The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Madeleine L’Engle’s view of the universe was changed by the work of such well-known physicists as Albert Einstein and Max Planck. She expressed her new perspective in A Wrinkle in Time, a heroic adventure in which evil authoritarianism is challenged by love and human individuality. The book is very different from L’Engle’s six previous novels; she hoped it would take her career in an exciting new direction. Therefore, she was especially disappointed that, after two years, none of the many publishers to whom she sent the book wanted to publish it. L’Engle loved the book but came to believe that it was too peculiar ever to be published. Even the publisher who eventually accepted it warned L’Engle not to be disappointed if it did not do well. In 1963, to everyone’s surprise, A Wrinkle in Time won the prestigious Newbery Medal.
The story opens in the Murrys’ kitchen, where Meg, her mother, and her little brother are eating sandwiches. Although bright, Meg is a misfit in high school, scholastically as well as socially. This day has been even more difficult than most: Meg got into a fistfight defending her “dumb baby brother.” Five-year-old Charles Wallace is unusual, but with his amazing telepathic powers, he is anything but dumb. Both Mr. and Mrs. Murry are Ph.D. scientists. Mrs. Murry experiments in her biology laboratory, located near the kitchen. Mr. Murry is “away”; he disappeared mysteriously a year earlier while...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
A Wrinkle in Time is Madeleine L’Engle’s story of a brother and sister who seek their father, who is imprisoned on the planet Camazotz. A fantasy novel for children, the work accentuates the power of women by casting thirteen-year-old Meg Murry as the protagonist and savior.
The government of the United States has sent Meg’s father to Camazotz to rectify a moral evil blighting the minds and souls of the planet’s inhabitants. On Camazotz (a possible play on “comatose”), the people are placidly content because they have no conflicts. Every thought and action of their daily lives is controlled by It, a disembodied brain that functions as the communal mind; there is neither opportunity nor desire for individuality. In short, the human beings of Camazotz have become little more than robots. Pain, an inherent part of being human, is denied them; in its place is the warm bliss of mindless “happiness.” Because Dr. Murry is a threat to their “perfect” society, the administrators of Camazotz have taken him captive.
The Mrs. W’s—Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, supernatural beings who combat evil—commission Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace to accompany them to Camazotz, so that the children might rescue their father and see the spiritual decay that he has been fighting. After arriving on the planet, the children proceed to the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building, where they find Dr. Murry imprisoned in...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
A winner of the Newbery Award for children’s literature, A Wrinkle in Time alters the pattern of many earlier juvenile novels by casting females as the leading and more effective characters. Yet the work upholds supposedly feminine characteristics, making it clear that these very characteristics enable Meg Murry to save her father and brother. When the children and Mrs. Whatsit arrive on Camazotz, Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg that her strongest assets are her “faults”: her impatience, anger, and stubbornness—traits sometimes negatively attributed to women. Although Meg does not at first understand, she soon sees that Mrs. Whatsit is correct. While Calvin advises her to proceed slowly and cautiously in rescuing her father, Meg’s impatience will not let her wait; it propels her—literally—through the marble column. Similarly, her anger at the overwhelming power of It makes her stubbornly determined that the brain will not consume the mind and soul of her brother. Finally, her love for Charles Wallace, based not on his intelligence but only on the child himself, saves the little boy.
Meg’s love for Charles Wallace undoubtedly derives from the love and nurture that she herself receives from other females. Mrs. Murry, for example, always has time to be a mother, her intellectual interests notwithstanding. On Uriel, Mrs. Whatsit, in the guise of a flying horse, shelters frightened Meg under her wing. Aunt Beast holds and feeds her following...
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The story opens at the Murrys' New England farm. The children's physicist father disappeared without a trace some time ago, and their mother, also a scientist, is waiting patiently for him to return. The setting soon leaves earth; five-year-old Charles Wallace has met three very odd old ladies, who take the children on a journey across space and time. Eventually they reach the planet Camazotz. It is here that the Murrys' father has been imprisoned in a glass column, frozen in a state of suspended animation. Camazotz is remarkably similar to an ordinary world gone terribly wrong; everyone acts in exactly the same way, ruled by the evil force of IT.
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In A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle employs extensive visual imagery and figurative language in order to make accessible the fantasy: time travel, expressed in the tesseract; metamorphosis, exemplified in Mrs. Whatsit's materialization and her later change into a figure which transcends the centaur on which it is based; kything; glasses which enable the wearer to see atoms rearranging themselves in otherwise solid-appearing matter; a disembodied brain which is an agent of evil.
