A Wrinkle in Time and two later books, A Wind in the Door (1973) and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), compose what is known as the Time Trilogy. Unlike typical trilogy volumes intended to be read consecutively, these books, though integrated, are independent. Each centers on the Murry family, and the importance of both individual initiative and family interaction is a thematic thread. L’Engle made both the Murry adults highly talented, both intellectually and scientifically. This was atypical of fiction published in the 1950’s, when the book was written. Female characters rarely were featured as intellectuals or scientists. L’Engle has been praised for this departure as well as for her creation of strong female characters. Critics even suggested that in making Meg the protagonist in A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle opened the door for the many female protagonists who have appeared in more recent fantasy and science fiction.
Most people know L’Engle as a novelist who writes for children and young people. She says, however, that she writes for anyone who is still able to hear and understand the truths to which many adults have closed their minds. A Wrinkle in Time, the best known of her more than forty books, is a classic that still delights readers decades after its original publication. In addition to the Newbery Medal, it also received the American Library Association Notable Book Award and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.
L’Engle’s fiction for young readers is considered important partly because she was among the first to focus directly on the deep, delicate issues that young people must face, such as death, social conformity, and truth. L’Engle’s work always is uplifting because she is able to look at the surface values of life from a perspective of wholeness, both joy and pain, transcending each to uncover the absolute nature of human experience that they share.
Critics have noted the many religious images in L’Engle’s work. In A Wrinkle in Time, for example, Meg receives as a gift a few lines from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians about empowering the weak. L’Engle, however, resists being categorized as a Christian writer. Writing fantasy is her way to approach the mysteries of the universe, to perceive the orderly patterns in nature that underlie what sometimes seems to be the chaos of daily life. If a writer’s faith is genuine, she believes, it will shine through her art.
Some critics have called L’Engle’s writing pedantic or uneven. In fiction, as in her life, L’Engle is always ready to ignore facts in order to uncover truth and beauty. Facts end, she believes, but stories are infinite. L’Engle views the genre of fantasy as an essential antidote to the negative effects of mainstream education on young people. She has been instrumental in leading the way for other writers of fantasy who want to focus on matters of spirituality for children. Because L’Engle writes about concepts that matter to all human beings, however, her devoted audience ranges from the very young to the very old. L’Engle once explained that whenever she had something to say that was too difficult conceptually, philosophically, or scientifically for the average adult to read, she created a young protagonist and wrote a book for children.