Books

A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – Throwback 60

A lot of people think that Young Adult fiction (also known as YA) is something that came about in the ’90s and early 2000s, and whilst these might have been the decades where the genre had some big, well known hits, it’s by no means a genre that came into being at this time. YA has existed for decades, even if it wasn’t called YA. One of the books that really showed how well received teen fiction could be was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, first published in 1962.

The book follows thirteen-year-old Meg Murray, the daughter of astrophysicist Alexander Murray, and microbiologist and Nobel laureate Katherine Murray. When the story begins, Meg meets her new neighbour, Mrs Whatsit, who questions her about her missing father, and something called the tesseract, a scientific concept that her father was working on. The next day Meg, her genius brother Charles, and their friend Calvin, visit Mrs Whatsit, meeting her friends Mrs Who and Mrs Which.

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The children learn that the three women are actually interdimensional beings of immense age and power, and they transport the kids across space to another planet using the power of the tesseract. On another world the children learn that the universe is under threat from a being of immense power called The Black Thing; a huge cloud of darkness that’s spreading across the universe. To stop this personification of all evil the children must travel to a world under its control to try and find Meg’s father before he becomes corrupted.

Despite being a book that seems to be set in a world of science, with some big science fiction themes and the inclusion of references to scientific theories such as Planck’s quantum theory (thanks in part to L’Engle’s interest in science), A Wrinkle In Time is has a lot of spiritual and religious themes to it. There are many references to divine intervention and numerous passages that are reminiscent of Christianity and the love of God and Jesus. The book has been compared to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia in that regard. L’Engle doesn’t just use Christian mythology to craft her story and setting, however, as she uses several names from Mayan religion, and at one point the children directly name Buddha.

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As with many popular books though, there are some who disagree with such interpretations, and the book has been accused of promoting science over religion, as well as encouraging witchcraft over the decades since it was released; although some of this could also come from the fact that L’Engle chose to make her central character a young woman, something which was looked down upon at the time. The book has received praise for being a feminist novel, and some have even said that without Meg Murray we wouldn’t have had some of the other big female leads in fiction that came after.

Despite receiving high praise on its release, as well as having record sales figures, it wasn’t easy for the book to even get published. L’Engle has spoken many times over the years about the difficulty she faced. The novel was rejected twenty six times, with L’Engle being told that it was ‘too different’, and that because of some of the themes and ideas that it deals with publishers were unsure if it would appeal to children or not. She also said that having a young, capable, female lead led to a number of rejections.

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Thankfully, once the book finally hit the shelves these doubts were put to rest. A Wrinkle In Time has been republished many times over the years, with special editions and anniversary releases. It was awarded the 1963 Newbery Medal, won the Sequoyah Book Award, and the Lewis Caroll Shelf Award. Over the years the book has been featured in a number of studies that found that it’s one of the most read school books in the US, and the School Library Journal named it one of the top 100 chapter books of all time. It also received two film adaptations in 2003 and 2018, as well as a stage play in 1990, an opera in 1992, and a graphic novel adaptation in 2010.

Whilst YA books like Twilight and The Maze Runner might get more recognition, and young heroines like Katniss Everdeen might be household names, it’s worth remembering that in a lot of ways A Wrinkle In Time helped to lay the groundwork for what came after.

A Wrinkle In Time was originally published on 1st January 1962.

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