Backwards book reviews are when I revisit a book that I’ve already read. Before I read the book, I’ll write down everything I can remember about it. Afterward, I’ll write up my thoughts and see how well my memories stacked up.
A Wrinkle in Time is one of those major books in my childhood. I was probably 11 or 12 when I first read it, and it absolutely captivated me with its rich storytelling, flights of fantasy, and yet its focus on intelligence and rationality. After Wrinkle, I read nearly every Madeline L’Engle book I could get my hands on (with the exception of A House Like a Lotus which I put down because it was too mature for me at the time) throughout middle school until I reached Walking on Water in high school. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art remains an influential book on me to this day. The sequel to Wrinkle, A Wind in the Door, is possibly more influential, but that’s another matter for another day.
Let’s see what I can remember about A Wrinkle in Time. And how much I can keep Wrinkle separate from Wind.
Wrinkle is the story of Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and I think her friend Calvin O’Keefe saving the world from what current me would identify as totalitarianism. On a stormy night, she is visited by an omen (Louise the snake) out by an old gnarled tree by a stone fence, and soon meets the three witches–Mrs Who, Which, and Whatsit–who teach the kids how to tesseract and take them on a goose chase through the universe. There is something wrong with the universe that they have to find and fix, but they don’t know what it is at first. (Honestly, that sounds to me like a heavily intuitive way to go about things, but I’ve been thinking a lot about intuition lately. It would not surprise me if MLE wrote highly intuitive books, considering her propensity to write about families of highly intelligent people.) I think the problem has something to do with their father? Maybe he’s kidnapped or something.
The witches try to take them to a 2D planet, where their 3D forms are squished and where they cannot survive. Eventually, they end up on what the current version of me would call Totalitarian Planet, where all the houses are the same and the yards are the same and the kids play the same games and even the balls bounce in unison. UGH. This is ground zero, where the wrongness is, and they find that the planet is ruled by what is basically a disembodied brain, demanding that everything on the planet bend to its rule, enforced dramatically by a rhythm. To avoid getting trapped by this, the kids sing songs and nursery rhymes in different time signatures. Somehow they save the day.
Then they end up at home, which is comforting and full of family, including their mother and the twin brothers Sandy and Dennys (I think–it was a strange name to me), with a little bit more affection for their prescient snake.
Thematically speaking, it was a story about not letting someone or something else rule your life, and I remember MLE talking in an interview about originally making the villain a disembodied heart, but that she ended up thinking that a disembodied brain would be basically more of a tyrant. I’m not sure if I agree with her, but it is true that strictness without the temperance of love or mercy is never the way to go.
The characters in the book are full of creativity and ingenuity, are committed to the truth, and are patient. I think at certain points Charles Wallace bogs them down because he’s only like 6 years old or something, but they manage to make it work without sacrificing him. The power of humanity over tyranny.
I always loved how MLE wove together an idealized New England academic family with a highly imaginative yet totally plausible fantasy elements. So many of the ideas that MLE explores seem to test the boundaries of reality, but I feel like the events in her novels–this series especially–were simply dramatized versions of what might actually be already happening in the world.
Like Jordan B Peterson takes everyday tasks and draws out their cosmic significance, MLE takes the world that we live in and heightens it to a point where you can see the spiritual battles taking place. I could tell you the battlefield for A Wind in the Door, but I’ll have to save that for my review on that book. Wrinkle escapes me, although I may have already hit on it: totalitarianism and the utter importance of free will.