The story behind Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is nearly as compelling as the novel itself. On her 40th birthday, the author decided to give up writing when she received a rejection letter for one of her works — something she had grown far too accustomed to getting since her first novel, The Small Rain, was published in 1946. After opting to end that chapter in her life, L'Engle moved her family from a 200-year-old Connecticut farmhouse to New York City, where her actor husband, Hugh Franklin, could find work. Shortly thereafter, the idea for A Wrinkle in Time sparked into her head during a family camping trip. Not that publishers were willing to give her a chance again. L'Engle was rejected more than 30 times — leading her to almost turn her back on writing again — but, eventually, a publisher said yes.
And thank goodness that publisher did. Because, of course, 1962's A Wrinkle in Time was greatest work L'Engle produced. It won the Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and it was a finalist for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. It spawned four more books from the author, a movie, and a recent graphic novel.
And thanks to L'Engle perseverance, which persisted even when she claimed to the world she had given up, Meg Murry, Calvin O'Keefe, Charles Wallace, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are now all burned in our collective subconscious as part of one of the most beloved books of our childhood.
Why did we love A Wrinkle in Time?
A young girl who can step up to a cast of eccentric characters and save her family? Please, we all wanted to be Meg Murry. She's misunderstood as a troublemaker by her teachers and classmates, but her family can see inside that she's capable of great things. Like we all believed we were when we were Meg's age.
But as much as we loved Meg for her bravery and how smart she was, we also loved her because she worried about fitting in while wearing braces and glasses. At 13, we all felt that awkwardness. And we liked to believe that even with it, we could befriend someone just like Calvin O'Keefe, the coolest guy in school.
To boot, Meg's family made us appreciate our own parents, who loved us regardless of that awkwardness and who our friends were. But enough warm fuzzies — what about Wrinkle's action and adventure, too? Super-villains, oddball characters, and, of course, tesseracts, oh my! What kid didn't love to get wrapped up in the book's good vs. evil storyline?
Why does it still resonate?
I maintain that grownups could read this book and still experience the same amount of joy as children do reading it. L'Engle crafted the perfect sci-fi novel, using many of the same concepts that current-day, adult sci-fi fiction writers use. Just see her use of the tesseract, or a wormhole.
L'Engle wasn't afraid to promote this complex concept to children. And here's hoping children were inspired by the intellectual discussion in the book — and those who jumpstarted the intellectual discussion. After all, a book published in the mid-20th century featuring a woman, Ms. Murray, who is a microbiologist with vast academic and scientific accomplishments? L'Engle was definitely ahead of her time.
Of course, when talking about science, you can't ignore Wrinkle's religious elements, which are far more apparent than they were to me as a child. But name-dropping Jesus and several sections of the Bible hardly diverts the reader from Wrinkle's sci-fi slant. In fact, L’Engle was the writer in residence for one of the most liberal offshoots of the Episcopal Church, and has even been criticized by staunch Christians for being "too Liberal" with her religious messages.
But when you're traveling to strange lands with a cast of characters named Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, who has time to dwell on that anyway?
To prove that the novel still holds up for adult audiences, check out these quotes.
Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.
It's like Mrs. Whatsit is speaking directly to tired 9-to-5ers.
Thee onnlly wway ttoo ccope withh ssometthingg ddeadly sseriouss iss ttoo trreatt itt a llittlle lligghtly.
(Excuse Mrs. Which's speaking voice.) This is a hard lesson to learn, and it still something adults struggle with as much as kids.
But of course we can't take any credit for our talent. It's how we use them that counts.
An argument against entitlement? So, so true, Mrs. Whatsit.
But my favorite part of the book as an adult? The fact that great thinkers, like philosophers and artists, are the ones fighting against the pure evil. So cool. So perhaps a Bachelor of Arts will indeed pay off in the end!
If You Loved A Wrinkle In Time, Try Reading...
1. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Pullman's His Dark Materials series has the same sense of adventure and wonder as L'Engle's franchise. If you haven't already read this one, hop to it.
2. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth is another childhood favorite, complete with an odd cast of characters, that's worth revisiting.
3. Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Moving to more modern releases, DiCamillo's novel is a bit of a genre-bend of the superhero story, but it's packed with adventure sure to please A Wrinkle in Time fans. It even won the Newbery Medal this year.
4. Save the Enemy by Arin Greenwood
Misunderstood young girl goes on a grand adventure with her younger brother and a popular older boy to find her father? Check.