Summary (from goodreads): Meg's father mysteriously disappears after experimenting with the fifth dimension of time travel. Determined to rescue him, Meg and her friends must outwit the forces of evil on a heart-stopping journey through space and time.
The first time I read this book, I wasn't even the one reading the words. My mother was. My mother used to give me and my two siblings a half-hour to an hour each of "me + mom" time when I was younger, and most of that time, for me, was taken up by reading aloud. (This time was, by the way, one of the many things my mother did that resulted in me being a well-adjusted human being.)
One of my most vivid memories about this book is that it completely rattled me. We had to stop in the middle, and I had trouble sleeping that night. So one of my questions as I was rereading was: why?
One word: CAMAZOTZ.
Camazotz is where Meg (the MC), Charles Wallace (her genius little brother), and Calvin (friend) go to look for Meg and Charles Wallace's father, who has been missing for some time when the novel opens. Camazotz is also deeply frightening. Not in an obvious way, but as you read, the descriptions start to creep into your mind more and more, until you just want OUT, OUT of that terrible place as quickly as humanly possible.
Remember that post I did on evil a few weeks ago? In which I discussed how evil can be chaotic or orderly? Well, this is orderly evil. Observe:
"Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns.... In front of all the houses children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it. She looked at Calvin, and saw that he, too, was puzzled.
"Look!" Charles Wallace said suddenly. "They're skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone's doing it at exactly the same moment!"
This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers."
I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I find this so creepy. There are several reasons, I think, but first and foremost, it relates to what it says here: "Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it."
Sometimes I have dreams that seem exactly like real life, except they are different in one crucial way-- something is wrong with them. Once I dreamt that I was walking down a hallway with the FH, like I sometimes did at the time, and he just wouldn't look at me. I kept staring at the back of his head, but he refused to turn around. There was something scary about that.
I keep thinking about this quote by W.H. Auden: "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table." Sometimes people go too far with their evil in books (and pre-edits, I was one of them. Cackling Disney Villain Syndrome, I call it.) And sometimes there is a place for dramatic evil, but there is something to be said for the evil that persuades the reader to be complicit in its crimes. That kind of evil exists all around us, all the time-- it makes people fail to do the right thing, fail to struggle against the wrong things.
And that's something Madeleine L'Engle illustrates with the journey to Camazotz. Things just keep getting wronger and wronger, until Charles Wallace begins to believe that he can let evil into his mind just for a second and come out unscathed-- and instead, he's completely enveloped in it, and worse than that, doesn't even see the need to fight against it anymore. I'm convinced that L'Engle understands the nature of evil, and also, what is necessary to defeat it.
Ultimately, Meg saves her brother by loving him. No special powers. No unique gifts. Just ordinary Meg and her extraordinary love. I feel like that sounds cheesy, and maybe that's because we sometimes cheapen love by assigning the word to everything, including infatuation and lust and obsession.
The other interesting thing about rereading this? When I was ten: had no idea how "religious" this book was. I mean, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, quoting scripture? Did not pick up on that the first time, probably because I was not raised a Christian. And frankly, as someone who is currently a Christian, many books that are labeled "Christian books" make me want to punch myself in the head, because they moralize, and they shy away from examining evil-- they oversimplify it, dumb it down, limit it to just the "villains" and refuse to infuse it into the "heroes". You have to understand how evil works if you want to understand why goodness is so important, and writing about evil things does not mean that you condone evil-- far from it. And also, representing the whole truth is something I believe God is pretty fond of. Just my opinion.
Anyway. What I'm trying to say is that L'Engle doesn't run away from the bad. Not that A Wrinkle In Time is edgy, by our current definition-- it's not, and it's not supposed to be. But she creates genuine peril that makes you thirst for resolution, and that's not something that all books accomplish.
One other thing I love about this book is: none of the characters are hot. Seriously. Meg's kinda weird looking with glasses, Calvin's too tall for his clothes, Meg's dad is all scraggly. It's like in Harry Potter-- very few megahot characters in that book, either. I want this to happen more often. I'm going to add it to my writing goals.
(Look, even Sawyer is reading it!)So: Madeleine L'Engle, thank you for scaring the crap out of me at night, and for showing me that I need to delve into how evil really works, and for making me cry every time Meg figures out that love is all she needs to rescue her brother.
Yeah, I'm a total marshmallow. Secret's out.
Want more? Check out Sarah Enni's post on THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl.