Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
I recently realized that I refer to this book quite a bit but somehow never got around to doing a review on it. This is a children's classic. I suppose as an adult you can go back to reread it, analyze it and find some adult issues crammed in the nooks and crannies but imo this is firmly written for children. If you have lost touch with your inner child or worse, crammed him or her into the closet, locked the door and thrown away the key I don't think that you would enjoy this story too much. Although it is written for children L'Engle did not write down to children. Children may not understand sex, lust, violence and death in the same way that adults do but moral concerns can be similar regardless if the question is whether you should commit adultery with your best friend's wife or whether you should make fun of your fellow kindergarten classmate because their parents can't afford to give them new clothes. 

A Wrinkle In Time is the first in a series, which grew in grandeur as the protagonists did and obviously brought in more adult themes as everyone grew older, married and endured loss. Nevertheless this book is complete in and of itself. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger or leave too many major questions unanswered. So I appreciated that way back when I originally read the book and I appreciate it now. Something else which bears mentioning is that the primary protagonist is female and on the verge of emotional/sexual maturity. That was pretty unusual for a sci-fi/fantasy book written back in the sixties. So if you're not female perhaps this book might give you an insight into the female mind? I can't call it. Of course you could use this for good or for bad, I guess. 

The book's most critical element is its rich and dense religious symbolism. Madeleine L'Engle  was a devout Episcopalian. Her overwhelming faith in God's love and the basic goodness of people were essential to most, if not all of her works and are obvious motifs in A Wrinkle In Time. However although religion in general and Christianity in particular are very important here, this book can be enjoyed by readers of any faith or by those with none at all. Unlike some other self-identified Christian writers ( C.S. Lewis), L'Engle did not beat the reader upside the head with allegory and metaphor. Well, at least not most of the time she didn't. 

As I mentioned there are some things which only become apparent upon reading this book as an adult. There are oodles of Shakespeare references. Also the book opens with a direct quote "It was a dark and stormy night" from the Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel Paul Clifford. As one supporting character in A Wrinkle in Time knew and seemingly quotes from just about ever philosopher, writer, or poet who ever existed, if nothing else reading this book will improve your GMAT verbal score.

Meg Murry is the oldest child and only daughter of two extremely intelligent physicists. She's fourteen. She has three younger brothers. They are the sports loving and overly protective ten year old twins Sandy and Dennys, and the eccentric, strange and introverted five year old Charles Wallace. Her father has disappeared on some mission for the government. Meg misses him greatly. Meg's mother is stunningly beautiful but Meg is still at an ugly duckling stage of life and despairs of ever leaving it. She's something of a tomboy. She loves her parents but is somewhat intimidated by their intelligence and attractiveness. Although Meg has trouble believing it, at least with regards to herself, her parents have told her that despite her mediocre school grades and disciplinary problems she's stupendously smart while Charles Wallace has an intelligence which is off the charts.

One night during a storm a "tramp", an old lady who Charles Wallace had met, comes to the house for aid and food. Her name is Mrs. Whatsit. Somehow she knows about the tesseract concept which Meg's parents had been studying. She casually tells Mrs. Murry that the tesseract exists. This causes Mrs. Murry to almost faint. Like the H.P. Lovecraft story The Shunned House, A Wrinkle in Time posits that advanced physics may well be similar to or even identical to what older civilizations knew as magic.

Mrs. Whatsit, along with two of her equally strange friends named Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, will accompany Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe (an older schoolmate for whom Meg has feelings which are somewhat foreign to her but are obvious to the reader) on a journey to find and save Meg's father. This is a journey which will range across unfathomable distances in space and time. The three old ladies are much older and more powerful than they appear. There's real danger here however. There are other powers in the universe which are not as friendly as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs.Who. 

Although the adventure does not exactly take Meg and her group to Hell, we visit a dystopia which L'Engle apparently considered pretty close to Hell. This politic had enforced conformity in which individuality is dead and everything is subsumed into a selfish entity. Evil in this universe is orderly while good is gloriously chaotic. When what amounts to a fallen angel informs Meg that under its rule everyone has complete equality because everyone is the same, Meg responds that "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!". This is one of my favorite fictional quotes. If you haven't read this book, check it out. I think it has aged fairly well. It is hardly edgy by our standards; a child referring to his father as "Pop" instead of "father" or "sir" is considered evidence of demonic possession, (snicker) but the messages contained within are universal and timeless. 
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