Dec 15 2011 3:00pm

There is Such a Thing as a Tesseract: A Wrinkle in Time

Some misunderstood teenagers need to find their own way in life.

Some are fortunate enough to do this while traveling through space and time.

A Wrinkle in Time, probably Madeleine L’Engle’s most famous novel, and certainly one of her most profound and imaginative, begins on a dark and stormy night, as Meg Murry, an overdramatic teenager with Major Issues, is sitting and sulking in her room. (We’ve all been there.) Terrified by the storm outside, she heads downstairs for a snack, to encounter her strange little brother, Charles Wallace, her worried mother, and a tramp. Of sorts. Who calls herself Mrs. Whatsit, and who is later joined by Mrs. Who (who wears glasses and quotes a lot) and Mrs. Witch (who speaks with a lot of extra letters.)

The next day Meg finds herself spinning to other worlds, searching for her missing father.

L’Engle uses a neat narrative trick — a wrinkle, or what she calls a tesser — both to pull off space travel in a flicker of an instant and have the kids return before anyone can ask where they go. She uses a second neat narrative trick to admit that no human can fully understand or control this tessering, but explains it with a nice series of simple geometric drawings and an ant. But, although this is the title of the book, and much of the plot revolves around it, at its heart, this is a book about the painful process of growing up and self acceptance — if one that dazzles as it leaps from world to world.

(And for those who may complain about the convenience of this sort of travel or claim that it’s completely against the laws of physics, let me just note that it’s mastered by former stars here. Not Hollywood type stars, either. Real stars. I’m guessing they learned a bit about physics as they burned their way through the cosmos.)

Joining Meg are Charles Wallace and a new friend, Calvin O’Keefe, who has managed to maintain good grades and popularity and a decent sense of self-esteem despite coming from a poverty-stricken, abusive household. It’s a striking contrast with Meg, part of a well-to-do, loving household, yet deeply lacking in the self-esteem department. (Among the many, many things that went wrong in the Hollywood production was to make Meg pretty and remove the glasses and braces.)

L’Engle whirls the three from planet to planet: to a marvelous place of beauty and peace named Uriel, with an atmosphere thin enough to see evil; to the home of the Happy Medium (a delightful example of L’Engle’s wordplay), to Camazotz, a planet of terrifying uniformity, and the grey planet of Ixchel. L’Engle is a master at painting these alien civilizations with just a few words, although some of her creations are more successful than others. (Uriel, for instance, is perhaps just a bit too perfect, and not altogether convincing.)

The most memorable of their stops is undoubtedly Camazotz, where Meg’s father is imprisoned. Memorable precisely because the population of Camazotz is not alien, but recognizably human (and English-speaking). But, as the three soon realize, something is very wrong here: nearly every child (with one exception) bounces a ball or jumps rope in perfect unison. The doors all open and close at once. Everyone has a place, a part, a cog in a great pulsing machine. In Camazotz, L’Engle presents a genuinely chilling picture of evil: conformity.

Since L’Engle lived through World War II and wrote this book during the Cold War, Camazotz has sometimes been interpreted as a her representation of the Soviet Union and totalitarian societies. I’m not sure that’s correct. It reads rather as a warning about the conformity of American suburbia, the desire to be just like everyone else and not stand out. Not that the desire to conform is confined to American suburbs, but what Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace walk through is a horrific parody of one, with its identical houses and nice neat lawns all outside the city limits.

Not surprisingly, the three kids, who come from a small town with a long history, find this horrifying. And L’Engle, who adored the individuality of New York City and the area of rural Connecticut where she’d been living, had just taken a cross country camping trip across the United States on its relatively new interstate highway system — a system that even then was beginning to inspire the creation of chain restaurants and hotels, allowing tourists to obtain identical, or nearly identical, housing and food wherever they traveled in the United States.

Some of the horror L’Engle felt at this slipped out in a later Vicky Austin book containing more straightforward retelling of the trip. It fit, too, with a central theme of many of her novels: it’s okay to be different. Even beneficial. Not that L’Engle was unaware of or unconcerned about the Cold War, as the next two books in this series would show, but I somehow think, had she been attempting to make a statement about the Soviet Union, she would have chosen different imagery.

