Wrinkle In Time: Madeleine L’Engle
A Wrinkle In Time is one of the earliest works of literature that Madeleine L’Engle wrote in her career. L’Engle was born in 1918 in New York and as a child, she loved to draw and read. After she graduated from Smith College in 1941, she went and had a career in theater. Five years later, she married Hugh Franklin and spent her time helping him in his general store, raising their three children, and writing fascinating stories.
The book was eventually published in 1962 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, but with low expectations of it ever selling out. Nonetheless, L’engle was ecstatic because her book has been rejected by multiple publishers for the past two years. The book is inspired by the new science by Albert Einstein and Max Planck at the time, cosmology, moral values, and the power of love, and was also aimed at young adults. It’s understandable why publishers did not see the book having any success since these ideas were new and younger audiences may not fully grasp the moral message. L’Engle still insisted on publishing the book and stated that she “wrote books because people read books”. The book ended up winning the Newbery Medal in 1963 and several other awards later on.
The book was followed by four more sequel novels: A Wind in the Door (1973), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), Many Waters (1986) and An Acceptable Time (1996). The collection is often referred to as the Time Quintet and all follow the adventures of the same characters in the same book with similar messages, but in differing timelines.
The book centers around Meg Murry who often finds herself not being able to fit in with her peers in high school, but is still a loveable person. Her brother, Charles Wallace, is an incredibly gifted kid who is able to communicate verbally and mentally with other beings besides humans. Lastly, Calvin is a popular athlete at Meg’s school but is often neglected at home. He is nonetheless a brave and affectionate character.
Meg’s father is a mad scientist who has not returned home for a long time, and Meg’s mother writes him letters every night even though he has stopped writing for some time. One stormy night, Meg, her mother and Charles Wallace gather in the kitchen when their dog Fortinbras begins to bark nonstop. Their mother then spots a lurking figure outside their door and goes to see who it is. She brings a short lady who is soaking wet from the storm and Charles Wallace recognizes her as Mrs. Whatsit. While Meg and Charles Wallace confront her on the alleged rumors of her stealing bed sheets from their neighbor, she confirms that there is such a thing as a tesseract. Albeit the children are unfamiliar with it, their mother is shocked at the news.
The next day after school, Meg and Charles Wallace along with Fortinbras decide to go pay a visit to Mrs. Whatsit and her friends who recently moved to a haunted house in the woods. Fortinbras begins to bark to alert them of an incoming Calvin, who didn’t want to return home because it’s difficult being the third out of eleven kids. He also felt a compulsion that afternoon to visit the haunted house, is what he told the siblings. Charles Wallace believed him after a minute of silent telepathy and invited him over for dinner.
After dinner, Meg and Calvin sit on the grass in the backyard and he starts asking her questions about her father. Calvin could sense her annoyance from the sudden interrogation, evident by the fact that she stood up as soon as the conversation started. But he grabbed her again and was reassuring her that he thought highly of her father’s achievements thus far. Calvin comforted crying Meg after acknowledging her fears of never finding her father when Charles Wallace interrupted and said they were going on a mission to find their father with the help of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.
In Meg’s point of view, she is separated from the others and finds herself in a dark surrounding, incapable of crying out for help and her body weightless. As her heart begins to beat faster, she hears the voices of Charles Wallace and Calvin and then materializes next to them and Mrs. W. It’s explained later by Mrs. Whatsit that what they just experienced was traveling through the fifth dimension, also referred to as “tesser” or “wrinkle” through space. If traveling through space normally is going from one point to another on a single plane, then tessering is simply bringing the destination point closer to create a shortcut.
Mrs. Whatsit continues to warn the children that Mr. Murry is in danger, but they need to know what they’re facing. She then transforms into a beautiful, winged creature, her true form, and urges them to climb on her back. They travel through space and initially find whimsical singing creatures that bring extreme joy. As they continue to go higher in the atmosphere, they see blackness that swallows the whole universe. Meg confirms from Mrs Which that The Black Thing is what her father is facing and they tesser again to a foggy planet to meet The Happy Medium, a merry woman who holds a crystal ball that overlooks the entire universe.
