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

Guilty.

I had never read this classic from the 1960s. I had picked it up as a child at a garage sale, but the language was too difficult for me, and I stopped after chapter one. When I went to visit my parents recently, I saw the book on the shelf of my room, and I took it home with me. This time, I finished the book in two days. Funny, my dog-ear was still there at the start of chapter two. And I did, in fact, remember having read the first chapter all those years ago.

After reading it from a grown-up’s perspective, I’m still not sure I would have completely enjoyed or appreciated this book as a child. There are lots of great vocabulary words that would have confused me back then, and there were so many references to Shakespeare, the Bible, and great philosophers of the world that would have gone right over my head.

That said, as an adult I truly enjoyed the book.

The story follows a girl named Meg who finds herself a failure at school. Though she’s great at math, she just doesn’t seem to fit in the way her teachers want her to. Her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is only five, but he’s precocious and seems to have strange abilities to “read” his mother and sister. At the start of the story, Meg’s father has been missing for several years. He works (worked?) for the government, and it seems the top-secret nature of his research may be responsible for his disappearance. Nonetheless, everyone in the community is gossiping about it, speculating that Meg’s father must have run off with another woman. This, of course, makes Meg’s lack of fitting in even worse.

Early on in the novel, Charles Wallace mentions three strange characters, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit. They remind me of the three witches in Macbeth, but they are decidedly more caring and helpful. In fact, toward the end of the tale, Calvin (Meg’s new friend, who accompanies Meg and Charles on the adventure) refers to them as Angels. We come to learn that these three “beings” have been around for millions of years. They are here now to help Meg, Charles, and Calvin travel through time and space. There is a theoretical concept called the tesseract, which it turns out isn’t so theoretical. Essentially a wormhole, the tesseract allows them to travel great distances of time and space without effort (though it’s a terrifying experience that reminds me of the transporter in Star Trek, only without the equipment).

The three Mrs. W’s are doing this so that Meg can try to save her father, who has been trapped. There is a thing called “IT,” which is also related to a darkness that is trying to encompass Earth and is trying to encompass (or has already encompassed) other planets. They go through fantastic experiences in their travels, but when they finally arrive on the planet Camazotz, which is where Meg’s father has been kept prisoner, they see that IT has already been spreading the Darkness. The people here have lost all of their freedom. They move, think, and act in unison. Everything is planned and regulated. To save her father, Meg must travel to the CENTRAL central intelligence headquarters, where she confronts IT, which reminds me somewhat of a scarier version of the giant head of “the great and powerful Oz” in The Wizard of Oz.

I won’t spoil the rest of the plot. I enjoyed the way the story wove together witchcraft (there was a medium with a crystal ball), philosophy, arts, education, and religion in a way that didn’t make them seem to contradict. Rather, they were all framed in the lens of light-versus-darkness or freedom-versus-slavery. In fact, when Meg asks why they couldn’t have simply used the Medium to see how their quest would turn out, the Mrs. W’s reply that knowing one’s future would be too similar to the planned structure of Camazotz. She uses an interesting metaphor to illustrate human freedom: it’s like a Shakespearean sonnet: although we must conform to the basic structure, meter, and rhyme, we can write about whatever we want with whatever message we want. We aren’t million-year-old creatures who can bend space and time, but we do have freedom in our own way.

As someone for whom freedom is paramount, I enjoyed the theme of freedom that ran through the book, especially as it was linked to education and philosophy, including Shakespeare and the Founding Fathers. I enjoyed also the message in the end about how love is something that “bad guys” usually don’t have and can’t fathom or cope with. In the end, it turns out to be one of Meg’s most important assets. Most “bad guys” rule through fear and force.

You may have read my review of When You Reach Me. The main character in this book is almost obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. Now that I have finally read the whole thing, the references are a lot more powerful. I’m glad I finally got the chance.