For a book that is included on every elementary recommended reading list and has been adapted into several feature-length films, I believe that A Wrinkle in Time is a criminally underrated book, and the rest of the series even more so. It’s difficult to explain my attachment to this series, but the unparalleled Madeline L’Engle created characters and a world in her works so interesting that I regularly reread and take inspiration from them to this day. So today, I want to write a tribute to my favorite children’s author. For readers, please take this as a wholehearted recommendation. For writers, this is my attempt to break down what makes L’Engle’s writing so impactful, so we can learn from her style and craft similarly beautiful works ourselves.
For a brief, illuminating second, Meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. ‘I see!’ she cried. ‘I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!”A Wrinkle in Time, on the Tesseract
Children are creative scientists – their entire existence centers on learning more about the world each day, and learning how to make their own place in it. If you’re reading this, you probably never lost that spark of curiosity. We live for this moment of epiphany, even as we know there is an ENDLESS amount of information yet to explore. I think this is also why speculative fiction is so appealing. Not only do we have our world to explore, but we can make whole worlds with our imaginations, be they mystical realms or distant planetoids.
In a book where the magic system works through physics and 5th dimensions, she also doesn’t shy away from the metaphysical questions of good and evil. This series treats religion and science as two different, but not opposed, methods of discovering truth. The characters grapple with questions about their place in the cosmos, what is means to be good or evil, and the nature of love. The concepts are never dumbed down, though the prose is accessible to an elementary audience. Reading these books gave me the vocabulary to talk about these ideas and made me feel like I deserved to be taken seriously. We contextualize our experiences in terms of stories, and what we don’t yet understand, we call magic.
L’Engle takes this philosophy to heart with her choice of genre. She doesn’t just blur the line between allegory, mythology, fantasy, and science fiction; she posits that there is no distinction. With every possibility open to experimentation, she created a unique spin on our universe that captured my imagination as a child. This is the book that made me say, “I want to write like this one day.”
“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”Madeline L’Engle
Throughout the series, the characters must fight various forces of evil, which seek to tear apart their family and their word. Just because children are young doesn’t mean they don’t encounter evil. Good protectors may shelter them from harm, but they still meet it in the daily troubles of school and home life, and without stable parents and guardians, they are even more vulnerable. This book is honest. Meg and Charles deal with bullies. Their father is missing. Their teachers and principal are unfair. Life is pain, highness, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.
But you can fight back. The story shows the characters putting their lives on the line to protect their loved ones. Their actions prove you can fight IT. The black thing is huge and terrifying, but it is not all-powerful. Meg both beats and forgives her bullies. They might not release the people of Camazotz, but they save their father. It is inspiring to read about this bittersweet, stubborn hope overcoming an evil greater than any one person. The characters earn a happy ending, but at no point do you take their struggle for-granted and it always struck me as more real than much of children’s media that takes a saccharine-saturated optimistic view of the world.
“A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.”A Circle of Quiet
Meg is an oddball – the “before” of every teen makeover with frizzy brown hair, thick glasses, and braces, a math genius that’s failing her other classes, quick with a witty comeback that infuriates her teachers, too impulsive and honest, which makes her socially awkward around her peers, and overly protective of a “dumb” brother. Charles is a pre-schooler who speaks in well-articulated sentences and comprehends complex metaphysical ideas, but refuses to interact with anyone outside his immediate family. Yet, their mother never belittles them for their eccentricities – she seeks accommodations, such as homeschooling or getting a typewriter, and gives her daughter gentle guidance to help weather the trials of growing up. The Murry family also accepts Calvin, who can mask his oddness to fit into a social norm, but feels out of place amongst his own siblings. Their home is a warm and welcoming shelter from the storms of both societal shunning and thundering wild nights. If you blew into town like Mrs. Whatsit, they wouldn’t hesitate to sit you around their kitchen table for a midnight sandwich.
But belonging does not mean conformity, and Meg resists IT’s statement that “everyone is equal, everyone exactly alike.” At home, they can be themselves without fear of judgement or retaliation, rather than changing who they are to avoid judgement and retaliation. Fiction is so often escapist, and giving the characters a place to retreat for comfort and safety also gives the reader that feeling of security. Whether it’s on the utopian Uriel or on Ixchel with Aunt Beast, L’Engle shows how important it is to have a small but close-knit community to act as a support structure, even when the evil is something you must face alone.
“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”Mrs. Whatsit
Did you read this book as a child? What did you think of it then, compared to now? Please let me know what you think! Happy reading and writing. 🙂