Despite the effectiveness and terror of this imagery, however, A Wrinkle in Time does have a few flaws here and there. I have no idea what a two dimensional planet is doing in a four dimensional universe, even if the very concept intrigued me so much as a kid that I began to write (very bad) stories about life in a two dimensional universe. And L’Engle, for all of her poetry and breakneck speed earlier in the book, has a very awkward infodump as Meg awakes on the strange planet of Ixchel. But these are minor criticisms.

Larger criticisms can be made about on the characters, particularly Meg. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: yes, Meg is whiny. Yes, Meg is overdramatic. (And she does not list either of these as flaws.) She’s also angry, impatient, and stubborn, and her self-esteem needs one major booster. But Meg is also a highly realistic teenager. (The impatience with adults and their inability to just stay focused on the things Meg considers important is just classic). And she has reason to be overdramatic and whiny: quite apart from her problems at school, her father is missing (and she’s been harassed by this) and she keeps getting interrupted in her quest to save him and her brother by annoying aliens and talkative stars.

Despite her flaws, I like Meg, a lot. Possibly because, like Meg, I wore glasses and was generally unpopular and awkward in school, and didn’t always think highly of my teachers and what they thought important, making Meg easy for me to identify with. And more probably because even in the midst of the overdramatic whining, Meg never really does lose sight of what’s important: saving her parents.

But it’s just as well that Meg is a fairly realistic teenager and Mrs. Whatsit is a fairly realistic former star (as such things go) since the same cannot be said about the other major characters, particularly Charles Wallace. I get that he is not supposed to be a realistic five year old, and it’s just as well that L’Engle goes out of her way to make this point, because, Charles Wallace, not a realistic five year old. At the same time, he’s often not a particularly realistic anything else, either, largely because L’Engle has moments of suddenly remembering, wait, Charles Wallace isn’t just some new form of super genius human being with telepathy, but, he’s also five! and then proceeding to make him act like a small, terrified little five year old. Most of these moments are near the beginning, but they are still distracting.

And Mr. Murry never manages to come alive either, whether as absentee father, present father, or astrophysicist. (And whatever my cynicism about the federal government, I find myself unable to believe that a second astrophysicist would be testing tessering after the first simply disappeared without a clue. At least try to theorize what happened, first!)

Catherynne Valente, in an insightful essay published earlier this year, also notes some distinct gender issues — including the oddity that the brilliant Mrs. Murry is not allowed to help in the search for her husband, and the way that L’Engle uses more infantilizing language for Meg than for Calvin or the much younger Charles Wallace.

On a language note, this is where I first found myself distracted by L’Engle’s frequent use of the word “moan,” a writing tic that would worsen in later years. One or two moans in a book is fine (more are acceptable if ghosts are around), but L’Engle’s characters, starting here, would do so much moaning that I felt the need to beg them to try just a little groaning or grumbling and grousing.

But despite these flaws, the book has several great moments: Meg’s realization that her father cannot solve everything, and her later realization that to be loved by Mrs. Whatsit is something; the blind aliens who study the stars without knowledge of light or sight; the sheer poetry of Uriel; Mrs. Who’s quotations, which I loved as a child.

And this, my favorite bit:

…“You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is entirely up to you.”

Because above all, this is a book that refuses to talk down to its readers, believing them able to grasp the difficult concepts of mathematics, love and the battle between good and evil. And that’s quite something.


Mari Ness tried to master the tesseract, but found that the math was completely beyond her. She lives in central Florida, and thinks physicists should get on this practical implementation of space wrinkling, like, now.

This article is part of The Madeleine L'Engle Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Pamela Adams
1. PamAdams
I'll have to read Cat's article. I definitely felt some of the gender differences in this reading. Also, Calvin pulls the 'Without the glasses, you're gorgeous' line- always annoying to those of us who are blind-as-bats.

I also empathized with Meg's 'I know how to do it, so why make me do it in some other way' issues. I too suffered that,. although mine was for reading, not math. (Still don't understand phonics)

I need to make a comparative chart of how Austin and Murry/O'Keefe ages stack up.

In Camazotz, L’Engle presents a genuinely chilling picture of evil: conformity. And I always want to start singing songs from Camelot when I hear it. (The balls may never bounce 'til after sundown........)

