When a strange old lady turns up at your house and tells you random facts about five-dimensional space, you should probably call the police.
Fortunately, that does not happen in “A Wrinkle In Time,” where reality can twist and bend, and strange worlds are just a tesseract away. Madeleine L’Engle’s classic sci-fantasy is many things — a coming-of-age tale, a rescue quest, a clash between good and evil — spun with rich, luminous prose and eerie alien worlds.
On a stormy night, the strange Mrs. Whatsit takes shelter in the Murray household, and informs Mrs. Murray that “there is such a thing as a tesseract.” Teenage Meg Murray suspects that that the tesseract has something to do with her father’s mysterious disappearance. So she, her little brother Charles Wallace and her classmate Calvin go off to get more answers from Mrs. Whatsit and her pals, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which.
The three old woman soon whisk the kids off on a journey through time and space, to worlds and creatures that are utterly alien to them. But it turns out that Mr. Murray has not merely become lost on an alien world — he has been ensnared by an evil intelligence that threatens them all. To save her family — not to mention the entire universe — Meg will have to face the most horrifying threat of all.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is a book that defies easy classification — it isn’t typical fantasy or sci-fi, it’s a CHILDREN’S novel that integrates physics and philosophy into the story, and it’s rife with religious symbolism. L’Engle also had a truly sublime writing style — she wrote in a rich, almost sensual style with lots of little details that make you feel like you are actually THERE.
And L’Engle had the rare talent for making you feel like the universe is a vast, strange place filled with wonders and terrors, which are physically bizarre but spiritually familiar to us. This is a story where you can be instantly swept from our planet to a dark world filled with four-armed eyeless yetis, or a grey planet of perfect order, and somehow it feels wholly real.
And while the characters sound like stereotypes — the weird old ladies, the plain girl, the child genius, the popular boy — they really aren’t. Meg seems kind of whiny and wangsty at first, but once the kids get swept up in their quest she gets to show her inner strength at last. Charles Wallace doesn’t bug me as most child geniuses do, and Calvin serves as the “normal” one who serves as a source of strength. And the Mrs. W’s are absolutely delightful — eccentric, kindly and utterly mysterious.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is one of those rare books that can change the way you see the universe — and it’s a friggin’ good read too. A richly imagined, exquisitely written story.