My mother read this book aloud to my little sister and me when we were children. This and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which I reread in 2010. I didn't really remember much of this book, just that Mom loved it, so when I saw a copy for sale at a used book shop, I grabbed it for a reread.
I didn't connect with this book until about halfway through. This is partly because I'm ill, and partly because I was distracted by Meg. I wouldn't have noticed as a child, but today, I thought she was a bit of a brat. Then I realized that she was acting out from frustration and felt a bit of the self-aware sheepishness you get sometimes. I felt a bit bad for the way she treated her father: she wanted him to magically fix everything, and he couldn't.
That aside, though? This book reflects the way I was raised. Yes, that means a segway. If you don't care, skip the next few paragraphs.
My mother once told me proudly that she had raised three nice little secular humanists. Each of us thinks and acts just a bit too differently to fit in with the mainstream. My sister and I had absolutely no chance: I was a debater, she was an Art Kid. I went through a phase in high school where I was In Control Of Everything. I was trying to be Super Student, Excellent Citizen, and keep up with my Ivy League-bound classmates while simultaneously attempting to run a couple of after school activities. I almost had a nervous breakdown. That was one of the few times I've ever actively attempted to keep pace with my peers.
My sister didn't even try. She flunked out of advanced English because their thought processes were so far below hers that she couldn't grasp what was expected of her. Like Book Marking. (Aside: reading my sister's high school copy of Pride and Prejudice is absolutely hilarious.
) The teacher exasperatedly told my mom that they couldn't keep her in the class -- not because she wasn't smart enough, she was leaps and bounds beyond everyone else -- but because she'd failed to meet a single course objective over the semester. She was much happier in the lower level of Lit anyway (her friends were in there, plus she could sit in the back and doodle pictures of mermaids on her binder and answer questions with 1/8 of her brain).
Sister Dear and I were Smart Children. She was Gifted, I wasn't, but the end result was similar: we didn't fit particularly well into the system that was created for children who were able to fit the mold. Any attempt to make us conform just made us miserable. I'm sorry to say that it didn't stop when we were adults: I work in corporate America, and I often leave the office feeling like I can't breathe because the box I'm in is so tight. She's trying to find a job, and finding that particular search more challenging than anticipated.
My little brother fits in better than Sis or I ever did. He's very smart, but he doesn't particularly care whether or not people notice. He doesn't care about his grades, just as long as he passes. His mission in life at the moment is speech team, which is my fault, because I was his coach when he was 14. He, too, is a nice little secular humanist, but I don't know if his nonconformity works better because of his gender or if he's just that cool.
Back to the book, this is a novel about children who cannot conform. Meg gets angry and disgruntled and acts out and feels judged, partially because she's highly intelligent and unable to do things anyone else's way. Her little brother, Charles Wallace, is a genius child who may also sort of be an alien, but the jury's still out on that one. Anyway, his plane of thought is so far advanced that even though he needs to ask his mom to look up words for him in the dictionary (at 4 or 5, he can't read yet), but he understands the physics of time travel. This kid will never fit in at the local high school. Their neighbor, Calvin, in addition to being a pretty cool guy who puts up with Meg's temper tantrums, doesn't particularly fit, either. He's in sports, though, so no one really pays attention as long as he can play basketball, which is a fairly accurate representation of the school-age hierarchy.
The siblings and Calvin must traverse space-time via "tessering," or wrinkling, the folds of time with three former star, sort of Pegasus, mainly non-corporeal alien beings in order to save Meg and Charles Wallace's father from The Black Thing, a cloud attempting to devour whole planets in shadow and despair. He's being held prisoner on what amounts to The Conformity Planet, where every motion is regulated and the ill are put to death for mercy. The power on the planet is called IT (which was funny at first, because I was reading it as I.T., and I am often at the mercy of I.T.), and it psychically controls the planet's inhabitants.
These children do not learn to conform like nice little robots. Instead, they learn to embrace their flaws and innate intelligence to fight the unholy black cloud and evil collective consciousness. A Wrinkle in Time is a book about physics, the hazards of conformity, and human intelligence, and the resourcefulness of children on alien planets. Also, love. Because books should always have a little love in them, no matter the genre.
It's also made the most frequently banned books list for the last two decades. #23 on the top 100 most frequently banned books list from 1990-1999
, and #90 from 2000-2009.
This is theoretically due to the "subverting of religion" (though the three alien ladies are referred to as "Guardian Angels") and the presence of witches (even though none of the characters in the books are witches).
Going out on a limb here, I think it's because this book portrays conformity as the death of intelligent civilization, and the people who ban books would like for children to just conform to their ideas. Books like this, and like Harry Potter, which show children attempting to retain a voice in the face of a society trying to make them calm down and bounce to the beat someone else is setting? They're necessary.
Kids aren't all alike. Neither are adults, who, if you recall, started out as kids. So go Mom, for raising hers to understand that they have brains that work, just not like everyone else's. And go Madeline L'Engle, for pissing off censorship boards for the past twenty years by insisting the same.