Study Guide

A Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

A Wrinkle in Time was L’Engle’s third novel to be published. The novel opens with Meg Murray, a girl just entering high school, the middle child and only daughter, going downstairs in a storm to find her little brother, Charles Wallace, waiting for her. The reference is made to the ability of Charles Wallace to know her thoughts, which readers later discover is the ability to kythe, or communicate thought from mind to mind without speaking. This is the first indication of the special abilities Charles Wallace possesses and develops throughout the trilogy.

During this storm, the children’s first guide appears at the Murrays’ door dressed as an old homeless woman might and calling herself Mrs. Whatsit. She informs the family that the tesseract is real. The tesseract is the physics formula explaining time travel which Mr. Murray was exploring at the time of his disappearance.

When Meg and Charles Wallace later go to visit Mrs. Whatsit, they encounter Calvin, a fellow student with Meg, who tells them he also followed a compulsion that led him to come to Mrs. Whatsit’s house at the same time. They enter the house, where they meet for the first time their other guide, Mrs. Who. She tells the kids to leave and that she and her cohorts will fetch them when the time comes.

Meg spends the next few chapters attempting to come to grips with herself and her unhappy situation at school, in which her teachers think she is not intelligent and she is not doing well. She also struggles with her own security because she compares her plainness to the beauty of her mother and other peers. She encompasses the common insecurities of the adolescent girl. However, she is aware that Charles Wallace is special and that she has a special connection to him.

Then, on a walk in the garden, they encounter the two guides and a new one, who appears only as an ephemeral shape of a person, Mrs. Which. The guides proceed to attempt to explain tessering (or time travel), and they take the children to a pleasing planet from which they come and teach them about the evil forces they refer to as the Black Thing, which is a sort of cloud covering many planets. At this point in the novel the dichotomy sets the evil as a cloud that surrounds a planet and thus infiltrates the minds of its people, dictating their actions. The planet they see, they are informed, is the planet on which their father is located. Thus the quest is developed.

The three guides give each child a gift and send them tessering to the planet. The discovery begins for the three children as they attempt to understand the odd planet, where everyone acts, speaks, and dresses alike. Guided by the impulse of Charles Wallace, they children enter the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Agency.

Charles Wallace believes that he can gain the information from the being by agreeing to go into his thoughts, which results in Charles Wallace becoming controlled because of his pride in his kything abilities. Thus, they have failed their first test, and Charles Wallace’s overconfidence in his own power of intelligence causes him to be lost to the evil. He then leads the other two children to the controlling being and their father. The being controlling Charles Wallace shows them the chamber where their father is kept, and Meg, after much struggle and thinking, realizes that she has her gift from the three guides, a pair of glasses that, when she puts them on, allows her to enter the chamber with her father. Then her father puts on the glasses and carries her in his arms through the wall of the chamber.

At this point, Charles Wallace leads the three of them to It, the supreme controlling evil embodied in the live brain. They fight with It, communicating through Charles Wallace with their thoughts and words. At this point in the novel, Meg loses faith in herself and their ability to save Charles Wallace from the control of It: She had put all of her faith in her father saving them, but he was as powerless as she felt. As they converse with It, the powerful rhythmic brain begins to take over their thoughts and overpower them. Then Calvin yells to Meg’s father to tesser (time travel) as he had before, and they narrowly escape It to a planet nearby, outside the Black Thing’s cloud.

Meg is nearly killed by the force of evil that almost took her, and she must be nursed back to health by creatures of this planet. Despite her fear, the three guides and the beings of this foreign planet help her to realize that she is the only one who can save Charles Wallace: She knows him better than anyone, and they have a special kything connection. As she leaves with Mrs. Which to tesser back to the planet, for the first time she recognizes her love for a foreign being that saved her. Thus begins her discovery of the power of love, because she felt without analyzing her gratitude or qualifying it. Also, she is communicated love by Calvin, who kisses her for the first time before she leaves, Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg that she loves her and to remember that fact, and Mrs. Who leaves her a biblical quote to aid her. Meg is strengthened by this love as she returns to the planet.

Meg she meets up with It again in the same chamber. She tries to discover what she has that It does not, and, as she pieces her thoughts together, she realizes what she has is love—everyone’s love behind her and her ability to love. She thinks about her love for Charles Wallace and then begins to shout that she loves him. A moment later, he comes running toward her and is in her arms, and she is back at home.

