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 working on a top-secret government physics project. Townspeople give Meg knowing looks when she insists that her father will come back someday—one more reason Meg does not fit in, which she desperately wants to do.
A bundled-up old woman, Mrs. Whatsit, appears in the kitchen as if she belongs there. She astounds Mrs. Murry with the casual mention of a “tesseract,” a concept on which Mr. and Mrs. Murry had been working in great secrecy. The tesseract is a way to “wrinkle” time in order to transcend it and travel through space. Under the guidance of Mrs. Whatsit and her two cohorts, Meg soon experiences the tesseract at firsthand. With Charles Wallace and Calvin, a strangely supportive acquaintance from school who shows up unexpectedly, Meg journeys into an alternate reality to try to find her father. The young people first travel to a planet where they are shown an evil shadow trying to take over stars and planets. This is the force that holds Meg’s father prisoner. They are also shown a planet made entirely of love.
Eventually, the three young people arrive at the dark planet of Camazotz, where people have no individuality. Although Meg is repelled by the regimented life, she also finds it strangely comforting because she has not yet examined her desire to conform. The young people find Mr. Murry imprisoned on Camazotz; to free him, they must confront the evil IT. Meg is able to resist IT and escapes to another planet with Calvin and her father, but IT takes hold of Charles Wallace’s mind, and he must be left behind.
Because her long-idolized father is not able to make everything right, Meg blames him and falls into despair. With some help from those she has met on the journey, Meg finally is able to transcend her fear and self-pity to realize that saving Charles Wallace is to be her job. To do so, Meg must learn what real love is and how to use it as a weapon against the evil IT. She successfully accomplishes both tasks. Meg and Charles Wallace, with Mr. Murry and Calvin, journey through the tesseract back to the Murrys’ garden. No time has passed, so neither Mrs. Murry nor the ten-year-old twins, Dennys and Sandy, realize they were gone. Meg returns a changed person, experiencing a sense of real love that transcends the more familiar forms—social, romantic, and familial—and ready to embrace whatever the future has in store.