My favorite character is Aunt Beast.
A.J. Bobo
2. Daedylus
An elementary school librarian recommended this to me when I was about nine. I had just discovered a love of reading with The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I don't think I can thank that librarian (whose name I can't even remember) enough for introducing me to L'Engle's universe.
Chris Palmer
3. cmpalmer
It's been a while since I read it (a long while and that's something I should correct), but I remember not being bothered by Charles Wallace's duality. I didn't see it as a authorial problem, but as a struggle between his superhuman precociousness and the emotional/biological issues of being five years old. Of course, it may not have occurred to me at the time to think the author wasn't handling it right.

Also, that quote about the sonnet (which I only vaguely remember jumping out at me) is one of the best descriptions of the balance between our genetics and human nature (the sonnet form) and how we live our lives (the words of the sonnet).
Fade Manley
4. fadeaccompli
I never quite identified with Meg, because I just couldn't understand not liking teachers, and school. (In retrospect, I am under the impression that my teachers were better than Meg's.) But it's still one of my childhood favorites.

And the quote about form and content? Not only marvelous on its own, but the first time I'd ever heard the word "sonnet". Which led to my discovery that there were entire reams of poetry written in all sorts of formats I hadn't even known existed. Which led to a lot of terrible poetry-writing, but I think that's par for the course. It's funny where we find New Knowledge, in children's literature.
5. Court
I do very much think that Valente's criticisms have validity (and she is an author I admire very much, maybe as much as I do L'Engle), but I think I am blinded by my childhood love for this book. I WAS Meg. Sometimes I still am, to an extent. I discovered this book on a proverbial "dark and stormy night" and read it to tatters over the next few years. To me, back then, Meg wasn't whiny, she was standing up for herself, something I needed to do, myself. I also wanted to meet Mrs. Whatsit so bad I used to look for her every time the wind blew.

Also Aunt Beast. I still want her to be my aunt.
6. AlBrown
I read this book at a very young age, and it scared the hell out of me. The thought of my parents needing MY help was very disturbing, and that Camazotz was one of the scariest places I ever read about. I still remember losing sleep for weeks afterwards, thinking about it...
7. Zenspinner
I remember so well. I was in fifth grade and I had just read something by Beverly Cleary, and was looking for something new and I found this. I was completely blown away by its depth, by the wonder I felt. I had never read anything even remotely like it before - even my beloved Scrooge McDuck comics couldn't compare to this. I took it to camp with me the summer after school let out, and read it over and over again.

I don't know when I found out it was science fiction - probably not until after I had discovered Star Trek, which also seemed to have the depth and sense of wonder that other shows didn't have (but really, books are better for that - film just lays it out for you; you don't have to use your imagination at all). But once I did find out what A Wrinkle in Time was, I was all over the (small) science fiction section of our local library. And in a couple of years I was reading "Best of" short story collections and being snobby about Star Wars because Harlan Ellison didn't like it. It didn't take me long.

I wish I remembered the second science fiction book I read. But I'll never, never forget the first.
8. Vickie J
I literally have 5 or 6 copies of this book, all but one read to pieces. My poor old original copy from when I was 6 years old is taped lovingly, with my favorite parts underlined carefully in pencil. Looking back, I suppose Ms. L'Engle is the reason I love sci-fi and fantasy work so much. I grew up with Meg Murray and Vicky Austin. I cried and raged and laughed alongside them. A Wrinkle in Time set spark to my love of reading, and I don't think I've gone more than a few days without a book in hand ever since.
I read this book in 5th grade because that weeks library theme was SFF. I brought it back to the school library the following week and asked are there MORE books like this? Up until then I just watched every science fiction and fantasy show on television that was on. It started my love of reading. I always thought Charles Wallace was a really smart kinda weird five year old but just rolled with it. The only thing that was a little annoying was L'Engle didn't translate on the foreign language quotes and I always wanted to know what did they mean in english.
10. elsiekate
this is one of my "didn't hold up as well when i grew up" books. though i haven't reread it in years and it's not like i hated it in rereading it, just that yes, meg isn't as strong about some things and charles wallace is sort of difficult to believe in. oddly, the thing i remember loving was the whole concept of the tesseract--or more specifically, that i could understand the explanation. i was very young at the time, but my inner science geek was already around!
Mari Ness
11. MariCats
Wow. I hadn't realized this was an introductory science fiction book for so many people. I hit this book much later, after encountering the original Star Trek series, Oz, Narnia, Paddington Bear, various robot books and so on. But this has helped me understand the ongoing love for this book.

