I recently decided to revisit these books from my childhood. I remember liking them but not loving them but thinking that as an adult I might appreciate them more, or at least differently. What I discovered is that, as an adult, I liked them, but I didn't really love them. Huh. Seems I could have saved myself some time.
All three books involve the Murry family, mostly young Charles Wallace and his older sister Meg, the physics of space and time as well as fantastical creatures from all realms of the universe.
I have the clearest memories of A Wrinkle in Time, the Newbery Award Winner of 1963-I must have read this a few times as a kid because while it's not one of my favorite books, I do remember quite a lot about it. In short, Mr. Murry goes missing while doing some top secret work for the government involving tesseracts, or wrinkles in time. His children, awkward, teenaged Meg and the brilliant five-year-old Charles Wallace, are swept through the universe in search of Mr. Murry, and they end up on a frighteningly perfect planet which is under the control of someone or something referred to simply as IT. IT exerts a strange sort of mind control over the citizens of Camazotz-nobody has to think, they just have to do. Not only do the Murry kids have to try to rescue their father, but they have to try to save themselves from falling under IT's terrible grip.
I read A Wrinkle in Time shortly after reading The Handmaid's Tale, and there was a striking similarity between both of the "perfect" worlds portrayed in these books. In The Handmaid's Tale, Offred's Commander asks her what could be missing from this well-thought-out world of theirs, "You're an intelligent person, I like to hear what you think. What did we overlook? Love, I said." Similarly, nobody is expected to think or feel on Camazotz, in fact these activities are highly discouraged. Independent thinking leads to wrong decisions and mistakes which are BAD. Ah, but if you're going to err, shouldn't it be for love?
Okay, so I didn't love A Wrinkle in Time (speaking of love) but I enjoyed it enough to move on toA Wind in the Door. Of the three books, I'd have to say that this one was my favorite. The funny thing is, I couldn't have told you anything about this book; but as I read it, it was obvious that I had read it before, and the fact that I remembered almost nothing about it was shocking. There are lots of things in here that I should have remembered because I know that, as a young girl, I would have been so smitten with the ideas. There is this crazy dragon-like creature with lots of eyeballs and shimmery feathers; there's kything, which is sort of like telepathy only more...think telepathy meets Vulcan mind meld maybe? There's becoming small enough to travel inside a human mitochondrion, but size doesn't really matter because it's all relative and humans are so freaking bound by it that we can't get past it. How was I not so obsessed with these ideas as a kid that I would remember everything about this book?
Also, there's a lot of talk about mitochondrial science and here I have to make a confession. When I was in college, I took a vertebrate zoology course, and our final exam had an essay question on it that I thought I answered rather brilliantly. I don't remember what the question was, but I remember coming up with this whole response about how mitochondria are parts of cells and our bodies much like we are part of the Earth or our galaxy and how all things are interrelated and size is all relative and stuff. As it turns out, it appears that I may have lifted my entire answer from A Wind in the Door. I never got my final exam back (long story), so I have no idea what my teacher thought of my answer-she may have loved it or she may have written me a stern lecture about plagiarism. I have no idea. So, Madeleine L'Engle, I'm sorry for using part of your book to pass my vertebrate zoology course. I honestly had no idea that that's what I was doing. I told you I didn't remember any of this book from when I was a kid!
Here, I have to make another comparison to The Handmaid's Tale. In A Wind in the Door, there are these beings called Ecthroi, and their whole purpose in life is to destroy, to create nothingness. At one point, an Ecthros bent on destruction tries to entice a human over to the dark side, as it were, with the following: "Don't you understand that the Echthroi are your saviors? When everything is nothing there will be no more war, no illness, no death. There will be no more poverty, no more pain, no more slums, no more starvation--" (p. 187-188). This reminded me of Aunt Lydia's pro-Gilead propaganda about freedom in The Handmaid's Tale. There is "freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it." (p.24) Again, the promise of an inability to make mistakes...sounds tempting, but I think I'd prefer my "freedom to".
A Swiftly Tilting Planet-I didn't remember reading this before, and as it turns out, I think that's because I hadn't. I had all three of these books on my shelf as a child, but I guess I was never intrigued enough by the first two books to get on to the third. Here, we are again faced with space and time but also with the consequences of single moments in time. Charles Wallace is a teenager now and Meg is a married woman expecting her first child, and the world is on the brink of WWIII. Charles Wallace is tasked with changing it. How? Through a series of leaps through time that I found confusing and difficult to follow. I think if I had sat down and read this in one or two sittings or if I had taken notes or if I had not read to the point of drifting off on several occasions, I might have fared better, but I had a hard time with this one.
There are two more books in Madeleine L'Engle's Time series, but I'm not sure if I'll read them or not. I didn't even realize there were two more until I looked at the back cover of my copy of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Has anyone else out there read all of them? What do you think, is it worth continuing, given my feelings for the other three? Also, my library copy of A Wrinkle in Time is a signed copy. What do you think-is it worth keeping and just paying the library for a replacement copy? The book is not in great shape-it's a well-worn 1978 version with all the accompanying library vandalism of stamped due dates, glued-on pockets, etc.
Other reviews and thoughts:
A Wrinkle in Time
Stuff as Dreams are Made On (not a review exactly, but some thoughts on one of Chris's favorite books)
The Written Word hosted a read-a-long
A Wind in the Door
The Book Zombie
A Swiftly Tilting Planet