“It was a dark and stormy night…”
…and so begins an improbable adventure with one of the most deceptively simple first lines ever.
And so began my first, and most enduring, love affair.
Growing up, I created for myself, through the magic of books, the childhood I wanted. Books were my escape and solace. My partners on endless imaginative journeys.
But it was not until the age of 9, when I stumbled upon “A Wrinkle in Time,” that I felt my soul resonating in complete synchronicity with the protagonist of a story.
Meg Murry, the main character, was like me – trapped and unseen in a family of brothers. Just like me, she had wildly curly hair and glasses. Because she was so much smarter than her contemporaries, gifted with an incredible talent for math and science, and had absolutely no patience for bullshit or mediocrity, she felt alienated from the rest of the world.
I WAS MEG MURRY.
At nine, I found my literary Doppelganger. Is there any experience more profound in life or literature?
I had the same rebellious instincts as Meg. But she had 4 years on me. So I vicariously delighted in her smart-mouthed response to the principal’s demand that she “face facts” about her father’s disappearance:
“I do face facts. They’re lot’s easier to face than people, I can tell you.”
And – the story.
Ohhh, the story.
For over five decades kids even younger than nine have tried to wrap their minds around this tangled tale of quantum physics and intergalactic space. It didn’t matter if you fully understood. Because somehow, the message of the story transcended all of that.
But all that math and science lit my brain up like a pinball machine.
In 1962, Madeline L’Engle was way ahead of her time when she gave her readers the five-dimensional “tesseract” – a geometric construct which allowed the characters to time travel.
I bought it. Fully. Bought it? I EMBRACED it. This was a nerd’s DREAM.
The story follows the intergalactic exploits of Meg Murry and her beloved 5-year-old prodigy of a brother, Charles Wallace.
Their father, a physicist, has been missing from home for a year, whereabouts unknown.
With help from three loving aliens, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, and accompanied by a school friend, they travel to the dystopian planet Camazotz to rescue their father. Camazotz is ruled by IT, a disembodied, pulsating brain that insists on conformity. “Differences create problems.”
When I read this book as a child, the most disturbing image for me was that of the town of Camazozt.
Each house is identical, down to the number of flowers in the front yard. Each front yard contains the same number of children dressed identically playing – but chillingly, they’re jumping rope and bouncing red balls to the exact same rhythm.
As an adult, the irony of this is not lost on me – who despairs at suburban conformity. From the age of 9, I’ve spent my entire life bouncing against that pulsing red rhythm of societal pressure.
Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin soon find themselves swept up in an epic galactic-scale battle against IT, also known as “The Black Thing,” “The Darkness,” or just “EVIL.”
IT has already ensnared their father, and Charles Wallace becomes imprisoned and brainwashed by IT. Meg is completely devastated that she cannot save her baby brother. She has been his protector and defender his whole life.
At the eleventh hour, Mrs. Which gives Meg the knowledge that she has something IT doesn’t have; that this is her only weapon to fight IT – but she must discover what it is herself. Meg is terrified and desperate. And at the very last moment, just when all hope is lost, (spoiler alert), Meg finds out that LOVE is the victorious weapon.
Meg uses the power of love to save her brother from the evil clutches of IT. She simply stands and fiercely loves her brother, tears streaming down her face. “Charles. Charles, I love you. My baby brother who always takes care of me. Come back to me, Charles Wallace, come away from IT, come back, come home. I love you, Charles. Oh, Charles Wallace, I love you.”
She doesn’t stop until he breaks loose and runs into her arms. They hold each other, sobbing, professing their love for one another.
Meg Murry, a 13-year-old-girl, is the hero of the story! She saves everyone, including her father! GIRL POWER!
“A Wrinkle in Time” has been relevant for over 50 years because it’s a masterfully written book that describes the timeless conflict between good and evil. It’s a mashup of science fiction and archetypal story telling with the best moral of all – that love WINS.
Even the back story is inspirational. Madeline L’Engle was rejected by 26 publishers before one was willing to take a chance on a book that was ahead of its time.
It was considered too complex, too scientific for young minds. To which L’Engle has replied:
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
Don’t you just love her?
Tonight, my son read the ending pages to me. He loves this book, perhaps not the way I do; after all, he’s not an awkward misfit girl. But he does love the scene in which Meg saves Charles Wallace. As I child, I wept when I read that scene. Even today, I can’t hear it without welling up.
I needed to hear it. Too often I forget that unconditional love has unlimited power to transform even what appears to be the most hopeless situation.
I learned that at 9.
I just needed to be reminded of it.