WWEEE ARREHHERRE! It’s time to discuss the seminal classic A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome, welcome! Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you as soon as we can. (It’s a little nutty at the moment, but we’ll do our best–promise.) And if you’re one of our returning friends, we’re happy to see you! Hope you’re doing well with your 2014 classics challenge? I have to say, I really appreciate the fact that this series–and our accountability to you guys–is forcing me to make time to do something I enjoy so much. So thank you for joining us!
Onwards to the discussion. As always, spoilers are ahead.
Wendy: Although this was a favorite of mine as a teenager, it’s been years since I read this book. I cannot believe how familiar it all felt, and I didn’t expect to be as awed and moved by it as I was. It’s a slim novel with a fairly straightforward story, and yet the complexity of its content and the beauty of its themes and ideas are immeasurable.
Kate: I read this for the first time in fourth grade, and have re-read it every few years since then. It makes me cry every single time, Wendy.
OH! And I very much do not recommend the audiobook narrated by Hope Davis. Meg and Calvin, in particular, are disappointingly annoying in it.
Wendy: I teared up this time, too. Meg Murry is one of the all-time great YA heroines, and I bet one that’s often dismissed as “unlikeable.” Her anger with her father struck me on this reading, especially how it’s in part a manifestation of anger with herself. I saw a tweet recently asking for recommendations for “angry” heroines, which got me thinking about how we don’t see as many of them anymore. I know I was bristling with passion and outrage and confusion as a teenager, which is only natural since your hormones are crazy and you’re trying to figure out where you fit into the scheme of things.
Kate: It’s funny…Calvin was the character I always related to when I read this while growing up, but I absolutely loved Meg. My parents were divorced, and my dad lived in another state (and was also in prison for a while), and when my little sister fell through the cracks, I felt like I was the only person in the world who actually cared about her, so I was totally, absolutely, fully on the same page as Meg, anger-wise. I didn’t think she was bratty at all.
This book also helped me to empathize with kids who did poorly in school. I could not understand how anyone at my elementary school managed not to make all As all the time without trying. I also got very annoyed with the kids who (like my husband, it turns out) couldn’t figure out how to read clocks. Meg is very smart in a way that doesn’t translate to traditional schooling, and I just love that.
“Have you done your homework, Meg?…then I’m sure Calvin won’t mind if you finish before dinner.”
Wendy: Parenting and homework present in a YA novel!
Kate: Meg’s mom is the best mom.
Wendy: She is. She seems so grounded and lovely, and I love that both her parents are scientists and there’s such a calm acceptance of all the kids and their personalities. And the adults communicate with the kids in a way that is direct and assumes their intelligence; they parent and/or guide, but they definitely expect kids to make decisions and be held accountable as well.
“Well, you know what, you’ve got dreamboat eyes,” Calvin said. “Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don’t think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have.”
Wendy: I’d forgotten how lovely the romance is here. There’s not a great deal of it, but what’s there is pretty swoony.
Kate: I have some issues with Ugly Duckling stories for adults only because ugly ducklings so frequently grow up to be ugly fucking ducks, and that’s not the worst thing in the world, but they’re really nice in YA and children’s lit. Also: Calvin sure did move in fast, huh?
Wendy: He did. The whole book sort of moved along fast, but it took its time where it counted, so I didn’t mind that. I love the descriptions of traveling through time and space. You get to experience the queer sensations, both physical and psychological, that Meg does because the author writes those scenes in such an evocative way. Her use imagery is so strong, too, particularly in showing the children The Dark Thing casting its shadow on the clear, clean mountain on Uriel.
The scene in which Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg, Charles, and Calvin about a star giving up its life in battle with the Thing moved me deeply.
“I see. Now I understand. You were a star, once, weren’t you?”
Mrs. Whatsit covered her face with her hands as though she was embarrassed, and nodded.
She realized with a fresh shock that it was not Mrs. Whatsit herself she was seeing at all. The complete, true Mrs. Whatsit, Meg realized, was beyond human understanding.
Kate: My love for Mrs. Whatsit is pretty epic. There’s a family of three women in Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and there were A LOT of similarities between them and the Whatsits (aside from the normal three whitchy lady things). The Mrs. Whatsit character in TOatEotL was really, really lovely.
The other thing I love about the three ladies is that they’re actually genderless. I love the inclusion of non-cisgender characters (Kind of? Maybe they ARE technically cis since they’re not human so our ideas don’t apply. They’re not really transgender. I need to think about this.) in a book that was written around the time my mother was born.
Wendy: Yeah, it’s not something you see too often even now, and it was pretty radical for the time. This was written in 1963, just as Americans were also getting caught up in the excitement of space exploration. I haven’t read any biographies of this author, but L’Engle must’ve been influenced by that in some way. It must’ve been so exciting to have such pivotal real-life events like that unfolding and helping to spark ideas about what was possible. Camazotz sounds a lot like our perception of the Soviet Union too, eh?
Kate: I love how different books are when you read them as an adult who understands what was going on in the world when they was being written.
Wendy: Charles Wallace’s possession is scary, man. Also, if my life and the life of this planet were dependent on my reciting the periodic table of elements, I’m sorry to say that we’re all going up in flames.
Kate: Oh man, I know.
