In 2012, A Wrinkle in Time will be fifty years old, and I’ll be one of many people celebrating this marvelous, mind-bending, heart opening piece of children’s literature.
It’s been a dark and stormy week here in a Chicago, which makes it a perfect time to reminisce about this, one of my favorite books of all time.
It was 1988. I was in the fourth grade, I had English class with Mrs. Sandoval. I loved her name–it was pronounced “Sanduhvall” (rhymed with fall)–but when I saw it, I always imagined an oval shaped sand box. I loved her eloquent speeches, her expressive reading voice, her slightly bohemian clothing, and her ginger hair. I loved her classroom, full of books and rich with new ideas and words. One of her rules was to “finish assignments within the allotted time.” I had no idea what “allotted” meant or that it was an actual word, and I, in my over-read fourth grade know-it-all-ness, asked her, “Are you sure you don’t mean ‘allowed’?” She kindly said no, allotted is the word she meant to use, and she gave me the dictionary so I could look it up–and so began my love of dictionaries.
We read so many good books in that class, including A Cricket in Times Square and Charlotte’s Web. Half-way through the year our class reading assignment was A Wrinkle in Time. The edition we read had this amazing, wackadoodle, good show sir worthy cover:Isn’t that insane? It completely blew my nine year old mind. The wings for arms, the creepy red-eyed disapproving turtle face, the mountains…several kids in my class mumbled and groaned their displeasure when they saw the book (actually, they hated every book, and I hated them with equal fervor), but I could hardly wait to start reading.
And that opening line! Who else could get away with using that line outside of the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest? Madeline, that’s who.
Here’s a synopsis from the publisher’s page, and the synopsis I remember from my youth, for you sad, sad people who haven’t read this book yet:
It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”
A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.
I immediately loved and identified with Meg Murray. Like Meg, I was an ugly duckling who had to protect herself and a younger brother from the cruelty of other children. I admired Meg’s hot-headedness and her willingness to stand up for herself and her beliefs. When I was faced with bullies, I tended to hang my head and wish for them to go away. I wished I had Meg’s foolhardy bravery and determination (I developed it as an adult, much to the chagrin of some of my friends, family and colleagues) instead of my low self-esteem and self-hatred.
I loved other characters, too: Charles Wallace, Mrs. Murray, the Ws, and I loved loved LOVED Calvin O’Keefe. What dorky, awkward girl didn’t love charming, awkward Calvin? He’s like the proto-Rory* (maybe that’s why I love Rory so much…) I loved to hate IT and its creepy, pulsing brain-ness, and the man with red eyes. I loved how Mr. Murray was real and flawed and yet Meg still loved him. (I myself had a real and flawed father who was proving to be less and less loveable every day, but that’s another story for another time).
I wanted to live in that rambling old farmhouse and eat tomato sandwiches and have an attic bedroom and a dog named Fortinbras. I was fascinated by how they made hot cocoa with milk, since I was used to powdered hot chocolate made with boiling water, usually in the microwave. I was as amazed at the mundane day to day details as I was at the time and space traveling aspects. This book was everything I needed and wanted.
I loved this book so much that not even hearing my fellow students reading aloud in their plodding monotones could hurt the story. While they stumbled along I was reading ahead, silently, desperately wishing to reach the end while simultaneously wanting the book to go on forever.
I cried when Meg saved her brother by loving him. I had never felt love like that from anyone, and I didn’t think I ever would. I couldn’t think of anyone in my life who would risk so much to save me, and I felt miserable, yet strangely elated—if brassy, bitchy, mousy, insecure Meg could find love, didn’t that mean that someday I could, too? I wished, that when I was cold and alone and scared, that I could crawl into the warm, loving arms of an Aunt Beast.
When I re-read this book, I experience my own wrinkle in time. I am simultaneously an adult, identifying a bit more with the adult characters in the novel, finding myself somewhat exasperated with Meg’s behavior, and a child, thrilling to the romance, danger, and overwhelming love of the novel the same as I did the first time I read it.
Someone recently told me that they’ve never read Wrinkle, yet they really enjoyed When You Reach Me. I said, I’m glad you enjoyed the book, but you only had half the experience.
You should fix that. Right now.
Especially if it’s a dark and stormy night as you read this.
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