A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle

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A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A Wrinkle In Time is a classic piece of sci-fi fantasy for children. It's a very fashionable genre for the young ones just now and Bookbag recommends it as of considerably better quality than much of the gubbins currently on the bookshop shelves. Children will very likely want to read it more than once.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 1995
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 0140372318

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"Why can't I hide it, too?" Meg thought. "Why do I always have to show everything? A delinquent, that's what I am," she thought grimly."

Poor Meg. She's not a person who can hide her feelings, or stop an immediate, emotional reaction to distressing or difficult situations. She's always wishing she'd bitten her lip, or stopped her fists from clenching, or just walked away quietly, or, or, or. She's often in trouble. And worse, her father isn't there to help her. He disappeared a while ago; the local rumour is that he's left her mother for another woman. This, really, is the source of Meg's unhappiness. She rails with impotent fury at the unkindness of the gossip and the patronising way her headmaster tells her to "accept" what has happened and to concentrate better on her school work. Meg's parents are scientists. Her mother is a microbiologist, highly intelligent, tolerant and kind, also startlingly beautiful with flame-red hair and eyes like Elizabeth Taylor. Her father is a physicist, a researcher into extra dimensions and the space-time continuum, engaged in classified work for the government. Or he was, before he disappeared.

Meg has brothers - Sandy and Dennys, the twins, but she is closest to the littlest one, Charles Wallace who is a strange, precocious, self-contained child. He has an eerie insight into the minds of Meg and Mrs Murry and it seems as though he can always tell what they're thinking and feeling. Charles Wallace is viewed by the local community as rather backward and odd and many of Meg's scraps begin in defending his honour. In fact, Charles Wallace is highly intelligent. One dark, stormy night Meg, Mrs Murry and Charles Wallace are sitting in the kitchen eating late night snacks when Mrs Whatsit appears. She is an eccentric, tramp-like woman who appears to be well acquainted with Charles Wallace already. With her are her friends Mrs Who, who looks like a witch, but a kindly one, and Mrs Which, who has trouble appearing in a fleshy form at all, but fades in and out of view, often with her gentle lisping voice the only thing to show that she's there. It seems the three strange women have appeared for a reason. Meg's father is in trouble. He has tessered unwisely, away not only from his family, but from the very Earth itself, and has been imprisoned on Camazotz by "It". Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which cannot rescue him - only Charles Wallace, Meg and their friend Calvin can do that.

And so, they must tesser too. The tesseract is the secret research project on which Meg's father was working - it is what you might call a fifth dimension. From a line to a square, from a square to a cube, from a cube to a... ? Imagine it as a wrinkle in time. Thus the adventure begins. It is all that is evil, It seeks to stifle individual thought and creativity, It seeks to control and rule. The only real weapon that the children have is themselves, their individuality. Each of them must use both their own talents and their own faults as weapons against It.

And well... if you want to know what happens you'll have to read it.

Madeleine L'Engle makes few concessions to the small ones in her writing; she packs this book full not only with fast-moving plot and engaging characters but also with ideas. In A Wrinkle in Time you'll find she discusses the possibility of time travel, pure mathematics, the structure of atoms, the very matter of life itself. And it's all tied in seamlessly with the plot. Better still you'll find these ideas tied to notions of their application to things other than science: to the nature of the individual; to the use of knowledge for good or evil; to the value of progress as it relates to people and not just "things". A Wrinkle in Time was written over thirty years ago but its message is still relevant today. What is the value of progress without a positive effect on the quality of life? Why should progress mean that tradition and other, older forms of knowledge be forgotten or lost? Without losing any of the passion for science and discovery L'Engle writes for children in a similar way as such diverse authors as Rachel Carson, Mary Shelley and George Orwell have written for adults.

Does all this analysis sound like rather too much for young children? I don't think it is. Children often aren't aware that the arts vs science debate even exists; they don't realise grown ups don't consider quantum theory in relation to what makes them happy or sad, or how it will help them make choices. Children don't pigeon hole information; they relate everything to how they feel. They absorb input like little sponges, and apply it to each little part of their lives, however insignificant or irrelevant those parts may seem to Mummy and other, equally silly and boring adults. The ideas in A Wrinkle in Time aren't too difficult for children. They fit them just perfectly. I like Madelaine L'Engle, and her books, not only because she and they are great to read, but because she and they realise that. I'll just leave you with some of her words, snitched from the afterword in the book:

When I have something to say that I think will be too difficult for adults, I write it in a book for children. Children are excited by new ideas; they have not yet closed the doors and windows of their imaginations. Provided the story is good, nothing is too difficult for children.

She's right you know.

Children who like a little fantasy when they read might also be interested in The Owl Service, by Alan Garner. We also enjoyed Sorrowline by Niel Bushnell.

Booklists.jpg A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle is in the Top Ten Classics of Children's Literature.

Booklists.jpg A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle is in the Bookbag's Fantasy Picks.

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Buy A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle at Amazon.com.


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Kate said:

One of the few books that can get away with its opening line: "It was a dark and stormy night".

Oh, I loved this book - and still do. The copy I have has lost its cover, and has, on the front page, the note 'due Aug 19 1979' handwritten by me on it - I'd lent it to a friend, and pretended to be library.

I've also read the sequels - A Wind in the Door (so so) and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (superb).

The one thing that makes this book scream AMERICAN though is the fact that all the adults are referred to throughout the text as Mr and Mrs (or Dr) - Mrs Murray and so forth.

  • sigh* A book that stands up as well for adults as it does for children.