@Pam Adams - I wear glasses, and when I read that bit, I believed it. Rather depressing. Fortunately once I grew up the sexy librarian thing was everywhere, so that took care of that problem.

Aunt Beast is awesome.

@DaedylusSl - Nine is a very good age for first reading this book, I think.

@cmpalmer -- I think the sonnet metaphor is the best part of the book -- profound, easy to grasp, pointed, but still allowing for individual choice. I love it.

@fadeaccompli -- I was having issues in school when I read this, and the thought that you could still get to go into space even if your teachers thought you were a flop was very comforting. But I never thought of this book as an introduction to sonnets -- that's pretty awesome.

@Court - Cat Valente has the advantage of coming to this book without that childhood baggage of loving it too much.

Frankly, in two upcoming books, I'm going to hitting the opposite problem with a book I initially read well after A Wrinkle in Time, when I was older, but still had the problems of loving the characters too much. (The Arm of the Starfish, and to a lesser degree An Acceptable Time.)

@AlBrown - Camazotz is a remarkably effective bit of worldbuilding in its terror; the bit where Meg agrees to go back, alone, is the bravest thing anyone does in the L'Engle books (although Meg does some fairly awesome things in The Wind in the Door, too) and one of the problems with the upcoming The Arm of the Starfish.

@Zenspinner -- Awesome story -- except for the being snobby about Star Wars part. Dude. Han Solo.

@Vickie J -- ooooh, I never dared to underline my books. They were just for reading - I never started to write in books into college when people convinced me to get over that.

But then again, you've kept your original copy and my original copy has vanished somewhere in my journeys.

@RobinM -- Most of the quotes are translated, but given the way Mrs. Who says them, that's not always clear, and I agree, it can be frustrating.
Mari Ness
12. MariCats
@elsiekate - I love the tesseract -- elegant, simple, so much so that I can't figure out why our physicists aren't doing that yet!
Andrew Love
13. AndyLove
Here's a link to the delightful "Wrinkle in Time in 90 seconds"

"I'm Calvin O'Keefe - I'm popular but sensitive; only I understand how special you are, Meg"
Sol Foster
14. colomon
I've got to agree with elsiekate, this book didn't hold up as well for me when I grew up. Except that's not quite right; it's more than I look at it now and I see horrible, horrible flaws, and I still love the book anyway. Same deal with A Swiftly Tilting Planet, too, only moreso. (For some reason I haven't read A Wind in the Door since junior high.)
15. Mouette
Wrinkle wasn't just my first SFF book; to the best of my knowledge, it was my first *book*. My first chapter book that I read by myself.

Of course, my knowledge and memory may be suspect. According to the authority of me, I was in first or second grade at the time - I was a very early reader. I can't verify that this is true, I can't be sure, but that's what I remember. I know that there was one (or more?) chapter book I read with my mom before that, she'd read a page and I'd read a page, but as for reading on my own... as far as I remember, as far as I know, Wrinkle was my first book.

I can't review it with anything even in the same universe as a lack of bias. It kicked me straight into my home genre of fiction, even though it was years before I found out it had sequels and related books. I, too, *was* Meg. I had the brown hair, the glasses, the preference to be home with a book or outside rather than with other *people*. I wonder, reading it so young, how much of me was shaped by Meg.

My favorite part has always been when Meg wakes up, the part with Aunt Beast. I know that the book doesn't hold up to an adult's reading now, but for children that age... it's a wonderful thing. Close my eyes and I can see not just the cover, but the look of the copy inside.

It's been a long, long, *long* time since I read any L'Engle. Maybe it's time to change that... *heads down to her library*.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
16. tnh
I could never identify with Meg, who had so many people looking out for her. What I remember most vividly is Camazotz. I didn't read it as a condemnation of conformity, which is something you do to yourself, and which is judged by the people around you. I saw the mechanism at work there as compulsion, imposed from outside.

