Now I know that this is a classic, and classics are classics for a reason, I suppose, and can sometimes be held above reproach. I am not one of those people. There are classics I love and classics I hate.
If you have stumbled upon this review and believe classics to be above reproach, then perhaps you should read no further, for you may indeed be angered a little, but perhaps not too much, so read on if you dare.
My official rating is: 3 stars (it was okay).
I am not sure how I ended up going through childhood without reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, up until this point. I read a lot of books. I have read fourteen this year, thus far, and yet A Wrinkle in Time took me about three months to push through. It is a short book, with rather large print. I read the first half of it in a few days, and then struggled to hold interest enough to keep reading, and then set it aside for some time, then I’d read a chapter and set it aside again.
Now I would like to clarify that this is certainly my style of book. I love children’s books. I love fantasy. I love science fiction. And I even share Ms. L’Engle’s Christian beliefs, which are fairly heavily present in the book. So my distaste stands squarely on the story itself.
I loved the ideas behind the book. Time travel is great. Tesseracts are supremely interesting. As well as supernatural beings like Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit. I am all for it.
I think that the book was probably so beloved because it was smart. It depicted a scientist family and a girl who liked math. The other reason was that it had a female protagonist, Meg, who defied the social constructs of gender for her time.
But literature has changed, and I think that there are a lot more children’s books like this nowadays, though perhaps not as replete with science. But let’s talk about gender. There are lots of strong female protagonists today who actually show that Meg wasn’t nearly as strong as she might have been, in fact. Meg is strong, but in many ways she doesn’t want to be. She wants Calvin to hold her hand through everything, and she wants her father to be the one to fix everything that has gone wrong. Perhaps I am wrong in this. But we do not see this neediness in the characters of Calvin or Charles Wallace. They are much braver.
As far as the story itself goes, it was pretty all over the place. The first hundred pages or so are pretty straight forward. Who, Which, and Whatsit show up, reveal that the tesseract is real, and that Mr. Murry is captured in another universe. Meg and her little brother must go save him. Then a random boy from school, Calvin, sort of stumbles into the story. It is supposed to be fate, but feels contrived. Furthermore Calvin doesn’t bring much to the story. He doesn’t have a real reason for going through the tesseract himself. He doesn’t have a goal like Meg and Charles Wallace.
The three children go tesser to another world to pause and observe something called the Black Thing which stretches over all worlds, symbolizing evil or sin. Now it was here where I was led astray. This, to me, was building up the Black Thing as the main antagonist (and perhaps it is across all the stories). Instead, the Black Thing is never fully explained and just sort of looms over the story, without really adding or detracting from it all that much. When it does it feels rather contrived. It also took away from the real antagonist, in my opinion, the IT on the trio’s next destination, via tessering, the planet Camazotz, where Mr. Murry has been captured.
On Camazotz, everyone is very alike and industriousness seems to be the highest virtue. The planet is said to be covered by the Black Thing, unlike Earth which is only partially covered, and combated by Jesus and Buddha as well various artists and philosophers. The planet is controlled by IT, a brain which controls everyone on the plane, including Mr. Murry. Charles Wallace becomes controlled by the brain, which to me went against his nature. Mr. Murry is rescued, and then Meg must return and rescue Charles Wallace. The one thing IT does not have is love, and so Meg’s love for her brother wins out over IT’s control over Charles Wallace’s mind. The Murry’s plus Calvin go back to Earth.
We never really find out why Mr. Murry was there in the first place. Apparently, he simply ended up there while experimenting with tessering, and was imprisoned for refusing to succumb to the group-mind controlled by IT.
In many ways, I think the book suffers from trying to cover so many things in such a short time. The Black Thing, which covers Camazotz, which is controlled by IT, who controls the Man with Red Eyes, who is the Prime Coordinator of the planet and controls the people. In my opinion, it all got rather convoluted. Too many characters who don’t contribute enough to the story, as well as vague explanations of the bigger themes such as the Black Thing which didn’t fully play out in the story. In addition to what I’ve already said about Meg and Calvin’s characters.
Perhaps what let me down the most was that the story had the materials for something I thought could have been much better. Or perhaps I simply should have read it in the sixties in order to better appreciate it.
In summary: Great ideas, lackluster execution, and rather flat characters.