She shows them the view they witnessed up close, but this time, they can see the great scale of how The Black Thing is affecting the planets. Mrs. Which tells them it’s the thing they need to fight in order to save their father, but they are not on their own. In fact, some of the warriors who fought The Black Thing were prominent figures such as Gandhi, da Vinci, and Shakespeare. Their father is held captive in one of the planets called Camaztoz engulfed in the dark entity.
They say their goodbyes to The Happy Medium and tesser to Camaztoz, where the children are also forced to say their goodbyes to the Mrs W’s. They don’t mention why, but they give them gifts that would help them with saving Mr. Murry. Mrs. Whatsit strengthens their personal qualities; she strengthens Meg’s stubbornness, Calvin’s ability to communicate to all beings and Charles Wallace’s childish resilience. Mrs. Who gives Meg thick spectacles only to be used as a last resort, Calvin an excerpt from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, and Charles Wallace a quote from Goethe. Mrs. Which’s gift was more of a command to stay together and protect each other. Meg then grabbed Charles Wallace’s and Calvin’s hands and impatiently ran down from atop the hill they stood to the town in Camazotz.
The town was grey and was lined with houses that looked the same and children that dressed the same and bounced their balls and skipped their rope to the same rhythm, except for one boy who could not follow the rhythm. His “mother” comes out and orders him to come inside before they are punished. A few minutes later, they are confronted by a paper boy who rode on his bicycle and threw newspapers in the same manner and landed in the same spot at every house. The boy questions them first, but when they clarify they are strangers to Camaztoz, the boy then tells them that they are the most oriented planet ruled by IT, found in the CENTRAL Central Intelligence. The boy rides off fearing that he will stray from his time schedule, and Charles Wallace becomes doubtful because he can’t hear people’s thoughts anymore. He only hears a steady beat.
The children had no choice but to go to the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building in an attempt to ask about Mr. Murry, but a man finds the lost children without the proper identification papers and is forced to report them in order to avoid “reprocessing”. They are led to a large room through the marble wall where dozens of robot servants stand and on the other side of the room is a man on a throne with red beaming eyes.
Meg tells the man with red eyes that they are looking for their father, Mr. Murry, but the man doesn’t understand what a father is and its purpose of it. Though the man begins to take interest in Charles Wallace and says he is the only one with a complex neurological system enough to understand what is IT. Charles Wallace thinks it could lead them to find their father, but Meg protests heavily on the idea of letting IT in. Nonetheless, the man looks at Charles Wallace and Charles Wallace is no more. His eyes become fully blue and his speech is not what it used to be.
Meg shrieks and begs Calvin to bring him back to normal, but then the man with red eyes, now known as the Prime Coordinator, orders Charles Wallace to lead them to Mr. Murry. They go into a long, white corridor and as they are walking, Calvin is able to speak to the actual Charles Wallace for a moment but then he gets controlled again by IT. Charles Wallace then tells them that they should just submit to IT and their lives will improve as they become complete happiness, but Meg argues that a little unhappiness is what makes life worth living.
They reach a certain point in the corridor and Charles Wallace waves his hand in front of the wall and a door opens to reveal the boy that was in the neighborhood, bouncing his ball with rhythm in pain. Charles Wallace states that it’s his punishment for not following the rules, but then Meg and Calvin glance at another door. Inside, a transparent column stood and Mr. Murry stared at it with a blank expression.
Meg yells out to him and attempts to go get him, but there is an invisible barrier where the door was. Charles Wallace pulls Meg back and they begin to brawl while Calvin tries to communicate with the real Charles Wallace but without success. Meg remembers Mrs. Who’s spectacles and when she puts them on, she is finally able to go through the barrier. When she hugs her father with Charles Wallace tagging behind, Mr. Murry is excited to hear her voice, but can’t see her until he wears Mrs. Who’s spectacles. He then carries Meg as she loses her vision and they walk out of the dark void. Charles Wallace (or IT) becomes extremely angry and claims that the order has been corrupted and IT is very displeased.
