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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Salon/Review Re-Post: *A Wrinkle in Time*

Yesterday in New York City, there was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time and the new commemorative edition published for the occasion:
"This special edition has been redesigned and includes an introduction by Katherine Paterson, an afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis (sister of YA author Léna Roy) that includes photographs and memorabilia, the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech, and other bonus materials."
In recognition of this literary event, it seems appropriate to re-post this Book Talk from October of 2010 (updated to reference the new edition, which I don't yet own but hope to soon).

A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle
Farrar Straus Giraux/Macmillan (2012), hardcover (ISBN 0374386161 / 9780374386160)
Fiction (middle grade/young adult), 280 pages (including supplemental material)
Source: personal copy
Reason for reading: Re-read for Banned Books Week 2010

Opening Lines: "It was a dark and stormy night."

Book Description: Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. She claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a "tesseract," which, if you didn't know, is a wrinkle in time.
Meg's father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

Comments: Would you expect a novel that opens with one of the greatest first-line clichés of all time to be something so original? Well, maybe it wouldn't seem that way to you now, given that the book is nearly fifty years old, but I suspect it was in 1962 - and when I first read it, at the age of 12, it definitely was to me.

It's hard for me to be objective about this book. I've read A Wrinkle in Time more times than I can recall, although it had been years since I last picked it up. I decided that Banned Books Week 2010 would be a good time to reacquaint myself with an often-challenged novel that I have frequently listed among my all-time favorites, although I was a little nervous - would it still have a spot on that list after I finished it this time?

I shouldn't have worried. This is a novel that never gets old, but it seems that as I've gotten older, I've found more ways to appreciate it. The story of a fairly ordinary family - well, both parents are brilliant scientists, the eldest child's a misfit, and the youngest is more than a little unusual, but they're fairly ordinary aside from that - and a very out-of-the-ordinary adventure, A Wrinkle in Time incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy and considers matters of philosophy and morality, and is written with appeal to readers of all ages. While this book won the Newbery Award, Madeleine L'Engle said that she didn't intentionally write it for children; at any rate, she certainly didn't write it down to children.

There are many things I have always loved about this book. Meg and Calvin are two of my favorite characters in any fiction, but I think I've grown fonder of Meg's parents - both Dr. Murrys - since I last saw them. Charles Wallace, however, strikes me as more enigmatic than I remembered; he's not exactly convincing as a five-year-old, but I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be. Parents are imperfect and fallible, and children struggle to figure things out, but even under great stress and strain, the love and respect between family members can help hold things together.

In the Author's Introduction to an earlier edition of A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle says that "In the Time novels, Meg...asks some big questions. Many of us ask these questions as we're growing up, but we tend to let them go because there's so much else to do. I write the books I do because I'm still asking the questions." It's handling those Big Questions that have made this book a modern classic - faith and reason, individuality and community, Good and Evil - and kept it a fixture on the banned/challenged books lists. However, one thing that's never struck me as being in question - in this novel or in others by the author - is that religious belief and scientific thought can not only coexist, they can inform and reinforce one another. I've long thought this, and I'm pretty sure that reading A Wrinkle in Time at a formative age helped point me that way.

Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time put me in mind of another novel I've grown to love that also considers the Big Questions and the relationship between science and spirituality, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Seeing the commonalities between them may have made me love A Wrinkle in Time even more.