A tale of time travel has never hit so close to home.
Last week, I finished reading Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s science fantasy novel, A Wrinkle in Time. It was first published in 1963, won a Newberry Medal, and is the first book in the Time Quintet. I’d wanted to read it since I saw previews for the TV movie version as a kid and was given it as a Christmas gift in recent years. Even though I’m no longer a child, I found the book engaging and containing pertinent messages that apply to our world right now, especially in relation to current events.
A Wrinkle in Time follows the journey of misfit Meg Murray, her genius little brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe as they try to rescue Mr. Murray from another dimension. With the help of three mysterious witches–Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which–the kids leave the rest of their families behind for places they couldn’t even dream of and an evil force that no one can seem to defeat.
Fair warning: a few spoilers are to follow!
Despite being in the “and up” part of the age-range for this book, I recognized many merits to L’Engle’s story that apply to more than just children. First, L’Engle presents a strong female protagonist–and we’re not talking the “strong female protagonist” of much of commercial fiction today that portrays young women in unrealistic and simplistic ways under the guise of “empowerment.” Meg is a real character reminiscent of Meggie in Cornelia Funke’s classic, Inkheart. She has both strengths and flaws; she is a loving sister to her brothers, especially Charles Wallace, but she is also impatient about the disappearance of her father. She cries often but has a fierce temper, which the witches insist is one of her strengths. She is a math wizard, though also a poor student and misjudged as unintelligent by her peers. And despite her fear, she is the only one who can save her little brother from a life of hypnotized meaninglessness.
L’Engle also presents lessons that even adults still need to learn. When Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace finally find Mr. Murray on the mind-numbing planet of Camazotz, Meg realizes that all along, this has been her only goal. Find her father, and he will know what to do. Find him, and he will save everyone and take them back home. But upon discovering him, she learns that he,too, has no idea how to get back to Earth. He has made the mistake of thinking he was knowledgeable enough about tesseracts (the mathematical concept that allows for time travel) to attempt it on his own. But he cannot save them, which infuriates Meg and also causes her to lose some of her innocence. She now understands that adults don’t always have all the answers.
Though at first this creates distance between her father and her, Meg eventually finds the resolve to save her brother from the horrible ruler of Camazotz, IT, which she discovers is a pulsing brain that dictates all of the thoughts and actions of the people of Camazotz. By flattering Charles Wallace’s intelligence, IT takes over his mind, and Meg has to be the one to pull him from IT’s control while also resisting its hypnosis on herself. Camazotz can be read as a symbol of communism or totalitarianism and is reminiscent of a 1984-esque society. Conformity and blind acceptance is IT’s goal, but Meg knows that living in that kind of security is not living because it allows for no difference. And in difference, she tells Charles Wallace, we find beauty.
The main lesson that L’Engle presents in A Wrinkle in Time could not be more applicable to life in the U.S. right now: the triumph of love over evil and hatred. In the multi-verse where the kids are searching for Mr. Murray, an evil being called the Darkness, or the Black Thing, has been conquering different planets. There is a dark shadow over the earth that threatens to control it, and many planets have already succumbed to its power. The Darkness can be understood as evil or hatred taking over the lives of people and their societies. Heroic beings across the galaxies have been fighting it, including Mrs. Whatsit, who once gave up her life as a star to fight it. Light is the only thing that can conquer Darkness. Love is the only thing that can conquer Hate.
What pulls Charles Wallace from his spell on Camazotz is Meg’s love for him. Once she realizes that IT has anger, fear, and hatred but not love, she pronounces her love for her brother until he is finally free of IT’s control and back in his own mind with his own thoughts. She realizes on her own that love conquers all and that evil cannot be fought with mere pride or ambition.
This couldn’t be a truer lesson in light of the violent events that have shaken the United States in recent weeks, from the Orlando shooting to the unjust killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers. In a world that is wrought with anger, fear, and gun violence, I hear L’Engle’s message loud and clear: that love, above all else, is the only thing that can create unity and peace.
L’Engle’s beliefs were an apparent contradiction to many. She was a faithful Episcopalian who believed in universal salvation while also an advocate for modern science. Elements of both are strongly present in A Wrinkle in Time, and her views cause some to view her work as too religious, while others view it as too secular. Still, she recognizes that belief in God and belief in science are not mutually exclusive. Similarly, The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah rightly claims that “You can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be.” Like L’Engle’s belief in religion and science, Noah points out that supporting those whose job it is to protect American citizens and supporting the victims of their systemic problems, especially African Americans, are also not mutually exclusive actions.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge a scene in the last chapter of A Wrinkle in Time that reveals another important lesson. Meg is about to go back to Camazotz to save Charles Wallace from IT, and Mrs. Whatsit explains the beauty of choosing who we are and not having our lives planned out for us. She says that a sonnet has fourteen lines with strict rhyme and iambic pentameter. She tells Meg,
You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.
We as people are given only a certain amount of time on Earth, and we get to choose what we do with it (a lesson I learned from Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness) We can stand idly by while the world turns and injustice occurs and discoveries are made, or we can be active participants in fighting for our beliefs, for ourselves, and for those who are oppressed. We have to write the sonnets ourselves.
Have you read A Wrinkle in Time? What did you think of it? What other books have lessons that relate to issues we face today?
Thanks for reading!