What made it so frightening was that the entity exercising the compulsion was inadequately creative. Having every child come outside and drearily bounce their ball in unison, not playing with the other children all around them, is too little complexity mindlessly imposed on too much universe -- which, by the way, is a far more accurate image of the world of raw sprawling suburbs and Interstate Highway System commercial strips L'Engle would have encountered as she traveled cross-country. Conformity is not the issue there. That world the developers were creating was made by small minds writing themselves large in endless repetitions.

The scene with the fake Thanksgiving dinner extends this. Evil again betrays its presence by lacking the fecund willful complexity and particularity of real creation. It camouflages this via deceit, tricking you into overwriting its inadequate, undifferentiated substance with your own memories of a better world elsewhere. The price of Charles Wallace's extraordinary insight is that for him the food is flavorless, because in truth that's what it is.

(The argument resurfaces in The Matrix, in Cypher's speech about the illusory steak, when he denies that there's any value in adherence to a literally unpalatable reality. You could make a case for the idea that the Matrix movies take place in the same universe as A Wrinkle in Time.)

A Wrinkle in Time is, as much as anything, about the relationship between reality and particularity. I learned a number of things from it, most of which I wasn't aware I was learning at the time; but one of the biggest was that you can recognize the presence of the natural world, the one that grows and accretes itself as it goes about its daily business, by its abundance of particular detail, and by the interactivity over time of the things in it.

I've kept that with me ever since. There are few tools I reach for as often. Perhaps I'd have learned it on my own; but my own sense of the matter is that if I can spot professionally created astroturf that's trying to pass itself off as grassroots political activity, or distinguish fake Amazon reader reviews from real ones, I owe Madeleine L'Engle some thanks.
17. Mike Allen
I reread A Wrinkle in Time a little over 10 years ago and still enjoyed it, and thought it held up well -- but then, I wasn't reading it critically and adored it as a kid, read it over and over. (And maybe, based on yours and Cat's comments, I wouldn't be immediately inclined to notice problems, as I'm apparently part of the target demographic, heh.)

I remember as a kid enjoying A Wind in the Door even more, and that one I haven't reread. With the third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I got bored by slow pacing and frustrated by L'Engle's clear lack of interest in creating a continuing narrative (each book proceeds as if a reset button's been punched and the previous book didn't happen.) It also turned out that Charles Wallace was a much less interesting POV character than Meg, as I recall.
18. a-j
Interesting. I never read this book as a child and have only recently read it for this very discussion. Catherynne Valenti's essay pretty much nails the problems I had with it and identifies others that possibly added to my unease.
I'm really sorry, but I did not like it one bit. From the overuse to the word 'wail' in the first chapter (Meg does it twice in as many pages) to the unsubtle Christian allegory (even CS Lewis would have saud 'Hang on, that's a bit heavy-handed') and the clumsy characterisation of Charles Wallace and Calvin.
Did I like any of it? The aunts were fun and Meg's anger and bitterness towards her father were well done though personally I dislike the idea that being angry towards an absent father is caused by external evil rather than human nature, however 'unreasonable' it may be. Other than that, left me cold. Again, sorry.
19. Michael M.
This is a wonderful book to re-read. I first read it when I was five, and I remember identifying very closely with the character of Charles Wallace.
20. Mike Allen
Back again because reading Cat Valente's essay gave me a little epiphany.

L'Engle never seemed in her stories like someone out to rock the boat. But I read Cat's consternation about the mom scientist who keeps house and does her experiments at home and realized that there was something subversive going on there, though by today's standards it probably feels like it doesn't go far enough.

My mom pursued a master's in microbiology after she and dad were married and met a wall of discrimination. Apparently nothing was more unforgivable than pursuing a career in science as a married woman. She was falsely graded lower than her male classmates and had to fight to get her real grades restored, and though she won that fight, the experience discouraged her enough that she dropped out of the field. This was in the mid-to-late 1960s, just a few years after "A Wrinkle in Time" was published.

