I currently own and re-read many of my childhood favorite fantasy tales. Some, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, stand the test of time as fantasy, but have taken on a much different meaning as I now understand the heavy religious imagery, which I didn’t at the time I originally read it. I can’t really say if it makes the book better or worse. I’m a different person than I was when I read them the first time around and I still enjoy them.
I have been hearing movie news that Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is making it to the big screen. I realized that here was a book (and the two following novels) that was a childhood favorite of mine that I don’t own a copy of and can’t remember re-reading since I read it as a kid. My vague memories were of the word tesseract and the fact that in one of the books the heroine has to rescue someone by going into their bloodstream and changing something. Visions of something like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, seemed to stick in my mind.
Happily, the books are more than that. I re-read the original trilogy, A Wrinkle in Time, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and The Wind in the Door. I hadn’t even realized that two more books in the series, Many Waters and An Acceptable Time, had been published in the ‘80’s. I’ll put those on the list for a later time.
I can see why, as a child, I liked these books. They feature a female protagonist, Meg Murry, in a combination fantasy/sci-fi setting. As I was a devotee of Tolkien, Asimov, and Heinlein, this mix appealed to me. Although the story lines focus on science based themes like physics and mitochondria, they are combined with mythological creatures, the wind as a method of communication, and beings who seem to call themselves witches although might have a science based explanation for them. The lead character was attractive, too. She’s a misfit, but intelligent, something any shy book loving kid could identify with. She has cool parents and supportive family members. She meets the popular boy from school who is instantly attracted to her with only one look. What’s not to like?
Each book features a specific evil the children have to avert. Whether they are rescuing Meg’s father or saving her younger brother’s mitochondria, the conflict is stated mostly in terms of good and evil. It’s apparent from the language that good equals faith in a Christian God. For all the imagery there is, the Murry’s don’t seem to be a faith based family (unless that faith is science), and there is no mention made of church attendance, so maybe that’s why it feels so light. The religious imagery isn’t heavy, but appears at most key points in the novel. There are also witches, soothsayers, mental telepathy, and unicorns, along with cherubim and angels, so I’m thinking that L’Engle’s work can appeal to a wide selection of theists. Parts of the story feel particularly relevant in this current political atmosphere with overtones of the fears embedded in totalitarian regimes, nuclear war and dictatorships. Maybe those themes are timeless.
I like the fact that there are real lessons that can be learned by both children and adults. Meg learns that parents are fallible, sometimes it’s your faults that make you stronger, love can cure many evils, good people can die along with bad ones, and sometimes it’s the small things that can cause the greatest change.
As it often is with childhood favorites that were really written for a young adult audience, the books feel very short for an adult reader. The language used is descriptive, but spare, and all three novels seemed to have abrupt endings. I would have liked to see epilogues where our characters got to resume normal lives as a reward for the chaos they had just averted. Definitely add these to your bookshelf, especially if you are tired of the current young adult trends in vampires and zombies.