way through her knowledge of art and literature and philosophy in order to win the battle with the sinister “It.” She defeats “It” in a particular inspiring way after she’s been badly hurt both physically and by the death of one of her most precious illusions: her belief that when she finds her father, he will fix everything that’s wrong in her life. Like John Standring, Meg turns out to be strongest where she is weakest.

While the physics aspect of the fiction is weak (a general problem in L’Engle’s work, which is great on plot and characterization but weak on science to the point of silliness; this book abuses the concept of tesseract), it did introduce me to the notion of dimensions beyond the first four. Too, it was a rare book in those days with such a strong female protagonist. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the philosophical stance that literature, physics, and theology are different facets of the same knowledge and don’t function independently.

But as a young reader, I was most moved by two points. The first is the rather obvious appeal of the beloved “smart teenager who doesn’t fit in” but whose qualities, as checkered as they may be, let her save the day (and in this case, the universe). The second, more important one, and the reason that I wore out my copy of this book, was the way that Meg came to realize that her father wouldn’t — couldn’t! — fix everything but figured out how to deal with it anyway. What she knew was enough — she just had to learn to use her knowledge in the right way and find the energy to abandon her resentments and expectations. She had to find love in herself and use it to defeat the villain. She was strong enough and smart enough. She just had to realize it, believe it — and act.

~ by Servetus on February 24, 2014.

19 Responses to “My choice for the spReAd the love book challenge: A Wrinkle in Time”

  1. I never read this one. But it’s on the roster as a choice in my kids Lit class.
    A girl, using science skills to win the day in the 70’s? Wow. The career options for women at the time was just beginning to crack open.
    I read Nancy Drew and Little House books.


    • here’s a list of objections to the book:

      most of which can be classified as typical conservative Christian objections to literature that involves stuff that may or may not be magic (although the book stresses that the supernatural events are scientific possibilities) and which quotes the Bible or depicts Jesus in ways that conservatives might find problematic.

      L’Engle is very much a Christian writer, but a liberal Christian writer. Throughout her work she stresses themes dealing with the convergence of science and faith in ways that might be uncomfortable for a very conservative Christian. I think, though, that if you’re okay with Harry Potter and C.S. Lewish this book shouldn’t be a problem.


    • Our public lib one summer had a challenge to read the Newbery award winners — looking back at the list I read a lot of those books and some of them are a bit “edgy” for current tastes, I suspect 🙂 But I read Nancy Drew and LIW as well.


      • I never read the L’Engle book, but it sounds like a good one. However, I was an avid Nancy Drew Mysteries readers–loved puzzles! I inherited a couple of Nancy Drew books from my cousin, added to them, my sister took them over (as little sisters do, ha!), and they ended up with her daughter my niece–before the set returned to my cousin, with many more books than she had given/loaned me. Ha!


  2. I love this book. I got to meet Madeleine L’Engle when I was in college. That would have been the late 70s/early 80s. It meant a lot to tell her how much I adored that book. So I have a very banged up old copy of A Winkle in Time signed by L’Engle.


    • Wow — that is VERY cool. She was an interesting person. There is a really celebratory biography, and then a more a critical article in the New Yorker a few years ago about how she used her family’s stories for her books. In any case a very skilled artist with an unconventional childhood.


  3. My daughter began reading the series when she was about 10 or 11, so I thought I should read it, too. I really liked it. It’s a great series for children because it is written in such a way as to bring up the level of the child’s thinking process and vocabulary as well. 😀


    • L’Engle definitely thinks young readers can understand difficult concepts.


      • C.S. Lewis was the same way. In fact, it’s because of The Chronicles of Narnia that my daughter became such an avid reader. I read that series for the firs tine as well, when she was reading it.


        • somehow Lewis counts as “literature” and L’Engle as “YA Novel,” which is unfortunate. But yes, they are very simialr.


  4. I loved this book when I was a kid, too, as I think you know. 🙂 Everyone needs a cuddle from Aunt Beast every now and then.


  5. I’ve known of this book since I was about 10 but was never been able to get it from the library — it was always on loan! Here i am In my 40s, and dammit, I’m going to bloody well buy my own copy, as I cannot die without reading this.
    I am plotting a children’s book about a young mathematician who has to publicly solve a series of difficult puzzles. Maybe Wrinkle can give my inspiration/perspiration a little oomph!


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