You could argue, I guess, that L'Engle has her cake and eats it too. Mrs. Murray puts her household first in all things and doesn't do anything to upset the status quo, yet also manages to be Cool Scientist Mom, which must at the time have been a striking novelty.
21. Bayushi
I adored this book. I, too, identified strongly with Meg, and loved Charles Wallace and the twins (and their broccoli, or was it sprouts?) and Mrs. Murray always seemed like a great mom to me.

However, I was always bothered by the problems with Charles Wallace, and how someone with self-esteem as low as Meg's could still stand up for him and kick ass for him.

That said, I loved loved loved these books, even if Charles Wallace always came across as less of a personality than a plot device.
Amber Poore
22. Razorgirl
I love this book, always have, always will. I was a bespectacled, very insecure teen with a very loving family and an exceedingly intelligent little brother. Meg spoke volumes to me, and mind you so did L'Engle's worlds. @21Bayushi just want to say in regards to your issue with Meg's esteem vs kicking-ass for Charles-Wallace, I always found that matter how low my self-esteem was, I had no insecurity and no fear when it came to defending my little brother regardless of the circumstances. :-) But I doo love love love these books right along with you.
23. Off Season Fire Sale
Hey - I just stumbled across this re-read. Any chance of A Winter's Love getting added to the list? It doesn't seem to have had much thoughtful attention given to it, on the web at least.
Mari Ness
24. MariCats
@Andy Love -- And once again, Meg's glasses are left out! Why? (This isn't the only version that does this; I just find it puzzling given that they play such a large role in the book.)

@colomon -- Oh, we will most definitely be talking about how A Swiftly Tilting Planet did not at all hold up to my memories of it either. Not that it was a favorite to begin with.

@Mouette -- Fair warning: Although L'Engle's early books have stood up quite well, her later books have not held up nearly as well for me, as we'll be seeing -- but I definitely think Wrinkle is worth a revisit.

@tnh -- Camazotz definitely is filled with compulsion -- but I still see it as a compulsion to conform, the thought that if everyone is just like everyone else all of the problems of the world can be solved (IT even says something more or less of the sort). But certainly L'Engle was also a great believer in free will and its importance, and she resisted anything that might take that away.

I do like that observation of reality versus particularity. Thanks.

@Mike Allen - That continuing narrative issue also shows up in the O'Keefe books, which feature Meg and Calvin's kids, and which merge back into this series with the fifth book, An Acceptable Time. And it's a big issue.

I like A Wind in the Door, but the discussion of A Swiftly Tilting Planet will be lengthy.

Regarding your second point -- I'm going to be discussing this at much more length when we get to The Arm of the Starfish in a few more weeks (hopefully) -- but you are right. My great-grandmother left chemistry, my grandmother became a medical transcriptionist, and my mother entered nursing for exactly the reasons you are describing -- acceptable jobs for women, especially married women. Perhaps Cat Valente and I are reacting to the fact that Mrs. Murry almost seems to have it too easy, despite the single motherhood and the distrust of the village regarding her job: she seamlessly merges career and motherhood and brings her job back to the house, where L'Engle's other mothers of the period (including, later, Meg Murry) choose child rearing instead of a career, or choose the career instead of childrearing.

@a-j -- Wait until we get to the moaning! No, really! Yes, there's a lot of wailing, but not nearly as much moaning.

On a more serious note, first, I don't see the need to apologize for not liking a book, unless you are a friend of the author. (And I can tell you that even there, I love some of the work my friends have written and am less crazy about the other stuff - and I expect they would say the same thing about my work.) I can see apologizing if for some reason or other you weren't able to give the work a real chance -- but from your description you did read it, approached it fairly and didn't like it. Which happens.

But I will disagree with one thing -- I thought that Meg's anger towards her father erupted after she had finally literally crossed the universe to find him and he STILL couldn't help, and came across as -- to me, at least -- fairly unconcerned about his son given that the son had been captured by an alien brain. And, although presumably Calvin fills him in with how his family is doing, he doesn't say, "Is your mother really ok?" (He asks where she is, but that's about it.) And he's beyond helpless with Charles Wallace AND abandons his son and lets his daughter go do the rescuing at the risk of her own life.

No wonder she's furious.

@bayushi -- I just checked; they land in the broccoli.

