A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, 211 pp RL 4

I was (finally) writing a review of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and I found myself  referring back to my May 1, 2009 review of A Wrinkle in Time, which was a complete mess. So, in honor of the 5 year anniversary of my review, I present a tidier version for your viewing (and reading) pleasure!

A Wrinkle in Time: A Brief History of the Covers 
(review follows)

I absolutely love the fact that the original cover for the initial printing of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was designed by a future Newbery Award winner, Ellen Raskin, author of The Westing Game, winner of the Newbery in 1979. A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which at the time did not publish children's books. According to one account, FSG published the book based the recommendation of a mutual friend of L'Engle's (who had already received at least twenty-six rejections of her manuscript) and John Farrar's. This could explain why the first cover for the book looks very similar to the style of art being used on the covers of adult science fiction and seems to reflect the fact that, as L'Engle has said, publishers at the time didn't know what to make of her book - was it for children or adults?

Updated covers for the series by Leo and Diane Dillon appeared in 1979 along with the publication of the third book in the series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

The Time Quartet in what has to be the 1980s. I couldn't find the illustrator's name, but would love any information you could send my way.

In 2001 the Caldecott winning artist, illustrator, filmmaker and author Peter Sís updated the series, now a quartet, including a special introduction by L'Engle.

In 2007, the Time Quartet, the original name for the series of four books, became the Time Quintet with the addition of An Acceptable Time, the story of Meg and Calvin's daughter Polly. Picture book illustrator and author Taeeun Yoo brings a whimsical, nostalgic and organic feel to the new covers. Her cover art for the Time Quintet is both representative of the characters in the books and evocative of the emotional and geographical landscape they traverse.

In 1998 Cliff Nielsen  updated the quartet, which was published in a smaller trim size to appeal to the YA market. Interestingly, Nielsen has gone on to create the covers of some of the most popular series in the last decade, from The Ranger's Apprentice, to Cirque du Freak to updates of Lois Lowry's The Giver (the one with the hands on the cover) and Cassandra Clare's hugely popular series Infernal Devices and Mortal Instruments.

In 2007, illustrator, photographer and film director Matt Mahurin provided the new covers for the series, again packaged to appeal to the YA market in a slightly smaller (more adult) trim size.

The illustrator of the cover from my childhood remains a mystery to me. I spent most of a morning flipping through the yellowed, crumbling pages of my copy as well as conducting search after search on the internet and I could not come up with an illustrator. If anyone can verify this and put me out of my misery I will be eternally grateful to you.

A Wrinkle in Time: A Review 

If you were a voracious reader as a child and are approximately ten years younger than A Wrinkle in Time, then you read this book as a kid and it left an impression on you. Science fiction and fantasy were not popular genres when I was a young and book worm, approximately thirty years ago, and the number of books on the shelves that had been published during my childhood was minimal. I don't know the exact numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised if the total number of young adult chapter books published in 1978 is equal to the total number of young adult chapter books published in one month in 2009. Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and ghost stories were what I remember reading mostly. Thus, a character like Meg Murry, who angrily wears her faults on her sleeve, was a revelation to me. And of course, her preternatural baby brother, Charles Wallace, capable of reading minds, was endlessly fascinating to me, as were the the three Mrs. - Which, Who and Whatsit. What was lost on me was the epic struggle of good and evil and the religious references and symbols as well as the ways in which Meg grew over the course of the story. At least, memories of those aspects of the book did not stick with me into adulthood. And, I have to admit, in my second childhood of voracious reading, which began in 1997 with the US publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I found A Wrinkle in Time a very different read this time around. The world of fantasy and science fiction for young adults is rife with wizards and dragons in the 21st century, and, while strong girl characters are definitely carving out a place on the pages of these books, they are still side-kicks more often than they are the main character - unless we discuss the wave of dystopian novels with girl protagonists, starting with The Hunger Games which came out in 2008. Thus, Meg and her worries about being awkward and not fitting in at school, the tesseracts and witches and angels and throbbing giant brains still stand out from the sci-fi/fantasy crowd. Even the deeply admirble Lyra Belacqua of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy seems to be cut from a different cloth than Meglet.

Despite the dominant changes in the genre today, I still love Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. As an adult, post-Potter reader, the plot seems a bit simple at times and the characters' and dialogue a bit dated. Meg sometimes comes off as shrill and overly childish, but she is also a wonderful reminder of the ways in which characters in much of today's sci-fi/fantasy books for kids are not very childlike. More often than not, today's characters are more like the mini-adult, child genius character of Charles Wallace than the genuinely confused, scared and lonely character of Meg who is trying to navigate her way through the difficulty of not knowing where her father has gone as well as the burden of her prickly personality and the negative attention that it frequently garners her. And, I have to be honest, I found the evil character IT and the threat posed by IT's power of mind control much less frightening and suspenseful than the current crop of grim antagonists. But, my husband found IT so compelling that he drove around a parking lot in a daze, listening to the climax of the story instead of finding a parking place. In an interesting aside, I discovered that I liked the book much more when I read it rather than listened to it. Madeleine L'Engle narrates the story and I found her voice to be both nasal-y, grating and shrill, although she hit the perfect note when performing the voice of Mrs. Which, who's booming voice, which is almost all she is, choosing not to materialize most of the time.

