Time Quintet Re-read: A Wrinkle in Time

…though it’s really more of a wrinkle in space, if you know what I mean.

It occurred to me late last night that, as much as I hated tearing books apart in high school English, I am now doing it of my own volition and for fun.

Oh God, Mrs. Nations was right.

Right, enough of that, and down to business. (Though, every time I read “IT” I thought acronym and not word and it was really distracting. Somewhere out there is an evil information technology department hellbent on universe domination.)

So, I’m going to be frank with you. I have read each of these books exactly once (and I’m not sure I ever read An Acceptable Time at all) and they were all a very long time ago, and I have no idea where the series goes from here, and for those of you who have read ahead (::coughIancough::), don’t tell me. But it seems to me that we haven’t seen the last of the Black Thing at this point, and I would hope that it is revisited in the later books and eventually some sort of resolution is arrived at, no doubt incorporating what we have learned thus far about ourselves and the universe.

So, aside from the set-up of a possible over-arcing plot-line involving the Black Thing, the biggest part of the story seems to be the evolution of Meg’s character. She refuses to take responsibility for anything up until the very end. (I’m honestly a bit impressed with how calmly the other characters deal with her at places.) Still, as a child, I imagine I identified with Meg quite a bit – a bespectacled nerd that can’t seem to do anything quite right. Wouldn’t you want a sibling like Charles Wallace, someone who knew you so intimately?

Not sure what Calvin’s up to. He seems like a nice guy but he doesn’t get to do much in this book.

Also, I find the whole discussion of tessering a bit confusing. There is such thing as a tesseract – I did a report on them in high school actually (along with a two dimensional being whom I named Fred). A tesseract is a fourth-dimensional hypercube, essentially a cube that moves in time. That actually makes some sense, if you think of tessering as being on a section of this 4D cube, and then after n time you are somewhere else. But the explanation in the book says it’s fifth-dimensional (which makes more sense because then both space and time would be variable) but then it wouldn’t be a tesseract. (Wikipedia says that’s called a penteract.) So I don’t know if I’m not understanding the explanation in the book correctly, or if she wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about.

So here’s how we’re going to do this. I’m going to list some discussion questions. Feel free to bring up points of your own in the comments. Also, let me know what you think of the schedule (currently one book a month) and whether you’d like to move it up to one book every two weeks. By the current schedule, we’ll discuss The Wind in the Door on September 27. (It would be September 13 if we change it.)

1. A Wrinkle in Time was written in 1962. How are some ways you could see the story changing to adapt to modern technology if the story was written today?

2. At various points of the book, God or a God-like entity is referenced. Do you believe this is a Christian novel? Can you make any determinations about Madeleine L’Engle’s religious views from this?

3. What do you think it means that Camazotz is so similar to Earth when the other planets (and their creatures) are not?

4. Does a character like Charles Wallace have room to grow?

5. How do you think you tesser to a two-dimensional world?

Have at it, Squiders.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I heard about the Wrinkle in Time. What’s it about?

    Reply

  2. L’Engle is one of the few authors who manage to strike a perfect balance between religion and science, which is one of the things I’ve always liked about her. Her writing brings out the best of both worlds and doesn’t seem to think that the two are antithetical.

    I’ve always seen Camazotz as a critique of the Soviet Union, considering the time period during which the book was written.

    Reply

  3. I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time three times now. Loved it as a kid, tried again a few years ago and found it too overly religious for my tastes. Prepared for that, I didn’t mind the religion quite as much during this third re-read.

    How might one adapt this book to a modern setting?

    Your first question is funny. During all three of my readings of a Wrinkle in Time, it definitely felt like a book written in AND SET IN the 60s. However, at the risk of being a bit spoilery, when you read the second book there are some offhand references that clearly indicate this series is set in the future (quite possibly right about now). I thought the setting was fine when I imagined it was the 60s. But to learn the book must be set in the 90s or later in subsequent books killed that assessment for me. It’s like L’Engle decided, “This book is set in 2000, but I’m not going to offer any predictions or technological advancements or obvious indications in the characters’ everyday lives. The angels and centaurs are enough.”

    So I accepted the setting until I read the next two books and learned my assumptions were wrong. And that really hurt the series as far as I’m concerned.

    Actually, I think what annoys me the most about the setting is the possibilty that when she wrote the first book, it WAS set in the 60s, but then she noticed she’d been vague about it and decided to throw a few comments into the subsequent books that dictate the setting is much later. She doesn’t seem to have put a great deal of thought into certain aspects of the world-building, and I’m not inclined to let her have it both ways.

    Is this a Christian novel?

    I have no memory of noticing the overt religious imagery in the book the first time I read it, in grade school. My take the second time around, about ten years ago, was, pun intended, Oh God this is a Christian book. This time around was no different, although not quite so Christian a book as, say, the Left Behind series, which takes place after the Rapture and is firmly rooted not just in Christianity, but evangelical Christianity.

    Why is Camazotz so similar to Earth?

    During this re-read, my first thought upon Meg and company arriving on Camazotz was, “Why does everyone there speak English?” I know, I know, a lot of sci fi does this because it’s easier, but it still drives me nuts. My second thought was, “Camazotz? Camelot? Hmm.” That’s really it. I didn’t go any further with it.

    You could make an argument that she’s striking out against conformity, but given the religious tone of the book, a hippy treatise seems unlikely. More probable is an warning about the freedoms we lose if we stop thinking for ourselves. But, of course, the not-scary places are all about singing praise to God, so I suppose it’s OK to let God tell you how to think rather than government, anti-Christ-like leaders who permanently sit in chairs and control your mind, or giant brains that pulsate black light.

    Though you have to admit, pulsating black light brains are cool. Once you get past the total cliche of them.

    An interlude of self-discovery:

    As I’m writing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I did not like the books at all. I can see it in my tone above. I think part of that is expectation: as a kid, I loved this book and A Wind in the Door. In my memory, the book was awesome. As an adult, I’m a far more discriminating reader, and frankly, I feel a little let down by the book. Maybe the things L’Engle did were new and fresh at the time, and/or to a young reader, but a lot of it feels tired and overdone now. I suppose that’s partly due to loss of innocence and recognizing that the world doesn’t work in the way L’Engle’s setting does.

    Would you care to tesser?

    I’m going to skip the Wesley Crusher, oh, excuse me, Charles Wallace question and jump to the tesseract question. That, while not really explained at all, was a very cool concept. I would love to see such a mode of transportation as prevelant in science fiction as transporters/teleporters.

    And learn more about the fundamentals. Such as, how does one aim when tessering? How can you land safely on an alien world you’ve never seen (oceans, cliffs, solid objects), that is also lightyears away? Even more difficult, how do you safely reach a planet you don’t even know exists? Could you, as seems likely if you aren’t careful, end up in the void between planets, sucking on vacuum? Or inside a star? And how do you power such a transition? Does conservation of energy come into play, or do you use the tears of angels as fuel?

    If tessering works across such great distances, why aren’t the armies of darkness and light constantly popping up, in full force, on the surface of contested planets, firing their brain organs and love organs (ooh, that came out sounding way naughtier than intended) at each other?

    I did find the whole two-dimensional jump a bit silly, and questioned the likelihood of any three-dimensional creature surviving a sojourn into so…confining…a space. If we’re gonna get all crazy, why not fictional places next? Then again, I think it might have been an attempt, if you assume L’Engle was thinking that far ahead, to soften us up for the journey that lies ahead in A Wind In The Door.

    But that’s a discussion for next time.

    Reply

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