Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Madeline L'Engle

Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeline L'Engle
via Wikipedia
I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was about my daughter's age, ten years old.   In sharing books with her this summer, I've been inspired to reread a few of the ones I don't remember so well.  Of L'Engle's Time series, the book that has always stuck with me was the third: A Swiftly Tilting Planet (my reflection here).  Wrinkle, while generally the most highly acclaimed of the bunch, didn't have quite the same impact on me.  While I'd still say I prefer the later book, I'm glad to have reread Wrinkle and certainly appreciate aspects of the story better now.

Meg Murry is a troubled 14-year-old girl living in a small town.  Hers is seen as the weird family with only her jock twin brothers passing as normal.  Both parents are scientists and Dad has gone missing while on a mysterious mission.  The story's most intriguing character is Charles Wallace, Meg's youngest brother, five years old with deeper connections to the broader universe than anyone understands.  Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin O'Keefe, Meg's surprising new friend, encounter inter-dimensional travelers who lead them on an adventure to save the world and find Meg's father.

While I had forgotten most of the story, the part that I've always remembered is the explanation of the first five dimensions, including the tesseract which is crucial to the adventure.  The book's only illustration demonstrates the fifth dimension with an ant and a piece of string. That picture is always my initial image when anyone starts talking about dimensions beyond the third.

Two lines from the book struck a chord with me in this rereading.  After Calvin, popular at school but a misfit in his own family, is invited back to the Murrys' for dinner, he says, "I've never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I'm going home!"  Don't get me wrong, I had a very secure family life growing up but it took me a while as an adult to find home.

Later, when Mrs. Whatsit, one of the inter-dimensional guides, bestows her gifts upon the children to prepare them for the troubles ahead:
"Meg, I give you your faults."
"My faults!" Meg cried.
"Your faults."
"But I'm always trying to get rid of your faults!"
 "Yes," Mrs. Whatsit said.  "However, I think you'll find they'll come in very handy..."
Meg's handy faults turn out to be stubbornness, impatience and other qualities that would have been deemed unladylike when the book came out in the early '60s.  I love the idea of granting an insecure adolescent his or her faults. As adult authority figures, we often harp on the shortcomings of our young charges but their faults don't belong to us, they belong to them.  Some faults are highly inconvenient to the bearers, to be sure.  But those same qualities can prove to be strengths in the proper contexts.

Again, I'm glad to have reread A Wrinkle in Time.  I may give A Wind in the Door another try, too.  As a kid, that was my least favorite of the series.  Since my childhood, L'Engle added two more books to the Time series.  I may check those out as well.

18 comments:

  1. The explanation of the tesseract is, I'm sure, what enamored me of the book when I was a kid, but it has lost all of it's luster for me as an adult. I'm reading Swiftly, right now, and I think it's better than Wrinkle, but I'm still not enjoying the... juvenileness of it. I'll have a review of that one up soon, and I am going on to the other two that I never read when I was a kid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember you saying you weren't so impressed in your reread. I'll admit it is not the sophisticated prose of, for instance, Lloyd Alexander. But there's something sweet about it.

      Delete
    2. I still enjoyed Alexander when I re-read those as an adult, though that was actually quite a while ago at this point.
      Unfortunately, I didn't find anything sweet about Wrinkle at this point in my life and all the fascination with the tesseract was gone.

      Delete
  2. I don't know why I never read this book. The Hurricane loved it.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see the Book Swap as a way to explore the books I missed in my old childhood, plus those that have come along since.

      Delete
  3. I remember reading this when I was a child and I so enjoyed it. Not sure I want to reread it now as an adult some of the magic might go away.

    So enjoying this summer reading you have been posting about.

    cheers, parsnip

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I still wonder how many details I'll remember about the story in a few years. Compare this to, say, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book I know practically by heart.

      Delete
  4. I will have to read the rest of the series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A long time ago. We had a special presentation for it in grade school. A long time ago. But clearly memorable!

      Delete
    2. Well, if you read the others, let me know what you think.

      Delete
  5. I loved this book and read it multiple times. I could relate to Meg and her feelings of being a misfit and I LOVED Mrs. Whatsit and her 'sisters.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could definitely relate, though there is also something distinctly female about this particular adventure that sets it apart from others of the genre and not just because the protagonist is a girl. Meg's is an emotional triumph far more than a physical one. I realize it's simplistic to consider it in those terms but I think it holds here.

      Delete
  6. This was a lovely post. I, too, love the idea of transforming a fault into an asset. Two sides to every coin.

    ReplyDelete
  7. One of the best things about the book bloggers is the attention to some of these great books that I need to revisit or missed the first go-round. Love this post and I put my hands on the book immediately and refreshed my memory.

    The concept of faults having value is really something I'd like to impress upon young people. There's nothing unique about cookie cutter people, and more often than not, it's a weakness or a fault that sets them apart. So much about our society pushes them to a norm that isn't worth a hill of beans.

    Thanks, Squidman!
    Cherdo
    www.cherdoontheflipside.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm delighted to have inspired a re-read! Thanks, Cherdo.

      Delete