Origins: A Wrinkle In Time


Every once in a while, Hollywood seems to turn out something promising, and the upcoming A Wrinkle In Time looks to be one of those. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and Zack Galifinakis, with Storm Reid as Meg, the film is, of course, based on Madeleine L’Engle’s superlative novel. I read the book a long, long time ago in elementary school and just recently read it again with my son at bedtime. As usual, he started out being all ho-hum, but then he really got into it–every time I stopped reading, he’d say I was cliffhanging him. It’s not surprising, since the novel has science, mystery, and great characters, not to mention one of the best opening sentences in all of literature: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Even before we were done with the book he was asking to read the other “Time” stories.

Heh. I love seeing kids’ minds working.

Here’s the trailer for the new film:

I don’t know why, but I never pictured Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit–the character always struck me as being more of a Julie Walters type. And Mrs. Which never had orange skin, or any kind of skin at all. Throughout the book, she’s a barely-there vapor, so I don’t know why the producers thought it would be better to make her look like a sparkly Oompa Loompa. Very odd.

Anyway, A Wrinkle In Time has hit the screen before. In 2003 it was turned into a TV movie, and if the reviews on IMDb are any indicator, the effort was pretty dismal. We’re not even going to touch it. Instead, I thought we’d revisit the novel and the inspiration behind it.

The novel starts with a teenaged Meg Murry huddled in her attic bedroom on the prerequisite dark and stormy night. She has twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, plus a five-year old brother, Charles Wallace. Her mother is a scientist and a knockout redhead to boot. Their father is missing–when Charles Wallace was a baby, Mr. Murry left to do some super-secret project for the government and hasn’t been seen since.

First edition, 1962 (Wikipedia)

Meg is huddled in her bedroom because she can’t sleep. The storm is too loud, as is her mind. She’s got unruly red hair and braces, and she’s been called out by her principal for acting out in school. Meg doesn’t take it well. She finally goes down to the kitchen for a sandwich, and finds Charles Wallace waiting for her. He’s an incredibly articulate kid who learned to talk all of a sudden, but pretends he still can’t because it’s easier for the neighbors to think he’s dumb. Charles Wallace is also intuitive to a fault, and can read people like books. They’re soon joined by Mrs. Murry, who, like any concerned parent, heard her children moving around and got curious.

And as if that weren’t enough, the three of them hear what Meg thinks is a tramp outside, but it’s only Charles Wallace’s friend, Mrs. Whatsit–a whimsical woman with many shawls and wearing boots she can’t take off by herself. She seems to be a nice enough lady, and she’s not exactly run-of-the-mill. As she leaves, Mrs. Whatsit mysteriously intones to Mrs. Murry, “Speaking of ways, my pet, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

Mrs. Murry goes pale and wonders how Mrs. Whatsit knew about that.

There are lots of meetings in Wrinkle. Meg and Charles Wallace meet Meg’s classmate, Calvin, Mrs. Whatsit’s friend, Mrs. Who, who speaks in quotes, and then they meet Mrs. Which, who is mostly vapor and talks in ddoubblle cconnssonnanntts. The three ladies tell Meg and Charles Wallace that they know where Mr. Murry is, and to be ready to save him. Calvin comes along as well, because he’s become fast friends with the Murrys and wants to help.

First, though, they have to travel across several stars and planets they’ve never seen in a matter of minutes, and how does it happen so fast? Mrs. Whatsit says. “We tesser. Or, you might say, we wrinkle.”

Madeleine L’Engle (Macmillan)

In a nutshell, a tesseract is to travel by the fifth dimension. The way the book and the trailer both explain it, an ant traveling between two points can tesser by bringing the two points closer together, thus creating a tesseract.

The kids are overwhelmed by all the new sights and sounds around them. Even the three “Mrs.” are different, Mrs. Whatsit in particular. She changes into a creature that seems to be like a winged centaur, only not at all, and it leaves the details up to the reader. Meg, Calvin, and Charles climb on her back as they explore one of the worlds they’ve landed on, and hear heavenly singing, but Calvin and Meg can’t understand it. Charles Wallace, however, can translate:

“Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein, the isle, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord!”

Their destination is a world called Camazotz, where the three “Mrs.” can’t follow. When Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace arrive there, they walk through a neighborhood where kids are outside bouncing balls and jumping rope. Nothing unusual about that, except that they’re perfectly in sync. No one even stops to scratch their nose. One ball, however, rolls into the street, and our heroes grab it. Just then, every mother on the street comes out to call her children inside, once again in sync. The kids go up to the house of the kid who lost the ball, only to find the mother extremely scared to answer the door or talk to them.

Leo and Diane Dillon cover artwork. (Wikipedia

Thoroughly weirded out, the kids head for the center of town, and eventually find themselves at the Central Central Intelligence Agency. No, that’s not a typo. Everything about Camazotz stems from this building, and everything is controlled by IT. IT also wants to control Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, and anyone else IT can. Not to give any spoilers, but winning the day ultimately comes down to Meg, who has to ask herself, “What do I have that IT doesn’t have?”

For the most part, A Wrinkle In Time has what is called a Biblical world view. The characters quote Scripture to each other on more than one occasion, and their motivations are obviously centered around Christianity. The novel has a crystal-clear delineation between good and evil, and it’s not only intellectual, but visceral. Evil is dark and oppressive, demanding the utmost conformity. It seduces anyone who comes across it with a pulsing, throbbing energy that seeps into one’s body and soul. It keeps its victims separate from each other, and they aren’t allowed to need anyone or anything.

Good, meanwhile, is warm and enveloping. There is no fear. It frees the characters to need and help each other. They are able to think, learn and to make their own decisions. When an important job comes up, there’s no coercion or compulsion, only the space to hash things out in one’s own mind. Above all, good is motivated by love, without which, as it says in 1 Corinthians 13, all the good in the world means absolutely nothing.

Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis with some of her grandmother’s manuscripts. (Wall Street Journal)

Madeleine L’Engle was inspired to write A Wrinkle In Time in the late nineteen-fifties when she read Einstein’s Quantum Physics. Amazingly enough, the book was rejected by publishers 26 times before it was finally bought by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The reasons for this were because of the novel’s blatant presentation of evil, and because publishers weren’t sure which market it fit best in. L’Engle was nonplussed by this–she later said in an interview she didn’t like categorizing: “It’s just a book.”

Wrinkle doesn’t pull any punches. It’s actually one of the most banned books in history because librarians haven’t cottoned to the themes it presents. If anything, though, the final manuscript was toned down slightly, as the original mentions the evils of totalitarianism and of republic-based nations putting security above everything else (Read three pages of it here). I wonder how people would have reacted to it if those passages had been left in.


Judging from the trailers, the film seems to be pretty true to the book, but I have to wonder if the Biblical elements were allowed to remain. We’ve seen a lot of Hollywood’s seedy underbelly lately, and unless Christian or conservative actors have Clint Eastwood-like clout, parts notoriously dry up (Kevin Sorbo and Kirk Cameron can attest to this.). Movies with blatantly Christian themes are no different. This is nothing new in Hollywood; the philosophy there has long been that religion doesn’t sell tickets.

Wrinkle’s likely scenario is that while the basic plot elements will probably still be there, their reason for being will be missing, thereby making the characters’ actions empty and neutering L’Engle’s beautiful story. It would be a real shame if this were the case, and unfortunately, early reviews seem to indicate it is. However, I’m hoping to have fun with the film, at least.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and check back here tomorrow for my first Time Travel Blogathon post! Have a good one…

Madeleine L’Engle’s novel is available on Amazon.

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