(Revisiting) Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time

[Ed. note: I originally wrote and posted this review in January of 2012. My kids were four and one at the time. This morning, my daughter finished the edition of A Wrinkle in Time I reviewed here, reading the last hundred pages or so in a marathon sitting so we would take her (and her brother) to see Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation today. I’ll try to post some thoughts on the film later today.]


Madeleine L’Engle’s seminal fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time turns 50 this year, and publisher Macmillan is celebrating by releasing a new anniversary edition with oodles of extras, including photos, manuscript pages, and new editorial content. They’ve also initiated a “50 Years, 50 Days,  50 Blogs Celebration Campaign” to promote the new book, and they asked Biblioklept to participate in the first week.

Here is the new cover:

And here is the cover to my beloved, ragged edition:

20120115-162927.jpg

A Wrinkle in Time explores the strange intersections of space and time against a backdrop of adolescent angst. Our intrepid heroine Meg, her child genius brother Charles Wallace, and her would-be beau Calvin O’Keefe, go on a trans-dimensional quest to find her missing physicist father. They are aided (and initiated into) this quest by a trio of immortal women (shades of the Norns); their intergalactic mission finds them encountering angelic centaurs, motherly tentacled beasts, a red-eyed automaton, a disembodied brain, and more more more. Dr. Dad has disappeared while working on a mysterious project involving a tesseract.

Here’s a nifty visualization of the tesseract:

Like a lot of young people, as a child I was deeply fascinated by the concept of “tessering” away to a strange, marvelous, dangerous place, and it was surely this idea that most enthralled me as an early reader of the novel. I was probably ten when I first read the book, which I’m pretty sure was a gift from my aunt who brought it to me while our family was living in New Zealand. I actually wrote my name and our six-digit phone number into the book, which suggests that I loaned it out quite a bit.

20120115-162941.jpg

A Wrinkle in Time gelled with all of the stuff I was reading then: lots of Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and Douglas Adams, but also plenty of crappy Dr. Who novels and lots of execrable fantasy novels. L’Engle’s novels (of course I read all of them after reading Wrinkle; to this day, Many Waters is probably the one that stands out the most, weird and sexy as it was) were of a piece with Tolkien and Lewis (especially Lewis’s oft-overlooked space trilogy)—but there was something distinctly American about L’Engle’s characters—her writing even—that intrigued me. I had spent my entire childhood expatriated and was constantly looking for avenues of American expression, ways “to be American” (yes, I realize how silly that sounds now).

In retrospect, it’s not the tesseract and its fantastical properties that I so recall from A Wrinkle in Time so much as it is L’Engle’s characters, especially mercurial Meg and her future-husband Calvin. While much of literature emphasizes the clash between individual desires and societal conventions, L’Engle’s particular tone and characterization is keenly sensitive to the difficulties adolescents face navigating this conflict. In a sense, L’Engle is working out the early blueprint for what would become the conventions of Young Adult literature. L’Engle wrote a specific brand of sci-fi/fantasy that, on the surface, sets her apart from S.E. Hinton and Robert Cormier—but what these writers share in common, what makes their work so enduring even as society changes, is the essential emotional reality their characters share with readers.

Wrinkle endures also because of its handling of complex themes of conformity, idealism, faith, and science. It’s a book that challenges a youngish audience to read in new ways. It’s also a frequently challenged book—always the sign of something good—suggesting that it’s not going anywhere soon. In this sense, Wrinkle’s literary legacy externally recapitulates its internal themes of nonconformity.

Of course, characterization and strong themes probably wouldn’t get too far with young readers if Wrinkle didn’t deliver the goods that YA readers demand: a good yarn. Wrinkle is spry and engaging at fifty, and while it’s not as bloody as new kid on the block The Hunger Games (the protagonist of which owes some small debt to Meg Murray) it nevertheless negotiates the dangers of existence (both physical and metaphysical) with greater emotional intensity.

But I’ve veered off course here, invoking a newer, more violent YA star at the end of my riff, when what I really want to do is encourage young people who haven’t read Wrinkle yet to pick it up (okay, especially young people who think that Collins’s trilogy is the bee’s knees). It’s a wise, endearing, and enduring classic, one that deserves attention on its golden anniversary.

Advertisements

Reading/Have Read/Should Write About

IMG_3050.JPG

Ran out of time this week before I could write about anything I’ve been reading. So a quick riff, from top to bottom, in the pic above:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

I’ve been reading this at night with my seven-year-old daughter. I’ve read it maybe a thousand times now. Lewis is not the best prose stylist, but he fuses together bits of pagan and Christian myth better than the best.

On the iPad:

The Possibility of an Island, Michel Houellebecq

My least-favorite Houellebecq so far—has some wonderful rants at times, but Houellebecq keeps embedding these terrible pop culture references (following his hero Bret Easton Ellis’s lead?) that usually dull the edge he’s been sharpening. And the narrator’s spite at this point is almost unbearable—reading it makes me feel like Gandalfdore drinking that poisonous potion in Harry Potter and the League of Bad Mentorsjust sucking down venom.

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Great stuff. A little over two-thirds finished. Wrote about is some here.

