As a kid, A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books. I only read it a few times, but I relished those times and even reenacted the adventures of Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace many times. I assumed that reading the book again as an adult would be, if not quite as rewarding, at least a warm and fuzzy rendezvous with Nostalgia.
I can't say I'm sorry it wasn't, because now I won't be tempted to have my kids read the book. Before you look for the first stone to cast, let me say that it is mostly well-written, highly imaginative, and a fun sci-fi/fantasy story. All those are good things, but they don't automatically result in a great book, especially when they hide a pernicious message.
Meg Murry is extraordinarily ordinary, and she hates it. She's smart enough, but doesn't do well in school; she loves her family, but her dad's been gone for five years and she has no friends; and she's got braces. But then Mrs. Whatsit shows up and everything changes, and before you know it Meg and her 5-year-old brother Charles Wallace are touring outer space.
With her brand-new friend/boyfriend Calvin O'Keefe, that is. The three meet in the woods at the "haunted house" where Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit are squatting, and together are tasked with finding and rescuing Meg's dad, a physicist working for the government. Turns out he's been in the stars somewhere fighting evil in the form of the the Black Thing.
At first, there doesn't seem to be much sense to the children's adventures. They go to a beautiful planet and fly on the back of a white, winged centaur; they meet a Happy Medium who shows them the future; and they learn about tesseracts from the old ladies who are more like angels than old ladies.
Once they reach Camazotz, however, things begin to make more sense, or at least have a more recognizable plotline. Camazotz is a planet in which there is no variation, all have given in to sameness, and the brain controlling everyone has convinced them that they are in fact happy to be exactly like everyone else.
The brain is cleverly called IT (pronounced "it" but reminiscent of the acronym "Information Technology"), and it has Mr. Murry in captivity while it helps spread the evil of the Black Thing. Charles Wallace, who turns out to be telepathic, thinks that giving in to IT will help him save Mr. Murry. The plan works, but now Charles Wallace, boy genius, is himself trapped.
Mr. Murry, Calvin, and Meg escape Camazotz, meet some odd but kind creatures on another planet, tesser (fold time and space for faster travel) back to Camazotz, rescue Charles Wallace, and get back to Earth in one piece. Everything ends happily, but the kids are more grown-up and only beginning their battle against evil.
Again, the story is creative, interesting, and well-written, with some humor thrown in. And on the face of it, A Wrinkle in Time is a pretty straightforward, if odd, story about good vs. evil. Madeleine L'Engle even includes Bible verses and references to Jesus to give her story a more pious facade.
Unfortunately, it's only a facade. The first clue that all is not right in L'Engle Land is when Mrs. Whatsit explains to the kids that they've been enlisted to fight the Black Thing. She says they aren't the first, and then helps them list some of the prominent earthlings who've fought evil throughout history. Jesus is at the top, but so is Shakespeare. . . Gandhi. . . Buddha. . . etc.
This is what makes the use of Scripture (and actually quite a lot of it, too) so dangerous. If L'Engle were writing a C. S. Lewis allegory, she would have limited her list of people who'd fought the Darkness to Jesus, and she would have had Mrs. Whatsit explain that Jesus single-handedly defeated the Black Thing for all time in his death and resurrection.
The evil ironically inherent in L'Engle's worldview doesn't stop there, however. It is implied throughout the novel, and a couple of times explicitly stated, that everyone has to fight the Black Thing for themselves. There can be self-sacrifice on behalf of others, but it's up to you not to give in to evil. This is nothing less than self-salvation, the opposite of the Christian message.
I am by no means opposed to non-Christian books. I read them all the time, and enjoy many of them. The reason I have a problem with A Wrinkle in Time isn't that its author promotes a non-Christian worldview. Rather, it's the fact that she smuggles a non-Christian worldview under the guise of a Christian worldview, and worse, that she feeds it to children.
A Wrinkle in Time is certainly fun to read. Many children's book authors seem not to understand that it's important to keep the plot moving, and L'Engle definitely isn't one of them. But the worldview she builds her story on is one that breeds death rather than life, and the fact that she disguises it in Christian trappings is downright criminal.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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