Meg is forced to discover that the true power she possesses is intangible and greater than intellect. The power of love evident in her allows her to conquer the evil that wanted to control her with hate. Her belief in Charles Wallace’s love and her selfless behavior and courage saved both her father and Charles Wallace.

A Wrinkle in Time Summary (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Although Madeleine L’Engle is a devout Christian she antagonized evangelical Christians with her children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. Her detractors challenged the inclusion of her book in public schools primarily because its women characters—Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which—use magical powers to take twelve-year-old Meg and her brother Charles on a space trip through the fifth dimension. Objecting parents and pastors have claimed that characters are really witches practicing black magic under the guise of “New Age” religion, based on Hindu and Buddhist cultures. They have objected to children being indoctrinated with Eastern religions and mystical practices and to L’Engle’s use of crystal balls, psychic healing, astral travel, and telepathy. Citizens for Excellence in Education in Waterloo, Iowa, for example, accused L’Engle of fostering occult practices, employing satanic suggestions, sadism, and—worst of all—by associating Jesus Christ with other great personages, implying that Christ was not divine. Most efforts to ban A Wrinkle in Time failed, however. L’Engle received strong support from her readers for her Newbery Award-winning novel and its themes of the power of love, respect for others, and the need for individuality.

A Wrinkle in Time Overview

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of a sister and brother, Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, who rescue their father from captivity on the...

(The entire section is 204 words.)

A Wrinkle in Time Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

A Wrinkle in Time begins with an introduction to Margaret “Meg” Murry, an adolescent girl whose mood matches the “dark and stormy” weather that opens the novel. Meg, sitting in her attic bedroom, frets about the storm and her troubles at school—both beyond her control.

Meg’s life at school is dismal. Her teachers do not understand her and her apparent lack of intellect; they suggest that she be held back and not promoted at the end of the school year. Her relationships with other students are no better. When a boy insults her youngest brother, Charles Wallace, Meg instigates a fight. The bruised eye she receives is a small hurt compared to the inner pain she is experiencing. Meg’s father has been...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

After having spent much of the previous night in the kitchen rather than sleeping in her bed, Meg wakes up grouchy. When she remembers the storm and having met Mrs. Whatsit, she hopes it was all a dream that is now over. Unfortunately, when Meg finds her mother in the kitchen, Mrs. Murry confirms that the strange events of last night did indeed occur. This does not improve Meg’s mood.

Meg recalls her mother’s strange reaction when Mrs. Whatsit mentioned something called a tesseract, and she asks her mother to explain. Mrs. Murry suggests that breakfast is not a good time to go into the matter. She tells Meg she will talk with her later.

At school, Meg’s thoughts lag well behind what is happening in the...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

While Calvin and Meg walk toward the Murry home, Meg cannot understand why she feels so happy; she has certainly not had a great day. Then Calvin tells Meg that although he had known of her in school, it just was not meant for them to meet until now. He says he has a feeling they are going to become good friends.

Once they reach the house and Calvin is invited to stay for dinner, Calvin calls his mother to let her know he will not be home until late. He leaves a message with one of his siblings to not lock him out of the house, which apparently has happened before. Calvin tells Meg he does not know why he even bothers to check in; his mother never notices when he is gone. Calvin tells Meg she is lucky to have such a...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

Without warning, a dark shadow absorbs Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. They had been standing on the ground and looking at the moonlight and then the next moment it was as if there was nothing but black. Meg even wonders if the light of the moon had been turned off. She senses that Calvin and Charles Wallace are also disappearing. She calls out to them and reaches for them, but she realizes she is all alone. Then even more astonishingly, Meg cannot even feel her own body. She wonders where it has gone.

Slowly, she begins to feel her body materialize. Her heart is beating. Her legs and arms are tingling. She wonders if she is dreaming, so she tries to wake herself up. Finally, she hears Charles Wallace’s voice. He is...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

Mrs. Which confirms that Meg and Charles’s father is indeed fighting the Dark Thing. He is presently behind the Dark Thing, Mrs. Which adds. When Meg begins to cry at this news, Mrs. Which tells her not to despair. There is always hope; this is why they are here.

Then Mrs. Which tells them it is time to travel on. Before they go, she attempts to explain how they tesser. Mrs. Which uses the example of a small insect trying to travel the length of a long piece of material. If the insect continued in a straight line, it would eventually get to the other side but doing so would take a lot of time. Then she says if the material were folded so that the far end was brought to the point where the insect was sitting, the...

