Saturday, April 15, 2017

An Inconclusive List of Why I Love A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Every year, I challenge myself to re-read a favorite childhood series. Sometimes I forget the books that made me fall in love with reading, and despite having a huge TBR pile, I want to re-experience those moments. (Also, I have a terrible memory of books sometimes, so when people discuss books I know I love, my brain doesn't want to convulse trying to remember what they're referring to. But at the same time, I could read a book once and tell you every single detail of what happened. *cough The Hunger Games cough* It's weird.)

Anyways, this year I decided to re-read the A Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle. (Gosh, I just love the word quintet. We should use it more often.) I haven't read these books in over ten years, and I vaguely remember the super strange movie they made back in 2003. (I swear that movie was older than that, but okay.) Recently, I heard Disney is releasing a new film in 2018, and I'm pretty stoked for all the possibilities, including the amazing cast list.

A few friends and I read A Wrinkle in Time together a month ago, which allowed us to discuss the events and characters and basically fangirl about how much we adore the book and Madeleine L'Engle as a person. There are so many admirable elements packed into this story, and I can hardly believe it was published back in 1962! What L'Engle has written will stick with me for a long time. I already know it has influenced my writing--how and what I want to write--and I hope that more people will read this book in the future and be swept away in the adventure and the truths that are ingrained in this story. Madeleine L'Engle deserved every bit of that Newberry Award.

Here are the elements I loved the most about A Wrinkle in Time. This isn't going to be an inconclusive list, otherwise I'd just have to type out the entire book here. But these are the elements that stuck out the most to me and that have influenced my writing for the better.

1. Meg isn't perfect
Meg is a flawed protagonist. She has glasses, braces, and plain hair. She has trouble in school, despite excelling at math. She's normal. She's real. And she's our heroine. Despite these flaws or "normalities," we still like her. Charles Wallace still likes her. Calvin still likes her. She shows strength in trying to be brave by not looking for a hand to hold. She shows courage by knowing she has to do something, even if she's a little scared. Meg is one of the most real characters I've read about, mainly because when I was her age, I was like Meg. I had an area I excelled in, and I had areas I had trouble in. I wasn't perfect (I'm still not perfect). I had glasses and braces and plain hair. But despite this, people liked me. Despite this, I could do brave things. Meg taught me that. She is still teaching me that.
"People are more than just the way they look." Dr. Murry

2. Charles Wallace is a gem.
Charles Wallace is just magic. I like that he's a unique character, that he's different and doesn't fit in with anyone, not even Meg. How he acts, how he talks, it's all wonderful. He's true gem and probably the coolest five year old ever.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." -Charles Wallace

3. Calvin is the best
Hands down, Calvin is actually the best ever. He's older than Meg, he's popular, and his family is kind of a mess. You would think his character has no reason to care for Meg or Charles Wallace, but he does. And he always choose to do the right thing, to be reasonable and protective. He tackles Charles Wallace for Pete's sake in order to stop him from getting away! Somehow, despite who Calvin is supposed to be at school or at home, he fits with Meg and her family. And it's wonderful. If I was Calvin's age, I'd be in love with him.
"But I love her. That's the funny part of it. I love them all, and they don't give a hoot about me." -Calvin

4. The parents are real
The Murry parents are one of the most realistic parent portrayals I've ever seen in children's fiction (and children's stories in general) for a number of reasons. They stick together no matter what happens, and their love is genuine. Despite what everybody thinks about Dad Murry, Mom Murry still writes a letter to him every single freaking day. They let they're kids be who they are and they encourage them. They don't lie to them or pretend everything will be okay; they're truthful. Also, they're not perfect. Things don't magically get better because they find Meg's dad and rescue him from IT. No, instead, he can't do anything to help them. He can't even tesser them away without messing it up. In general, the way the entire Murry family is portrayed is marvelous. They love each other because they're related, because that's what families are supposed to do. There doesn't have to be a reason to love your dad or mom or brother or sister. You just do it because of who they are. That's truly refreshing to read about. (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that the parents are active characters in the book? Like they don't fade to the background or randomly disappear--or die--but they're actually vital to the story.)
"Did you ever have a father yourself? You don't want him for a reason. You want him because he's your father." -Meg

5. The story is bizarre
A Wrinkle in Time has a lot of bizarre elements and concepts. Between the characters--like Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, Mrs Which, The Happy Medium, and Aunt Beast--and the crazy planets they encounter, this story is definitely strange and was created by someone with a vivid imagination. (This is why I'm super intrigued with how the movie will turn out; it's going to be awesome.) But at the same time, all of the bizarre and strangeness is also wonderful and fantastic. The characters are distinct and unique. The worlds are intriguing. Everything they encounter is magical. It's bizarre, but it works, including the science-y stuff. The explanation of what "to wrinkle" means is fabulous. It's a crazy concept toned down where children can understand it. Sometimes I feel children's books are too heavily explained as if children are dumb or have to match up with real life concepts and ideas to give some kind of "overall message" when instead books like this let children fuel their imagination and creative juices, thus inspiring them.
"So that they saw only the stars unobscured, the soft throb of starlight on the mountain, the descending circle of the great moon swiftly slipping over the horizon."

