Mystery, Adventure, Love, and a Thing Called a Tesser

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night, and in a spooky loft a little girl is trying and failing to sleep through a storm. This girl is Meg and along with her five-year old, prodigy brother, Charles Wallace, she is about to undergo an adventure that will take her across space and time until she finds her missing father. On this journey, she’ll meet three curious old women (Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit), a charming new friend (Calvin), a thing called a tesser, and the power of love. She might even make it home in time for dinner.

This story has been out there far longer than I realized. I’ve heard the famous name before, learned it was for kids, and then decided not to look into it further. However, one of my book clubs got to talking and decided that this book might be the perfect subject for the next meeting (said book club forgot to ever meet again), but the deed was done, the audio book downloaded, and my waning credits were forcing me to catch-up on my well intentioned, never-listened to purchases. This was a moment of pure serendipity. May we never lose the adventurousness and shining brilliance of childhood!

A Wrinkle In Time does actually start with “it was a dark and stormy night,” and from there we know that this magical journey is going to pass any and all age boundaries. Meg is a plain girl, one who feels distinctly un-special, especially compared to her brother (ok – no five-year-old can speak and reason like that, superhuman prodigy or not). Coupled with her knowledge of her failings, Meg misses her father, a brilliant scientist who disappeared on some top-secret project, stopped writing, and is probably in trouble somewhere. Meg’s brilliant scientist mother, unflappable as she is appealingly eccentric and ridiculously domestic, is even starting to fall apart at the seams.

It’s time for the supernatural, in the form of a frumpy old woman who is more witch-like than neighborly, to take over and set a fight between good and evil going that only Meg and her cohorts can possibly hope to solve. If this involves some interdimensional space time travel, a few basics in fancy science, a land of flying horse like people, talking stars, and a dim planet of automatons – well, it must all be weathered for something far beyond the greater good – the rescue of Meg’s father.

I may no longer be a kid, despite my desire to buy any and every plushie, but my inner child was screaming and kicking in delight, thrilled with the heart, the imagination, and the simplicity combined with something far deeper and ultimately more than just a bit fun. Who said a serious fight with the dark powers had to be all doom and gloom and not the occasional laugh or brash adventure? Add in some super cool, grey mantis like aliens (Aunt Beast, you are one of my new favorites) and you have me throwing aside that adult veneer for some solid space-time journeying

Do you sense yet that I am beyond just liking this book and more than a little in love? I am disappointed that I’m just now discovering this, in my thirties, and when I have kids, they better bet that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are going to be their growing up buddies. They will learn to fear the odd world of Camazotz, delight in the unicorn-person world of Uriel, and seek Aunt Beast, speaking soothingly and leading into a world beyond sight.

A Note on Banning

Interestingly, discovering this book lead to hearing about all the reasons it has been banned, quite a surprise to me since it is cheerful, yet intellectual, the sort of thing that grows a child’s brain without ever forgetting the imagination or, ultimately, the heart. Turns out that people who dislike any form of religion, Christianity specifically, think there is all together too much of it evident here whereas Christians think the exact opposite. In between these two warring stalemates, plenty of other criticisms have emerged: is the author making some era-specific political statement against communism and for capitalism, what about feminism and how Meg appears in later books, etc. I only knew all this thanks to the Audible fancy note (warning, this note also gives away some key details about the rest of the series,  including Meg’s future!)

I find it quite hard to believe that this charming little story has encountered so much woe, including the most bizarre criticism of all (too much science and advanced thinking for kids – to which I say, ridiculous). As a Christian, my own perspective is that the book is mostly its own sort of thing. There is a moment where L’Engle notates that many have fought the cosmic evil – Jesus among an assortment which includes other religious figures such as Ghandi, alongside painters, artists, etc. This did make me flinch; I don’t like the “Jesus was a nice dude, another enlightened teacher” approach. It is one sentence that parents can skip or can use to constructively introduce their children to things they are going to hear anyway and open that faith discussion. It did make me pause though and ruined some of the magic. As a someday parent, this will be a concern. Otherwise, that one sentence aside, as I said, the book is its own sort of thing that borrows from and quotes the Bible some. As for the political angles (communism vs capitalism, etc.) I don’t see it at all. That seems like a purely adult, anecdotal interpretation that no child is ever going to walk away with.

End note

In the end, while the characters stayed with me and touched me, the strange landscapes they traversed and the creatures, friends and foes, they met along the way stayed with me and awakened something I had forgotten, something of the endless possibilities of childhood. This may be a book written for children, but I defy any adult to resist its magic and its call to a time and mindset that is both simpler and infinitely more comprehensive and visionary. This is the type of book you could bond with a child over and a world I’m glad I encountered, however haphazardly.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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