Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time 
by Madeleine L'Engle

Publisher: Dell
Format: Paperback  
Copyright: 1973 edition - First published 1962
Pages: 211
Genre: Classic children's literature
Source: personal copy

 It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I'll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract."

 I read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle last week during Bout of Books because it was on my TBR pile for the May Midnight Garden's Classic YA Readalong. I had really enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables and have started reading the The Golden Compass in order to catch up. I was really excited about Wrinkle in Time. (If you have read my Bout of Books update, you already know most of what I am going to say here.)

Now I am all verklempt. I remember loving the Wrinkle in Time books when I was a kid but I have not re-read them since and almost nothing I remember was in this book - I must be remembering a different one in the series. This book was plain odd for me and reading it now, I don't understand why I loved it so much. The style is disorganized, the plot jumpy and kinda incoherent, there is lots of telling and not showing. It doesn't really make much sense and the story ends very abruptly. The story is basically a Good verses Evil story but lacking in any subtly. The ideas here are interesting and potentially engaging but the execution is seriously lacking.

There are some classic lines in the earlier part of the book, for example ...

I love "Have you ever tried to get to your feet with a sprained dignity?" 

Both "But you see Meg, just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist." and  "Oh, yes, things could always be worse." are both good bits of advice.

... but as the story goes on it becomes more and more disjointed, and the descriptions are increasingly uneven.

Were we really so bereft of adventure books with female characters that this was exciting at the time?  We must have been. I am still mulling this over. A Wrinkle in Time was the winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal but, and this is going to sound cranky, it doesn't look like there was a very wide field that year - the runners up that year were Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland by Sorche Nic Leodhas, pseud. (Leclaire Alger) (Holt) and Men of Athens by Olivia Coolidge (Houghton). Compare that to other years in the 60s when Cricket in Times Square, Across Five Aprils and Black Caldron were runners up. I was scanning the list from the 60s to see what other heroines there were and it was more diverse than I expected, though the category of books with a female lead must still have been pretty short. Now I want to go back and read the 1961 Medal Winner, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, which I also adored as a child, to see how well it holds up. 

I know that the character of Meg was important for many young women, me included - she was brave, dedicated to her brother and family, and suffering the slings and arrows of being a teenage girl of no special beauty or talent (theoretically at least - she was actually extremely talented in mathematics and she gets through her gawky phase to later become a beauty in later books if memory serves). For girls in the 60s and 70s she obviously was very relatable and the fact that she was successful in her adventure at saving her brother and father, rather than being a damsel in distress, that was huge.

But reading the story now? Meg comes off as rather a brat and is busy acting out - totally understandably given the situation, but at the start of things she isn't actually trying to make anything better - instead she is wallowing in her grief. She doesn't get into gear until forced. For me, this time around she was much less sympathetic. She was selected for this job by The Power of Good after all and has tremendous support through Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Witch. When she pulls herself together it is less of a heroic shift due to personal growth and more of a finally. I know that teenagers can feel like the universe is against them and Meg is rather the embodiment of that - so the fact that she wins against the universe must be appealing to a kid. It comes off much less well to an adult.

Oh dear. I am not even going to attempt to rate this book. Disappointment will almost certainly weight it down. I will let that sit.

I am looking forward to sharing Anne of Green Gables with my daughter when she is a bit older, but now that I have re-read A Wrinkle in Time (and I do still plan to read the other ones that I did as a kid - just to see if what I remember is in Swiftly Tilting Planet or Wind in the Door) -  I really doubt that I will suggest this one to my daughter.  There seem to be much better choices these days and the story, to me anyhow, doesn't appear to have aged very well.


1 comment:

  1. Oh Island of the Blue Dolphins... I've reread that book SO MANY times!! It's been a quite a few years though, I wonder what I'd think of it now?


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