As I mentioned in last week’s Old School Sunday post, I’ve given myself the task of reading all of Madeleine L’Engle’s Murry-O’Keefe and Austin novels in their original publication order. I don’t promise to read all of them this quickly, but I read through the entirety of A Wrinkle In Time in one afternoon. This was my second time reading it, but it’s been 5 years or so since the first time, so much of it felt new again.
The story, as most children’s literature readers know, is of awkward, plain adolescent, Meg Murry, and her quest to find her father. With the help of strange beings known as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, the Happy Medium, and Aunt Beast, and a popular boy from school named Calvin O’Keefe, Meg tessers through time to find him, face her own feelings of inadequacy, and bring him home.
This is the first science fiction novel I read, when I was forced to explore the genre in library school, and therefore it’s the first book that made me realize how interesting it can be to combine ordinary, everyday occurrences with the possibilities posed by scientific speculation. This book is especially significant for me, because it explores that science through a religious and spiritual lens. Madeleine L’Engle imagines a God-infused universe, in which everything has meaning, and everything communicates, but not always in terms humans can grasp. She also recognizes, above all, the power of family, the struggle to accept oneself, and the fact that sometimes, our weaknesses can become our strengths.
I think the reason the book is so popular, and cited so often as a childhood favorite, is that kids really relate to Meg’s feelings of plainness and insignificance, and that they see themselves in her actions and hope they, too, could rise to the occasion in the hour of need. It also has hints of adventure and romance that pull in readers of those genres as well.
Another thing I really liked, which I noticed mostly because I read Meet the Austins and A Wrinkle In Time back to back, is the number of similarities between these two books. Both focus on families where a father has gone away - Maggy’s is dead, Meg’s missing. Both involve a close brother-sister relationship. Meg’s affection for Charles Wallace very closely mirrors Vicky’s for Rob. I also noted that Meg’s mother is a scientist, while Vicky’s dad is a doctor, and that John Austin and Meg both fret quite a bit about fitting in at school and finding a way to feel good about their strangeness. The Tesseract, a website devoted to L’Engle’s life and work includes on its FAQ page the question, "What is Madeleine L'Engle's personal philosophy?" Part of the answer provided by site author reads, “What kinds of evil do her characters fight, and who fights them? How do her characters feel about family, God, friendship, love, and being themselves? These are all clues to the philosophy of Madeleine L'Engle.” I think the recurrence of the same themes in A Wrinkle In Time as in The Austins represents L’Engle grappling with these very questions, telling the same story from different angles in an effort to get at the truth.
Madeleine L’Engle was truly an original writer. I love her worldview, her writing style, and her religious curiosity, and I suspect some new favorites are waiting for me in this L'Engle-themed to read pile. Next up (but probably not next week) is The Moon by Night, the second book about the Austins.
I borrowed A Wrinkle in Time from my local public library.