Wendy: The Aunt Beast chapter is nothing but pure love and beauty, though. I love it so much, and I felt so safe and comforted as I read about how these creatures cared for her, and I love the descriptions of tentacles and fur and delicious nourishment.
Kate: Yes. And sleepy Meg trying to explain vision to the beasts was a lot of fun.
Wendy: I also love “WWEEE ARREHHERRE!”
Kate: I know. L’Engle said she read this to her kids as she was writing it. I’ll bet that part made them giggle like crazy.
Wendy: It must’ve been awesome to have her as a mom, too. It’s so interesting to see how the author addresses both science and religion in this novel. One cannot exist without the other, nor without the driving force of human emotion. I actually wondered how well Kim was going to fare with this one because of that, given our discussion on The Golden Compass. As it happens, she didn’t end up enjoying this book very much and bowed out of this chat because she’s also at BEA at the moment, but I would love to have heard her thoughts on it as an atheist.
Kate: Science and religion come from the same place. It’s all about wanting to understand what is going on in the universe. I think part of why I love fantasy so much is that mythology appeals to me on a really deep level. It’s a big part of why I was religious as a child, and why I consider myself Agnostic rather than Atheist now.
Did I ever tell you that when I was a teenager I tried to start worshipping the Greek gods because I thought it would be fun? It wasn’t fun at all. It was stupid.
Wendy: Hah, really? What a fascinating childhood you had, Kate. Have you read the other books in this series? My favorite L’Engle book is A Ring of Endless Light, followed by Meet the Austins. Those are realistic fiction rather than scifi, but they include similarly warm, close knit family dynamics. And swimming with dolphins.
Kate: I HATED A Ring of Endless Light when I read it in sixth grade because I love Meg’s series, and I was really, really, really expecting some fantasy or scifi elements (kind of like when I read Terry Pratchett’s Nation). Dolphins are great and all, but Meg rode a PEGASUS/CENTAUR. I should definitely revisit that one now that I’ve got some distance.
My least favorite of the books in the Wrinkle In Time universe (does it count as part of the series or as a spin-off?) is Many Waters, in which Meg’s twin brothers travel back in time to when Noah built the ark.
Wendy: Oh, noo! Please do revisit Light sometime. I can see how you might get upset if you were waiting for something fantastical to happen, but aside from a very slight touch of maybe extra-sensory stuff, it’s just really well-written realistic fiction. She has so many books, though, that it does get a little confusing.
Kate: This is one of my top ten book series of all time. I LOVE these books.
Wendy: I can see why. I find it strange that I haven’t reread this more, and now I definitely need to read some sequels. Leigh Bardugo was just telling me yesterday that I need to at least read A Swiftly Tilting Planet for sure, as it was her favorite. I’m excited to pick them up!
I already had a secondhand copy of this book, but couldn’t resist buying the shiny new anniversary edition when it came out a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed the introduction and afterword included, and I thought you all might be interested in a few of the tidbits from it as well.
Trivia from the 50th Anniversary Edition:
- The book went through a year of rejections from multiple publishers. John Farrar at what is now Farrar, Straus, and Giroux eventually bought the book, and her editor sent out a letter soliciting quotes saying it defied classification, was going to make “greater intellectual and emotional demands on 12-16 year olds than most formula fiction, and would likely be a hard book to sell, but “”I for one believe that the capabilities of young readers are greatly underestimated.”
- Her granddaughter says L’Engle was baffled by accusations from both Christian groups and those who believed it was too overtly Christian. “She antagonized the same crowd that would later want to burn the Harry Potter books.”
- L’Engle was also “stung” by occasional reader disappointment as well. (Spoiler!) Meg goes on to marry Calvin and acts as his lab assistant while raising their children. The author insisted that “the promise of feminism was that if a woman was free to focus her attentions on a career, she was also free to focus on her family.”
Well, it was a pretty close vote, but The Westing Game pulled ahead with more votes, so that’s the title we’ll be reading in June! If you’ve never read this twisty mystery that is jam-packed with red herrings, you’re in for a treat: it’s basically an Agatha Christie-style mystery for kids, with an unforgettable cast of characters as well as a kickass heroine named Turtle Wexler. Um, she actually kicks people’s shins. But that’s neither here nor there.
A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger – and a possible murderer – to inherit his vast fortune, one things’ for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!
Winner of the Newbery Medal
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
An ALA Notable Book
We’ve also pre-selected our July book because summer’s a bit busy and we want to give you a head start on All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Okay, and this is also one of my favorite books, and it’s not as well known, so we’re hoping that our readers who enjoy everyday stories about growing up (during the early 1900s in New York!) will join us. We’ll tell you more about it next month.
Share Your Thoughts
So! Tell us what you thought of A Wrinkle in Time. Was it your first time reading? Or what’s your history with this classic?
I have to shamefacedly tell you all that we’re still in a crazy period at The Midnight Garden, so please bear with us since we’re not on top of responding to your comments as much as usual, nor tweeting on the hashtag much, nor with visiting the lovely friends who drop by to see us! Kim’s at BEA as we speak, Kate’s just gotten back from overseas and just finished with a major event, and I’ve been dealing with some family issues that will continue to occupy my time for the next month or so. We sincerely appreciate the conversation, however, and we’re hoping to get back on track as we head into June. We have so many great posts planned already, though, so it’s going to be a fun, if crazy, month!