The book begins with the phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night," and I am sure that the tongue-in-cheek import of this is lost on young readers. Most adults, however, had heard the phrase used as a signifier of a florid style of writing rife with run-on sentences. Originally penned by Victorian author Charles Bulwer-Lytton in the 1830 novel Paul Clifford, there is now a yearly contest to see who can write the most wretched run-on first line of a fictitious novel. However, I am sure that when Madeleine L'Engle chose this as her first sentence she was thinking about turning the phrase on its head and inside out and she did. As the novel beings, we find Meg in her attic room trying to sit out the storm on her own but ultimately making her way downstairs to the kitchen where she finds her little brother, Charles Wallace, making hot cocoa and sandwiches, not only for himself but for Meg and his mother, as he knew they would eventually join him. Charles Wallace has a way of knowing what his mother and sister are thinking and feeling and is capable of showing great amounts of compassion towards them. And they both need it. Meg's father, the scientist Dr Murry, has been away working on a government project for over two years, and has not communicated with his family at all in the past twelve months. Mrs Murry, also a scientist, continues her work while also making a comforting, stable home for her children and presenting a positive, cheerful face. Meg's age is never mentioned specifically but L'Enlge does say that she is in high school, so I think it is safe to put her at about fourteen years old. Meg seems to be the flip side of her mother. With her mousy brown hair, glasses and braces, she calls herself a monster in comparison to Mrs Murry's red hair and violet eyes. Meg excels at math but, because her father taught it to her as a game when she was younger, she cannot do the problems and show her work the way the teacher requires. Thus, she is thought of as a below average student. This, combined with the late-talking, odd little brother, called stupid by her classmates, gives Meg a chip on her shoulder big enough to get her into fist fights with older boys as well as a spot in the principal Jenkin's office. The arrival of Mrs Whatsit on the dark and stormy night set the plot in motion and leads to the return of Dr Murry.

Mrs Whatsit and her companions, Mrs Who, who speaks by quoting the words of others, often in foreign languages which she then translates for the children, and Mrs Which, the leader of the mission, tesser (wrinkle time, folding the fabric of space and time or time travel) Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin O'Keefe, schoolmate of Meg's and prepare the children to rescue Dr Murry. The preparation involves a few stops along the way before the planet, Camazotz, where he is being imprisoned. Each stop educates the children in some way as to what they are up against and how they can best fight the big, black shadow that seems to be enveloping Earth, among other planets. This shadow is described as an evil, dark force and just viewing it from a distance causes physical unease in Meg. They learn that great religious figures, philosophers and artists have been fighting it for centuries and that Mrs Whatsit herself was a once a star who, in an act of self-sacrifice, exploded in the fight to thwart the darkness. Shaken but determined, the children are given gifts by the three Mrs, who cannot accompany them on their mission to the planet Camazotz. Once there, they find a rigidly conformist society ruled by IT, a pulsatingly hypnotic brain that refers to itself as "The Happiest Sadist," for the pleasant uniformity comes at the cost of punishing or annihilating any deviants. The children do their best to fight against IT, and, while they rescue Dr Murry they must leave the planet without Charles Wallace when he sacrifices himself to IT in an attempt to conquer IT. Dr Murry tessers them to the planet of Ixchel, the name for the Mayan jaguar goddess of medicine, but Meg is profoundly wounded during the trip. The inhabitants of the Ixchel tend to the three, one of whom shows Meg such loving tenderness and care that she is able to see that she is the one and only person who can return to Camazotz to rescue Charles Wallace from the grip of IT.

With subtlety, L'Engle sets her up then sends Meg on a quest. Resentful of her outsider status and secretly desirous of conformity, Meg confronts the horrors sameness on the equal playing field on Camazotz. Always talking and asking questions and often frustrated by the unsatisfactory nature of communication, Meg learns to appreciate that there are other ways of experiencing people and things, ways of connecting other than through verbal communications. The three Mrs. are often unable to communicate with words and the creatures on Ixchel cannot see their world use their tentacles as a means of communicating and experiencing that goes beyond the descriptive nature of words. All of this proves indispensable to Meg who rescues Charles Wallace with the power of her love for him, which is greater than words.

As well as quoting Shakespeare, Goethe and Kant through the character of Mrs Who, L'Engle most often quotes from the Bible and cites Jesus as the first fighter against the Dark Thing. There are other allusions to Christian theology, but the characters in the book are never identified specifically as Christians. L'Engle maintains a philosophical and theological perspective throughout, using these ideas and themes as a jumping off point for larger questions, as with the struggle between the Dark Thing and Light. The struggle against good and evil is a universal one. As L'Engle says in her introduction to the 1997 editions of the books, "In each book that characters are living into the questions that we all have to live into. Some of these questions don't have finite answers, but the questions themselves are important. Don't stop asking and don't let anybody tell you the questions aren't worth it. They are."

Readers who enjoyed this book, even only minimally, MUST, without question, read the 2010 winner of the Newbery Award, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me for reasons I cannot divulge. . .

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