I’ve been thinking about this post for quite a long time. You see, A Wrinkle in Time was never one of the books I would have said was a favorite when I was a kid. And yet, the more I think about it, and when I’ve reread it, I realize that it’s one of the books that has most shaped my view of the world. While I hate the question “What book changed your life?” because I believe that every book changes my life, this is one of the answers. So it seems like it’s finally time to fiddle around with articulating why, on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication and at least 20 years since I first read it.
I clearly remember the day my mom picked it up from a bookstore shelf and handed it to me, saying we should get it because I would probably like it. We were somewhere that had a bigger bookstore than our own mall, which was always exciting for me. (Yes, nerd, I know.) My mom was big on the Newbery stickers, and was a big reader herself. The cover was totally unappealing, it must be said. It was this one:
THAT IS NOT MRS. WHATSIT, and that’s all I have to say.
There was a terrific op-ed by Pamela Paul in the New York Times last week that sums up perfectly what this book and Meg Murry did. Meg is one of the ultimate heroines for bookish girls: “Meg harbors doubts about her own intellectual abilities, and her exacting expectations rub off on the reader. If anything, the book enchants readers who might not entirely grasp its concepts with the delight in not knowing; the realization that even the most know-it-all kids do not, in fact, have all the answers and that certain questions are worth asking.”
And that was one of the important things for me, for sure. But perhaps more what this book did for me was make real life–science–magical. I have always been a fantasy reader, and I read a lot of ghost stories in this era of my reading life, too. And suddenly, Madeleine L’Engle showed me tesseracts, and what existing in the second dimension might be like, and added onto it Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, plus the idea that a star might sacrifice itself to save us all from darkness. And the idea that like and equal are not the same thing. In Anna Quindlen’s introduction to one of the newer editions, she mentions the “fiction of science.” Perhaps that’s what I truly responded to as a kid–and still do now–that fiction, science, and magic…they are all the same thing.
In this world that Madeleine L’Engle created, too, it’s okay to be bright; unapologetically, incredibly brilliant, regardless of your age, and the adults treat the children and teenagers as intellectual equals. The dangers and difficulties are brutal and harsh. Nothing is softened for anyone, no matter his or her age. Truths are told. And they must be faced. At the celebration of Wrinkle in Time‘s anniversary this weekend, one of the many pithy things said was that Madeleine L’Engle believed that we must dare to disturb the universe. A video interview of Ms. L’Engle was shown, and she also said in it, “A good story always teaches something, but not if you plan to. It has to happen.” She knew how to do that, because she gave us Meg, in all her faults, and in all her love for the other characters, and she gave us a journey to go on with Meg.
In her Newbery speech, Madeleine L’Engle says, “A book, too, can be star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”
Her book certainly expanded mine.