Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time is TIMELESS

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is a timeless classic.  Almost anyone who reads it will agree.  In fact, in my well-loved copy there is a forward (An Appreciation) by author and columnist Anna Quindlen where she writes about the contemporary feel of the novel.  The only hint of age being the protagonist's desire for a typewriter to compensate for poor penmanship.  The blind obedience to IT, the conformity of the inhabitants of the planet of Camazotz and the impenetrable walls of the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building are all Cold War inspired references to Communism. But does that make these images any less timely in today's world?  Whether L'Engle's audience in 1962 would find it less scary today than during the height of the Cold War is up for debate.  It is a question worth asking but impractical to answer.  As Mrs. Whatsit told Charles Wallace, "Only a fool is not afraid."

God and Jesus are regularly spoken of in A Wrinkle in Time and there are various biblical quotes and references.  Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace talk of God and Jesus as do Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which.  Jesus is heralded as a fighter of the Dark Thing, along with Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Madame Curry, Gandhi and Einstein.  Fighters.  Artists.  Scientists.  Religious thinkers.  They are the fighters from planet Earth who keep the Dark Thing from enveloping our world.

The evil IT also represents himself as a god, but not a kind and benevolent god, rather one who rules with fear and the threat of violence.  IT also refers to himself as a savior, a Jesus figure willing to accept the pain and suffering of others provided they submit to his will.  "For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble?  For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on the planet, I, in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision."  So, while L'Engle portrays Jesus as a hero, blind adherence to a religion without the ability to think freely is a fate worse than death.

Along with communism and free-thinking, the theme of equality is also addressed in Madeleine L'Engle's classic novel for kids.  Charles Wallace, already under the control of IT, tries to convince Meg to let go and join IT by telling her, "But that's exactly what we have on Camazotz.  Complete equality.  Everybody exactly alike."  But Meg is not swayed by his words.  In fact, she uses his word against him.  "Like and equal are not the same thing at all."  It is Meg Murry's minor epiphany.  In this and many other parts of the book, L'Engle's characters fight conformity.  In doing so they fight communism and blind adherence to religion and religious intolerance.

Light and darkness.  Good and evil.  These aren't unique literary struggles, but A Wrinkle in Time is unique in its portrayal.  A mere mortal from a "little planet out on the edge of a little galaxy" is able to defeat hate using love as her only weapon.  Love as a tool to fight hate is Meg's great epiphany.  L'Engle's protagonist saves her little brother by loving him.  Meg Murry is an unlikely hero.  She's impatient, strange and unattractive, but her appeal is universal.  Unlikely or not, Meg Murry is a hero for all times.

Questions for fans of A Wrinkle in Time:

Is Meg Murry your favorite literary heroine?  If not, who is?

Blog you later!

Ali B.


Mr. H. said...

Being a child of the cold war, I have a fascination with cold war public culture. This book has elements of of my favorite cold war film(s) "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956 and 1978). There are many Soviet/communist references. For example, obedience to IT, CENTRAL, impenetrable walls and the "iron curtain. Excellent review. I think that this book would be a terrific addition in my classroom.

Daye said...

This past summer I reread this book and the two that followed and discovered there were 5! I enjoy retracing these every few years, as well as the Chronicles of Narnia. Meg is definitely one of my favorite heroines.

Ms Morgan said...

Meg is one of my favorite characters - in fact, this was one of my favorite books in a book-obsesed childhood. Meg is so beleiveable, with her insecurities and passion, but the character I like to think about most is Aunt Beast: so alien and so loving.

Ali B said...

Meg Murry is so flawed and utterly believable that I think she has something to offer every young reader. She's so easy to identify with.

I am also crazy about Charles Wallace. I love how he is this pocket-size genius who connects to life on a spiritual level, yet he is still a vulnerable little boy. He gets scared and angry and pouts, just like any typical kid, but then he is able to be intuitive and reflective with Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. Charles Wallace is a remarkable character.

Emily B. said...

I love the whole Murry family. Mrs. Murry has always been my literary role model of motherhood. And the Weasleys remind me of the Murrys: kind, loving, smart, altruistic, and practical.