Interesting on the self-esteem note - I always assumed Meg got into the physical fight because her self-esteem was so low she assumed that adults wouldn't believe her statements about Charles Wallace -- plus, of course, her growing fury. I might have misread this.

@Razorgirl -- Yay for the defending of young brothers! Glad to hear that this part remains relatively realistic.
25. Lsana
On the subject of Mrs. Murray not being involved in the rescue: it's not because she's a woman, I don't think, but because she's an adult. The Murray parents, though brilliant scientists, are kind of examples of the Adults are Useless trope found so much in kids' books. Mrs. Murray doesn't go on adventures with her kids, but neither does Mr. Murray. In this book, he's part of the story because he's the Damsel in Distress who needs saving, but in the other books, he's got even less of a role than Mom does.

On Meg: she is special, and she does have an incredible talent in her math ability. We just don't see it because this book is from her perspective, and to her, it's no big deal. In books from other perspectives, it's made clear that she's got one of the top mathematical minds in the world.
Mari Ness
26. MariCats
@Off Season Fire Sale -- To be honest, I left A Winter's Love off the list for three reasons - one, as you note, it's somewhat more obscure, two, I don't own it, and three, it wasn't readily available at the library. (Most of my posts are brought to you courtesy of the Orange County Public Library, Florida.)

Let me see if I can hunt it down through interlibrary loan or for a reasonable price, and perhaps I can add it to the reread at the end of the reread, out of publication order (although to be fair next week's book is also out of publication order, mostly to fit around the Christmas holiday.)
Mari Ness
27. MariCats
@Lsana -- I'll be talking a lot more about Meg and her mathematical genius with at least two upcoming books - Arm of the Starfish and An Acceptable Time.

I don't have a problem with Mrs. Murry not going on the universe skipping bit. It's the fact that she's not down in Washington DC saying WHAT DO YOU MEAN you haven't heard from my husband? And the fact that they aren't telling her anything, though I get that his work is top secret.
Justin Levitt
28. TyranAmiros
I remember reading A Wrinkle In Time around the same time I read William Sleator's The Boy Who Reversed Himself, and liking Sleator's fourth dimension better than L'Engles'. But then, like Charles Wallace, the tesseract is just a plot device to set up Meg's story.

Thinking back on it from an older perspective, it covers a lot of the same ethical ground other classics from the same era, particularly works for adults like Brave New World and Farenheit 451, while at the same time, making the individuality/conformity duality accessible to a younger audience. In fact, I'm at a loss at which world is scarier--the future Earth of Brave New World where we know how they've acheived conformity or the fictional Camazotz, where IT is shrouded in mystery. Actually, the world of Farenheit 451 is probably scarier than both because they've got conformity not by some government fiat or intergalactic war, but by human nature alone.

That, I think, is where A Wrinkle in Time does a more interesting twist than the works written for adults. In the end, the Power of Love saves Charles Wallace, and for all the Christianity in the work, the point goes beyond religion. The hinge of the conformity/individuality duality in the story is faith, not in the power of God, but in the power of the individual. The former is embodied in IT, the latter in Meg.

On Mrs Murray-- I always just assumed that Mrs. Murray had known that Mr. Murray was working on a tesseract and the experiment had gone wrong, but the Government was not releasing any details at this time (I grew up on Cold War-era cartoons where half the files are labeled "TOP SECRET" in big red letters). Hadn't Mr. Murray been gone for three years before the beginning of AWIT?

Side note--@Mari Cats, any chance of a William Sleator re-read in the future? Or at least a couple more books besides House of Stairs? Into the Dream got me into Sci-fi in second grade and I had nightmares about The Green Futures of Tycho in elementary school. I'd love to reminisce about The Boy Who Reversed Himself, Interstellar Pig, or The Duplicate as well.
29. Off Season Fire Sale
Thanks for investigating the possibility. Much appreciated!
30. HelenS
I always thought Meg, with all her brilliance and blind spots ("Her I wouldn't want to teach," Calvin groans), was a far better portrayal of a profoundly gifted child than Charles Wallace was. Yet most analyses of the book that I've seen seem to focus on his talents and not hers.
31. Annalisa
I reread/relistened (via audiobook, read by L'Engle) to A Wrinkle in Time a few years ago, and I agree, it doesn't entirely hold up. This is true with A Swiftly Tilting Planet, as well, which was my absolute favorite when I was a kid, so I'll be interested in reading your post about that. I do still love ASTP but there are certain elements to it (well, not just that book in particular, but all post-ASTP books featuring the Murray-O'Keefes) that make me sigh. (Speaking of which, will you be doing a post on House Like a Lotus later?)