6. The use of talents and flaws
Like most children's books, A Wrinkle in Time amplifies the characters' gifts or talents, focusing on how they can use them to do anything. But this book also focuses on the characters' flaws. Yes, Meg is good at math, which helps her block out IT. Yes, Calvin is good at communication, which helps them contact Charles Wallace. But it's Meg's flaws--her stubbornness and anger and impatience--that are the key to rescuing her father and Charles Wallace and keeping IT out. And I think that's absolutely wonderful. Nobody is perfect, and sometimes it's terrible to think of ourselves as broken and flawed because we aren't as good as someone else or we don't feel smart. Instead, maybe some of our flaws can be a positive thing in life, and we just need someone to help us see it that way. Yes, gifts and talents are great to focus on and to encourage, but sometimes knowing that our flaws don't make us any less of a person is encouraging too.
"But of course we can't take any credit for our talents. It's how we use them that counts." -Mrs Whatsit

7. The truths about life
A Wrinkle in Time ends on a positive note. They save Charles Wallace, they hold off against IT and the Black Thing, they're reunited with their family. But the struggle to get there isn't perfect, and it is in no way cliche or easy. They don't magically defeat IT. Things don't become perfect because they find a responsible adult. Nothing crazy happens when Calvin kisses Meg. (It's so quick that if you aren't paying attention, you could miss it.) Despite being fantasy/science-fiction, this book isn't a fairy tale. Yes, it's a happy ending, but they work for that happy ending. They use their strengths and weaknesses, they travel across other worlds, they fight and get angry, and they persevere. And this struggle gives the ending so much more meaning than if everything just happened to fall into place perfectly. If her father could whisk them all away by wrinkling. Or if Meg had the power to defeat IT with her math problems. Or if Charles Wallace could withstand IT's influence. But that's not how life works, and Madeleine L'Engle made that clear to children through other worlds, strange people, and crazy concepts. 
"My child, do not despair. Do you think we would have brought you here if there were no hope? We are asking you to do a difficult thing, but we are confident that you can do it." -Mrs Whatsit

8. Children who stick together
It has been a long time since I read a book where the characters were smart enough to stay together and work together, especially when they go into a creepy, dark place that they were told contains some kind of evil element. I mean, geez, in how many books, in how many stories do people split up only for something terrible to wrong? At least with this, the thing that went wrong wasn't because they split up. (Instead, it was because a five year old got too prideful.) God bless Madeleine L'Engle for writing intelligent children characters.
"We have to make decisions and we can't make them if they're based on fear." -Charles Wallace

9. Emphasis on knowledge
One of the greatest elements of this story is all the knowledge that is packed into it. From Mrs Who's way of speech (speaking in different languages and quotes) to Meg shouting the Declaration of Indepedence and the Periodic Table to block out IT, this book is packed full of knowledgeable references--and it never makes it "uncool" or "stupid" to be intelligent. It emphasizes that learning and intelligence and having something in your head can help you in life. And I love it. I also like that it emphasizes different strengths of knowledge and that not everybody has to be good at reading or math or science, but you can have a strength in one area and use it to be the best or you ability and still be intelligent.
"What is dark? What is this light? We do not understand. Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked this, too. [...] They were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes. We do not understand what this means, to see." -Aunt Beast

10. Inclusion of Biblical references
I like that this book can share Biblical references and truths without being overbearing or pushy. The characters quote scripture or sing praise songs, they talk about God and what He plans for them, but there's isn't a cliche conversion moment or cheesy prayers to God for help. They know He exists, they recognize His work in their lives through their gifts, talents, and flaws, and they speak his truths to bolster their confidence and courage, their bravery and love. And it's amazing. It's subtle yet meaningful; it's not pushing an agenda, but showcasing real life with such beliefs. And it works.

"We were sent here for something. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose." -Mr. Murry
11. The Love Cliche
This book has a lot of "cliche-esque" elements. The story literally starts off with "It was a dark and stormy night." But Madeleine L'Engle makes it work. She makes it all work. But most of all, she makes the concept of love overcoming the darkness and despair work. Maybe it's because this love isn't romantic Disney-princess love. This is family love. This is the love of a sister and brother. And it works. But it also works, I think, because at the heart of it all, love is the only thing to fight against the darkness. And I admire that. I admire what she did and how she did it.
"We will try to have courage for you." -Mr. Murry

12. The Quotes
A Wrinkle in Time is packed full of fantastic quotes and tidbits of wisdom. As you can see, I've incorporated many of my favorites within this post, but here are a few more for you to chew on.
"One thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be." -Dr. Murry
"Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything." -Mrs Who quoting Euripides
"If we knew ahead of time what was going to happen we'd be--we'd be like the people on Camazottz, with no lives of our own, with everything all planned and done for us." -Mrs Whatsit

Overall, A Wrinkle in Time has re-opened my eyes to what a good story can be, especially for children. We don't need to scoot around issues; we need to face them. We don't have to have perfect protagonists or parents or a happily ever after. We need real life, maybe real life with a sprinkling of the bizarre or fantastical, but we need real life. The moments where we see Mom Murry saddened by her husband's disappearance, but also the moments where she doesn't give up on him. We need to see the moments where our flaws can be a good thing, or where it's okay to be angry and have genuine feelings. It's okay not be perfect, not to have a perfect life or a perfect family, to make mistakes, to have bad days. And A Wrinkle in Time, despite being over fifty years old and being a fantasy story, reveals truths about life today more so than many books that are published today. I think it's worth remembering that books can impact us, they can reveal truths, and they can do more than just entertain us for a few hours.

"A book to can be a star, 'explosive material capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,' a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe." -Madeleine L'Engle
~All quotes are from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, First Square Edition: May 2007.~ 

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