Lanark, Alasdair Gray

I might regret that I never wrote a Big Fat Review of Lanark, Gray’s bizarre cult novel. The book is a weird chimera: It starts as a weird sci-fi/fantasy trip—closer to Kafka’s The Castle than genre-conventional fare though, to be clear. Then it shifts into this modernist Künstlerroman that seems to want to be a Scottish answer to Joyce’s Portrait. Then there’s a short story inserted in the middle, a return to the dystopian fantasy (heavy streaks of Logan’s Run and Zardoz and Soylent Green—very ’70s!), and, right before its (purposefully) dissatisfying conclusion, an essay by a version of the author, who defensively critiques his novel for characters and readers alike. Gray wants to have written the Great Scottish Epic. I’m not sure if he did, but Lanark has moments that are better than anything I’ve read all year—even if the end result doesn’t hang together so well.

The Bowling Alley on the Tiber, Michelangelo Antonioni

Sketches and figments that Antonioni never turned into films. Not sure if he intended to.

Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor

Good lord.

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather

There’s a tendency in American fiction to posit the American Dream as a masculine escapist fantasy. This version of the Dream is perhaps best expressed in the last lines of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Huck declares: “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” Always more territory, always more space outside of the (maternal) civilizing body. Cather answers to that version of the Dream in her character Alexandra Bergson, who cultivates the land and claims her own agency through commerce and agriculture.

The Selected Poetry of Emilio Villa, translated by Dominic Siracusa

What a strange and wonderful book! I wrote about it here. Confounding.

The Unknown University, Roberto Bolaño

Okay, so I wrote about the first section in detail here. More or less finished it. Bolaño’s best poems are basically prose (that’s not a knock).

Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe, Chris Andrews

Wrote about it a bit here; will write more when I finish. Makes me want to reread Bolaño (although I almost always want to reread Bolaño).

(In a Sense) Lost & Found, Roman Muradov

The plot of Muradov’s debut graphic novel floats like a dream-fog in surreal, rich art as the ludic dialogue refuses to direct the reader to a stable referent. Great stuff.

Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L’Engle’s seminal fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time turns 50 this year, and publisher Macmillan is celebrating by releasing a new anniversary edition with oodles of extras, including photos, manuscript pages, and new editorial content. They’ve also initiated a “50 Years, 50 Days,   50 Blogs Celebration Campaign” to promote the new book, and they asked Biblioklept to participate in the first week.

Here is the new cover:

And here is the cover to my beloved, ragged edition:

20120115-162927.jpg

A Wrinkle in Time explores the strange intersections of space and time against a backdrop of adolescent angst. Our intrepid heroine Meg, her child genius brother Charles Wallace, and her would-be beau Calvin O’Keefe, go on a trans-dimensional quest to find her missing physicist father. They are aided (and initiated into) this quest by a trio of immortal women (shades of the Norns); their intergalactic mission finds them encountering angelic centaurs, motherly tentacled beasts, a red-eyed automaton, a disembodied brain, and more more more. Dr. Dad has disappeared while working on a mysterious project involving a tesseract.

Here’s a nifty visualization of the tesseract:

Like a lot of young people, as a child I was deeply fascinated by the concept of “tessering” away to a strange, marvelous, dangerous place, and it was surely this idea that most enthralled me as an early reader of the novel. I was probably ten when I first read the book, which I’m pretty sure was a gift from my aunt who brought it to me while our family was living in New Zealand. I actually wrote my name and our six-digit phone number into the book, which suggests that I loaned it out quite a bit.

20120115-162941.jpg

A Wrinkle in Time gelled with all of the stuff I was reading then: lots of Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and Douglas Adams, but also plenty of crappy Dr. Who novels and lots of execrable fantasy novels. L’Engle’s novels (of course I read all of them after reading Wrinkle; to this day, Many Waters is probably the one that stands out the most, weird and sexy as it was) were of a piece with Tolkien and Lewis (especially Lewis’s oft-overlooked space trilogy)—but there was something distinctly American about L’Engle’s characters—her writing even—that intrigued me. I had spent my entire childhood expatriated and was constantly looking for avenues of American expression, ways “to be American” (yes, I realize how silly that sounds now).

In retrospect, it’s not the tesseract and its fantastical properties that I so recall from A Wrinkle in Time so much as it is L’Engle’s characters, especially mercurial Meg and her future-husband Calvin. While much of literature emphasizes the clash between individual desires and societal conventions, L’Engle’s particular tone and characterization is keenly sensitive to the difficulties adolescents face navigating this conflict. In a sense, L’Engle is working out the early blueprint for what would become the conventions of Young Adult literature. L’Engle wrote a specific brand of sci-fi/fantasy that, on the surface, sets her apart from S.E. Hinton and Robert Cormier—but what these writers share in common, what makes their work so enduring even as society changes, is the essential emotional reality their characters share with readers.

Wrinkle endures also because of its handling of complex themes of conformity, idealism, faith, and science. It’s a book that challenges a youngish audience to read in new ways. It’s also a frequently challenged book—always the sign of something good—suggesting that it’s not going anywhere soon. In this sense, Wrinkle’s literary legacy externally recapitulates its internal themes of nonconformity.

Of course, characterization and strong themes probably wouldn’t get too far with young readers if Wrinkle didn’t deliver the goods that YA readers demand: a good yarn. Wrinkle is spry and engaging at fifty, and while it’s not as bloody as new kid on the block The Hunger Games (the protagonist of which owes some small debt to Meg Murray) it nevertheless negotiates the dangers of existence (both physical and metaphysical) with greater emotional intensity.

But I’ve veered off course here, invoking a newer, more violent YA star at the end of my riff, when what I really want to do is encourage young people who haven’t read Wrinkle yet to pick it up (okay, especially young people who think that Collins’s trilogy is the bee’s knees). It’s a wise, endearing, and enduring classic, one that deserves attention on its golden anniversary.