Archetypes also are a major device in this novel. Meg must undergo the separation, ordeal, and reunification of a rite of passage several times before the climax of the novel. The opening, "It was a dark and stormy night," although a lead-in for Snoopy's narratives in Peanuts and the title of the annual Bulwer-Lytton contest for the worst prose, in L'Engle's hand effectively exploits the archetypal associations of danger, imminent death, chaos with storm and night. Other archetypal elements include the haunted house in which Mrs. Who and company take up residence, the association of light with life, the movements of dance as signs of harmony in unity and diversity, the homogeneity of Camazotz as an emblem of evil's hatred of freedom and variety, and the names of the characters — for example, Meg's name's signifying pearl with all its luster and solitude.
Two techniques which are typical of her other works are the third-person-limited point of view and the various levels of...
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A Wrinkle in Time is a fast-paced adventure tale enlivened by a memorable cast of characters. A masterful writer who infuses the novel with suspense and emotion, L'Engle is also a devout Christian whose own search for a workable system of beliefs underpins this story. She makes use of symbols and allusions that clearly indicate that she is telling a story of the struggle between absolute good and absolute evil. L'Engle draws on a rich literary heritage, including the Bible, John Milton's Paradise Lost, and the fantasy works of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The universe of A Wrinkle in Time is an imaginative one, populated by unconventional beings; L'Engle's use of characters drawn from myth and fairy tales reflects her interest in finding new ways to express traditional Christian concerns.
When I get this feeling, this compulsion, I always do what it tells me.
Not only does L'Engle deal sensitively with religious philosophy, she also has a wonderful ability to create believable human characters, particularly children. The anxieties experienced by Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are neither overexaggerated nor undervalued. L'Engle shows the reader children who, by virtue of their very weaknesses and uncertainties, are persons with whom young readers instantly sympathize. Calvin and the Murry children realistically demonstrate such familiar apprehensions as fear of ridicule and rejection; a sense of injustice at the...
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Although L'Engle is a Christian author, A Wrinkle in Time is never didactic and is largely free of explicit references to Christianity. Jesus is mentioned as one of Earth's greatest "fighters" against the evil represented by IT, but so too are Buddha, Gandhi, Einstein, and Michelangelo. L'Engle stresses that the most important virtue is the unselfish love of others—a basic tenet of nearly every world religion. Her characters are often faced with the choice between self-interest and the well-being of others; the most admirable learn to see the wisdom—and the joy—of thinking of others first.
In A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle juxtaposes views of two different planets to explicate her themes and examine the nature of evil: Camazotz is a planet of darkness where IT rules; Earth, which is only "shadowed," still struggles against destruction. L'Engle is concerned with salvation on a universal scale, but she is equally interested in exploring the individual battles that must be fought every day in order to prevent darkness from conquering even more territory. A Wrinkle in Time allows her to explore this notion and to show readers that the choices that each person makes have a direct impact on the destiny of every other creature.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Although Charles Wallace seems to be the "smartest" of the Murry children, it is Meg who frees her father and ultimately conquers IT. Why do you think this is so?
2. Why does L'Engle seem to believe that the uniformity of the people on the planet Camazotz is such a bad thing?
3. Why does Charles Wallace start reciting nursery rhymes when the man with red eyes starts to interrogate the children?
4. What does Aunt Beast mean when she tells Meg that "We are all called according to His purpose, and whom He calls, them He also justifies. Of course we have help, and without help it would be much more difficult"? Who is doing the "calling," what is the help, and where does it come from?
5. Meg realizes an important lesson at the conclusion of the book when she rescues her brother, Charles Wallace, from the clutches of IT. IT knew everything about hate, but Meg knows about love. How is love able to help her to save her brother?
6. What does Charles Wallace mean when he describes himself as a "sport" in chapter 2?
7. What does Mr. Murry mean when he says that Charles Wallace "thought he could deliberately go into IT and return. He trusted too much in his own strength"?
8. In what ways does the town on Camazotz differ from a typical American suburb? What is L'Engle criticizing in her depiction of this town?
9. What is it about the Murrys that makes the other townspeople look on...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. L'Engle has said that she believes all things to be inter-connected; thus, if something happens to one person, it has an effect on everything in the universe. How does this attitude shape A Wrinkle in Time? Does this idea resemble the Hindu and Buddhist concept of karma in any way? How?
2. When Calvin visits the Murrys for the first time, he says that he feels that he is going home. What is lacking in his own family life that makes him react in this way? What does the Murry family have that his own family does not? Why is Calvin attracted to Meg, who sees herself as a social outcast? What special qualities does she possess that Calvin sees but she cannot yet see herself?