(The entire section is 596 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

Before Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin leave, Happy Medium has one more thing to show them. The children peer inside the crystal ball once more and see the Dark Thing. They want to turn away but Happy Medium insists that they look. As they watch, a bright light shines through the Dark Thing and slowly begins to disintegrate it. The light spreads and a patch of the Dark Thing completely disappears. Happy Medium is ecstatic. She tells them the light can win. But Mrs. Whatsit tempers the mood when she tells them that even though the star won, it lost its life in the battle. Then Mrs. Which says it is time to leave. The group needs to travel farther, this time to Camazotz; the children have no idea where that is.

Suddenly...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin go to the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building, where they suspect they can find those who are controlling the people of Camazotz. Once inside the building, Charles Wallace asks so many questions of a man there that the man feels compelled to report Charles for not complying with the norms of a child his age. Charles Wallace thinks this over and decides this might be a good idea, because perhaps they will be taken to whomever is in charge. Charles Wallace acts very confidently as the three of them are led down a long hall—until they come face to face with the man with the red eyes. Charles Wallace tells Meg that he has no idea who this person is, but he feels the man trying to get at him...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

Meg screams at the man with the red eyes, demanding that he tell her where her brother is. The man tells Meg that she is acting hysterically. He points out that she can see Charles Wallace is right in front of her. He adds that she should take note that Charles Wallace is completely happy. Meg looks at her brother but will not accept the man’s conclusion. She knows that although the boy still looks like Charles Wallace, inside he is someone else.

Calvin tries to calm Meg down; he reminds her not to lose herself to her emotions. She must keep her mind clear so she will not become another victim of the man with the red eyes. Calvin tells her that Charles Wallace is in there somewhere. They need to hold onto him and not...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

Meg rushes toward the glass column in which her father is encased. She calls out to him, but she cannot reach him. Her father’s appearance has dramatically changed but she still recognizes him. Charles Wallace reacts to his father harshly. Meg admonishes her brother, reminding him that this man is his father even though he might not remember him. Calvin points out that he does not think Meg’s father can see her.

Charles Wallace remains unmoved by his reunion with his father. Instead, he uses the event to try to talk Meg into joining IT. Charles Wallace tells Meg that if she does as he has done and allow IT to control her mind, she will be helping their father. While Meg continues to plead with Charles Wallace to...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

Meg begins to return to consciousness. Her first sensation is of extreme cold. She feels so cold she wonders if she is frozen. She cannot move. She cannot speak. Although she can hear voices around her, the words sound as if they were made of ice.

She knows her father and Calvin are near her; she wonders where Charles Wallace is. Then her father notices a slight pulse returning in Meg. She wants to call out to tell him and Calvin that she is alive, but she is unable to. Meg’s confrontation with IT was too much for her. They tessered out of IT’s presence at the last possible moment—seconds away from Meg’s being completely mentally consumed by IT. The experience has left her dangerously depleted of energy.

...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

As Meg relaxes and leans into the chest of the beast who is carrying her, one of Meg’s final thoughts before she falls asleep is about the sweet scent of the beast’s fur. Meg hopes her own scent is not offensive to this gentle creature. Later, when she awakens, Meg is relieved to discover that the pain she had been suffering is gone. She looks around and becomes aware of the darkness that surrounds her and that her clothes have been stripped from her body. Someone is rubbing an ointment onto her body. Meg stretches her muscles and is pleased that she can finally move; she is no longer paralyzed.

The beast calls the planet Ixchel. Meg asks the beast why it is so dark. Everything Meg has seen has been in shades of...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

When Meg sees Mrs. Whatsit, she runs to the woman’s arms—but before reaching her, Meg realizes Mrs. Whatsit is only partially physical. Mrs. Whatsit explains that they hurried there when they heard themselves being called. She asks what it is they want.

Meg informs Mrs. Whatsit that they need to rescue Charles Wallace. Mrs. Whatsit reminds Meg that there is nothing she can do. The three women cannot interfere; it is not their way. At this, Mr. Murry steps forward and asks if the women can teach him to tesser more efficiently so he can go back and get Charles Wallace. The women state that this would not work. They are sure Mr. Murry would not be successful. For this reason, the women cannot allow Mr. Murry to go back...

(The entire section is 622 words.)