Charles Wallace insists that they must be taken to IT, so as they walk behind him outside of the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building, they try to explain things to Mr. Murry. They eventually arrive at a dark place with a violet, beaming dome on the ground that’s emitting a rhythmic beat. Meg begins to feel synchronized with this beating so Mr. Murry calls out to her to recite things to create a discrepancy. Realizing that IT’s power is too strong though, Meg slowly loses her senses. Calvin orders everyone to tesser.
They tesser to a grey, icy planet and Meg can hear Mr Murry and Calvin, but she is completely paralyzed. Her father claims that her heartbeat is faint, but she will regain consciousness. In the meantime, he explains how he ended up being trapped in Camazotz. A group of scientists, including himself, were part of a project to tesser to Mars, but accidentally went too far. He knows that he hasn’t been trapped for more than two years, but due to time working differently in Camazotz and almost surrendering to IT, he doesn’t know how long he has been absent.
Meg begins to slightly move and make small sounds and both rush to her aid. In pain, Meg asks where Charles Wallace was and Mr Murry said he wasn’t able to bring him along as he was stuck with IT. Meg becomes furious and starts yelling at her father because she thought he would be able to fix everything, including Charles Wallace. A moment later, Calvin notices three strange creatures walking towards them, with four arms, tentacles on their head, and indentations where their eyes would be.
Calvin introduces themselves and their situation to the creatures and the creatures pick up Meg, claiming that they all need to rest before they go back to Camazotz to fight IT and potentially the Black Thing. The next day, Meg regains her strength and meets with Mr. Murry and Calvin for breakfast the creatures have prepared for them. Meg finds warmth and safety in the creatures’ hospitality despite their creepy features, so she calls them Aunt Beast. Suddenly, Mrs. Which’s thunderous voice declares that they have arrived.
After discussing with Mrs. W’s on what has happened thus far and Charles Wallace’s whereabouts, Mrs. Whatsit says there is nothing that could be done by Mr. Murry or Mrs. W’s, but only Meg could save her brother. Mr. Murry and Calvin argue with the ladies but are forced to let Meg go. Meg assumed Mrs. W’s would have another gift for her to accomplish her mission, but Mrs. Whatsit tells her she already has something IT doesn’t, which makes Meg ponder.
She is tessered back to Camazotz and she finds Charles Wallace where he was last seen, near the beaming brain of IT. As she calls for him, she continues to think of what Mrs. Whatsit told her about having something IT doesn’t. She finally realizes that even though IT claims comfort and eternal happiness by surrendering to IT, IT doesn’t have love. She begins to yell at Charles Wallace about how much she loves him and he finally snaps and runs back to her in tears. They both tesser out into the darkness and find themselves in the backyard of their home reunited with Calvin and Mr. Murry. The book ends with their joyful reunion of the Murrys and Mrs. W’s as well, where they state they can’t stay for too long as they have another mission to go on. Before they explain it though, they are cut off by tessering, leaving an exciting cliffhanger for the reader.
L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time brings wild cosmic imagery with moral themes fitting for youths who read it. It’s unimaginable how the book was written with such imagery especially since it was written in the 60s when this kind of knowledge was new and not understood by the public. The main theme of the book revolves around the power of love, evidently seen in the final battle against Meg and IT. There were other several themes in the book as well that served as lessons to Meg and her character development, such as conformity and individuality, and the power of knowledge.
Written and researched by Jumana Raggam
L’Engle, Madeleine. “Time Quintet.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Quintet. Accessed 30 September 2022.
L’engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962.
L’Engle, Madeleine. “A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L’Engle and A Wrinkle in Time Background.” SparkNotes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/wrinkle/context/. Accessed 30 September 2022.