At a Glance

  • A Wrinkle in Time is a classic of the science fantasy genre. L'Engle was inspired by the work of groundbreaking physicists like Albert Einstein and Max Planck, who changed the way we think about the universe.

  • Prior to the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, young adult literature tended to feature male protagonists and traditional gender roles. L'Engle changed that forever by creating a female protagonist.

  • L'Engle displays an interest in language and communication. She depicts many forms of nonverbal communication, including mind control, telepathy, and group think.


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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.

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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 a transparent marble column. With the aid of magic spectacles bestowed by Mrs. Which, Meg passes through the column and frees her father. Charles Wallace, however, unconsciously surrenders himself to the power of It. The sunny and tenderhearted little boy becomes hardened and surly, mocking the sister he once loved. Meg concludes that only her love for Charles Wallace can restore the child to himself. Her conviction is correct, for when she cries, “I love you!” her brother rushes into her arms. The story swiftly comes to an end as the children “tesser” (move quickly through time and space) back to the Murrys’ garden, whence they departed less than five minutes earlier. Returning with the children, Dr. Murry receives his wife’s embrace. Although he has been unable to restore human spirit to Camazotz, he will presumably work to keep Earth from slipping into a similar state, in which individual thought succumbs to “group think” and feeling is nonexistent.

As Dr. Murry has come to realize the flaws of a monolithic society, Meg arrives at a truth concerning the space age: that intelligence and scientific knowledge must not be allowed to overshadow the importance of human affection. When Charles Wallace falls under the spell of It—the unadulterated mind, free from muddling emotions—it becomes clear to his sister that without genuine connection to other people, he will degenerate to the robotic level of the Camazotzians. Therefore, Meg goes to his rescue with the strongest weapon that she possesses: love.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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 her passage through the Dark Thing, an embodiment of evil, until she is strong enough to return to Camazotz. Thus, it is the maternal succor of females that gives Meg the power she needs for the job that she must perform; in turn, Meg’s impetuosity and fierce, unconditional love save the male characters, who are helpless in the hands of their enemies. For all of his intelligence, Dr. Murry can neither effect his own escape nor save his son. Through her characters, then, L’Engle emphasizes the importance of maintaining “womanly” qualities.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story opens at the Murrys' New England farm. The children's physicist father disappeared without a trace some time ago, and their mother,...

(The entire section is 111 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle employs extensive visual imagery and figurative language in order to make accessible the fantasy: time travel,...

(The entire section is 292 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Wrinkle in Time is a fast-paced adventure tale enlivened by a memorable cast of characters. A masterful writer who infuses the novel...

(The entire section is 255 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although L'Engle is a Christian author, A Wrinkle in Time is never didactic and is largely free of explicit references to...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 262 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 335 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 191 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Wrinkle in Time is the first in a series of books—which also includes A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Kingman, Lee, ed. Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1956-1965. Boston: Horn Book, 1965. The article on L'Engle includes an excerpt...

(The entire section is 146 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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.