3. L'Engle would characterize herself as a Christian writer, yet her book doesn't talk about the Bible or the teachings of Christianity. What values does A Wrinkle in Time say are important? How do these values correspond to those taught in the Old and New Testament? In what ways?
4. Meg has trouble bowing to authority, particularly when it seems that the rules are silly or pointless. This is especially true with regard to her problems at school. What is it about Mr. Jenkins, the school principal, that rubs her the wrong way? Why does he think that Meg is a problem?
5. Even Charles Wallace's high I.Q. does not prevent him from falling victim to his major weakness, pride. How does IT exploit this weakness? What does IT want with Charles...
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C. S. Lewis's space trilogy is echoed in the novel, in large part because the two authors share a similar world vision. Both see Earth as a fallen planet subject to the aggression of the enemy of life, light, and laughter. In their works human beings are capable of great deeds beyond what their external appearances might indicate. Both employ the unwilling hero, that is, the person who freely but with great pain accepts a burden which he or she would happily forego. The description of space, the vagueness about the means of spatial and time travel, the disembodied brain, the intervention of angelic beings who in no way resemble the saccharin angels of popular depiction — in these aspects L'Engle echoes Lewis as she does in her love for God's creation and her recognition of the hatred for that creation which the enemy has.
Nevertheless, L'Engle's work is her own. Her stress on family and her implicit premise that only in family does the human being achieve wholeness (either by being born into a good family or, as in Calvin's case, by a kind of adoption) are fundamental to her fiction.
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A Wrinkle in Time is the first in a series of books—which also includes A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet— often referred to as the Time Trilogy. L'Engle added a fourth book, Many Waters, to the series in 1986. Each of these books focuses on different members of the Murry family as they continue to wage battle against the powers of darkness that threaten to dominate the universe.
In A Wind in the Door, Meg must help Charles Wallace stop a threatened rip in the galaxy that will destroy earth. Instead of traveling to distant planets, Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Jenkins—the school principal who has caused Meg so much grief—travel within Charles Wallace's cells to battle a virus. They are helped on their quest by a cherubim, Proginoskes, who gives his life for his friends. Many critics judge this second book the least satisfying of the series.
The third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, follows Charles Wallace and a unicorn named Gaudior on a journey through time and space as they try to solve a puzzle that will avert nuclear war. Meg, now married to Calvin and pregnant, stays at home and sends her brother information through a form of telepathy called "kything." The puzzle is finally solved by Mrs. O'Keefe, who played only a minor role in the previous books. The final book in the series, Many Waters, chronicles the adventures of the twins, Sandy and Dennys, who learn the meaning of...
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For Further Reference
Kingman, Lee, ed. Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1956-1965. Boston: Horn Book, 1965. The article on L'Engle includes an excerpt from A Wrinkle in Time, her acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal, and a delightful biographical article by her husband, Hugh Franklin.
L'Engle, Madeleine. Trailing Clouds of Glory: Spiritual Values in Children's Literature. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975. A discussion of the need for children's literature to provide spiritual touchstones, with excerpts from many classic children's books that L'Engle sees as fulfilling this need.
Newquist, Roy. Conversations. Skokie, IL: Rand McNally, 1967. A more compact discussion of many of the issues L'Engle touches on in her autobiographical work A Circle of Quiet.
Townsend, John Rowe. A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children. London: Longman, 1971. The essay on L'Engle is a thematic discussion of the Austin and Murry books and includes an extract from a paper she gave in 1964.
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Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W. W. Norton, 1963. Explains that the frustration felt by many women of the 1950’s derived from their lack of personal fulfillment. With her combination of science and motherhood, Mrs. Murry represents the “new” woman Friedan is urging others to become.
Harvey, Brett. The Fifties: A Women’s Oral History. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. Discusses the family of the 1950’s, supporting theories and general observations with concrete examples from case studies. It was a decade of great conformity, which may explain why people outside the Murry family often regarded the “strange” children with hostility.
Huck, Charlotte S., Susan Helper, and Janet Hickman. Children’s Literature in the Elementary School. 5th ed. Fort Worth, Tex.: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich College Publishers, 1989. Contains discussions of A Wrinkle in Time, including the attempts to ban the work. The authors argue that L’Engle is a Christian writer.
Lukens, Rebecca J. A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature. 4th ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1992. Details the characteristics of children’s fiction and the components of plot, style, and characterization. Lukens distinguishes between strict science fiction and fantasy, explaining that the former concentrates on technology while the latter emphasizes the human element in a scientific world.
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