Ironically I have kind of the opposite history with A Wind in the Door. I had a difficult time reading it as a child (probably due to some of the medical language in it) and didn't remember any of it later on. So I read it for the first time, really, two years ago, and truly loved it and was pretty moved by it. I feel a little like it's L'Engle's most underappreciated book.
32. Annalisa
Also -- it was only a little while ago when I read Michio Kaku's "Hyperspace" that I discovered what a tesseract truly is! I recommend everybody wiki it, because it's quite different than the meaning L'Engle assigns to it -- and actually it's quite interesting and beautiful in its own right.
Mari Ness
33. MariCats
@TyranAmiros - Yes, I will be looking at more William Sleator books later -- I'm just not sure what the schedule is. I believe that next up are Edward Eager and the Freddy the Pig books. (Eager was originally supposed to follow Edith Nesbit, but then we needed to schedule the L'Engle reread around the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time.) But Sleator is definitely on the agenda for some point in the future.

@HelenS - I think that's for two reasons: 1) both this book and the next two in the series go on and on about how special and intelligent Charles Wallace is, but say nothing of the same about Meg, and 2) as I'll be discussing in The Arm of the Starfish and probably An Acceptable Time, Meg chooses to become a housewife, not a scientist, while the implications are that Charles Wallace has gone on to do extremely hush hush, top scientific work/space exploration.

@Annalisa -- Ah, House With a Lotus.

I contemplated leaving that one (and with it, the entire O'Keefe series) out of this reread, reading only An Acceptable Time. I decided, however, that An Acceptable Time might be best read as the end of two series -- the Time Quartet/Quintet and the O'Keefe series. But, yes, I will be discussing the problems of that book and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

I've seen various moving tesseract renditions and they are all pretty awesome and, bonus, don't involve insects.
34. DarrenJL
I had to read this book to teach it this year. Had to. I have never put down a book so many times. Awful prose, does not even bother to learn what a tesseract is (a central aspect of her novel!)....

I hate this book.
Mari Ness
35. MariCats
@DarrenJl -- Definite proof that this book is not to everyone's taste!
Andrew Love
36. AndyLove
@Andy Love -- And once again, Meg's glasses are left out! Why? (This isn't the only version that does this; I just find it puzzling giventhat they play such a large role in the book.)
Hunh. You're right. I was too busy laughing at things like Meg blowing off the tesseract explanation to notice the missing glasses...
37. James Davis Nicoll
It reads rather as a warning about the conformity of American suburbia, the desire to be just like everyone else and not stand out.

Perhaps this is appropriate, written as it was the same year as A Wrinkle in Time.
LaShawn Wanak
38. LMWanak
This was among one of the first SF books I read as a kid. Just re-listened to it on a car trip. Most of my thoughts about it can be found at my Goodreads review, but I think it's time to start reading in the other books as well!
39. John Cowan
This book was read to me by a teacher very early on, though I can't pin down the year because I don't remember which teacher it was. It definitely came after The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, though. I found and find Charles Wallace absolutely convincing, if only because I was a hyper-bright child who was put into school almost two years too early, and so was always emotionally behind everyone else. (I can't blame my parents: they saw that I needed something, and at the time pre-K simply didn't exist, so they got me into a kindergarten class when I was barely four years old — being summer-born would have made me among the youngest even if I had been five.) I only wish I had had a Meg who understood me, but I was an only child. Fortunately, I had great parents, though it was a long time before I had more than one friend at a time (lots of school-changing meant they didn't last).
40. Spanky
The link to "Catherynne Valente, in an insightful essay published" is now incorrect as of today (02-26-15) the current and correct url is
Stefan Raets
41. Stefan
@40 - I just updated the link. Thanks for the heads-up!

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