Chapter 1 Summary

The Murry family gathers in their home on Thanksgiving amidst a severe thunderstorm. Meg Murry O’Keefe, expecting her first child, has outgrown her teenage awkwardness into as lovely a woman as her mother, the Nobel-winning scientist. Mr. Murry, a physicist who is regularly consulted by the White House, is making a model of a tesseract with fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace, whose delayed physical development makes him look like a twelve-year-old. Sandy and Dennys, the twins, are home from law and medical schools. Mrs. O’Keefe, Meg’s mother-in-law, sits by the fire, withdrawn from the family that she resents. Calvin, Meg’s husband, is in London presenting a scientific paper. The family members discuss their childhood, when most of their meals were cooked by Mrs. Murry in her attached laboratory over Bunsen burners.

The phone rings and Meg answers it and gives it to her father—it is the President of the United States. Mr. Murry listens carefully, his face going blank. After he hangs up, he tells his family that there is a threat of war from “Mad Dog” (El Rabioso) Branzillo, dictator of the South American country, Vespugia. Branzillo has threatened to fire nuclear weapons at America, and the President has vowed retaliation if he does so. The threat of global annihilation hangs of the Thanksgiving dinner.

Mrs. O’Keefe, listening in to the conversation, tries to remember a poem from her Irish grandmother called “Patrick’s Rune,” beginning with the lines, “In this fateful, all heaven with its power….” As the storm intensifies, the electricity goes out, and Mrs. O’Keefe remembers the rest of the rune. As she chants it, the weather calms and the electricity returns. She tells Charles Wallace (whom she calls "Chuck") that he must use it to stop Branzillo. She asks to go home, and Dennys drives her. While Sandy prefers to dismiss her as an odd old woman, Mr. and Mrs. Murry take her seriously. Charles Wallace does as well, citing the effect her chanting had on the weather. Meg, ever protective of her baby, wonders what the outcome of the next twenty-four hours will be. She fears the end of the world, but Sandy and Dennys cynically say that the world has it coming. The abuse of the planet and the environment may be the cause of Branzillo’s threats. Calvin calls from London and speaks to each of the family members and tells Meg that he loves her. Meg thinks again about the rune that her mother-in-law chanted. It spoke of fire and strength, both of which, as Charles Wallace points out, can be used to destroy or create.