It’s legendary now, that Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel was rejected by numerous publishers and eventually even its agent handed the book back to its author.
It was “too different”, different because it credited young readers with being able to grapple with the concept of evil, and because it afforded centre stage to young Meg Murry.
Nonetheless, it was published in 1962 and has not been out-of-print yet. Not once. Not in 50 years.
It won awards (including the Newbery Medal), has been adapted for film and stage, will be published in a graphic novel form later this year, and it has inspired countless readers and writers and even characters in other fictional works.
A Wrinkle in Time is the kind of children’s novel that you can re-read as an adult and wonder how it can still be wonderful 50 years after it was published.
Rather than risk spoiling the science/magic of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which by discussing the book in detail, forcing it into words that are not Madeleine L’Engle’s, one can look beyond the fantastical elements to a notable family of characters, the Murrys.
The Murrys are at the heart of A Wrinkle in Time (opening with their mother, Katherine, twins Sandy and Dennys — ten years old, older sister Meg — 12 or 13, and the youngest boy Charles Wallace, with their father Alexander a government scientist who has disappeared before the story begins).
The novel also introduces Calvin O’Keefe, who represents the O’Keefe family. Meg is a couple of years behind him in school; he excels there, in everything from academics to sports, but his family life is unhappy, and he almost immediately senses a truer home with the Murrys.
Most of Madeleine L’Engle’s books share characters and, more often than not, these characters are Murrys and O’Keefes. And they’re there, right from the start, in A Wrinkle in Time.
For me, as a young girl, the book was all about Meg. At the beginning of the book, she is huddled at the foot of her bed in the attic at night, wrapped in a quilt with a grey kitten on her pillow, and the entire house shaking in a storm. (It’s scary, yes, but then there is cocoa in the kitchen. And then it’s scary again, though not right away, but I can’t tell you about that.)
Meg is awkward. She has mouse-brown hair. She wears glasses. She has braces on her teeth. And, as if this wasn’t enough for the kids at school to tease her about, her younger brother isn’t quite “right”.
(For the younger me, Meg was everything I wanted in a heroine that I hadn’t yet found; this book was not “too different”, but exactly-the-right-kind-of-different for me.)
In some ways, all of this remains true of her throughout the book. But, in other ways, Meg changes. She is somehow more of what she was, and as it turns out, that’s a good thing.
Meg is also the character who allows the science to be explained. She, unlike many of the other characters, does not intuitively understand the dimensions of time; she needs the explanations that many readers need as well, clear with diagrams, complete with ants and strings. (I didn’t really get the fifth dimension, not even for the instant that Meg grasped it, but I liked the ants.)
Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which not only have that understanding, but they can also quote philosophers and poets, even Christian scripture on a couple of occasions, which, apparently, offended some folks who want their deities to stand a good way off from poets. A Wrinkle in Time not only appears on lists of award winners, but on the lists of books that are most frequently banned.
As the author has said, “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.”
Be it different or difficult, or both, or something in between, A Wrinkle in Time still resonates with readers 50 years later.
Is it a favourite of yours? Or one that you missed as a young reader but keep meaning to pull off the shelf?