Well, I knew I couldn’t go a whole week of blogging without missing a day. So, yeah, I didn’t post yesterday. Instead, I wrote 1100 more words in the Tower novel, and read some more in Susan Cain’s Quiet (which is excellent so far, highly recommended for both introverts and extroverts; I’ll be blogging a bit about it tomorrow). And much of today was spent mired in the drudgery of applying to arts grants, which I’m all for if they can throw some money my way, but the process to do so is exhausting.
Today, I want to talk just a bit about A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. My good friend Eugene Myers posted a link to this fantastic trailer for the book earlier today:
Isn’t that great? I really would like to know who performs the music here; if anyone knows, please pass it along in the comments.
A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite childhood books; I think I got it in a book fair in elementary school, and after reading it I pestered my parents to get me the rest in the series. It’s a great example of science fantasy, fantasy that masquerades as science fiction; many of the tropes are there — time travel, aliens, other inhabited worlds, telepathy — but they’re used in a non-rigorous unexplained way. The tesseract (which is still one of my favorite words), explained as a five-dimensional mode of transportation, like a wormhole or folded space, is presented here like magical teleportation without the benefit of machinery. Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which could have been called fairies and the internal logic of the story wouldn’t have changed a bit.
Not that I cared anything about all that when I was ten or eleven years old, and utterly sucked into the story. It’s debatable whether this could be called a middle-grade or young-adult novel now, but those distinctions didn’t really exist in 1986; the only divisions were Kids’ Books and Adults’ Books. The story was about kids only slightly older than myself at the time (which is really the perfect age to be reading about them), having to go on an adventure through time and space to save an adult.
My mind was blown by the fact that Mr Murray, who was considered a brilliant scientist, was the one who needed rescuing. And by his children! Up to then, if adults featured in the stories I’d read, they were a solid, dependable presence, the ones who were in control. But Mr Murray wasn’t in control. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin have to save him, and they all three put themselves at incredible mortal risk to do so.
And even though two of the three protagonists were boys, I heavily identified with Meg. She was awkward in school, always measured up against her siblings, and felt like the perpetual outsider, even among her family. She was gawky and hated how she looked, but was able to find incredible reserves of bravery and love which become essential in saving both her father and Charles Wallace. I remember telling a friend of mine about the book, and him coming back with, “You’re reading a book about a girl?!” I didn’t know how to respond; why would he have expected me to feel ashamed when this was a character I’d cherished so much?
But the one thing about the book that stays in my mind 26 years after reading it is the scene when Meg must confront IT, the telepathic disembodied brain that rules the planet Camazotz. IT has kept a tight reign on Camazotz’s citizenry by forced conformity; many people’s motions are mechanistically syncronized, no one has free will, and the entire planet feels like a dead place even though it’s densely populated. When Meg stands in front of IT, the pulsing waves of control are so strong that they even align her heartbeat with it. This was probably the scariest thing I’d ever read. And how does Meg defeat IT? With unbreakable love for her little brother.
A Wrinkle in Time was my gateway drug to science fiction and fantasy; a few years later, I asked my dad to buy me a paperback copy of Isaac Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation at some beach bookstore while we were on vacation, and I never looked back. From Asimov’s Foundation books, I moved on to Bradbury, and Clarke, and subscribed to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and one day decided that I wanted to be a science fiction writer myself. Without A Wrinkle in Time, I might not have become a writer, might not have applied to Clarion, might not have met Janet. Put like that, my daughter Anya owes her existence to Madeleine L’Engle.
I think the best way to thank Ms L’Engle for her profound impact upon my life is to pick up the 50th Anniversary Edition of A Wrinkle in Time, and re-visit Meg Murray’s adventures through the tesseract. It’s an activity long overdue.