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.