Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tesser Well: In Praise of "A Wrinkle in Time"

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was published 50 years ago this month.  Many of us already know the difficulty that she had in getting the book published; my memory is that she sent it out for 10 years before it was accepted, and even then, the publisher had deep misgivings.

It's one of those classic publishing tales that gives us all hope.  The author believed deeply in the book, which was published against all odds; the book went on to win prizes and has never been out of print since.  Tomorrow I'll write more about L'Engle.  Today, I want to think about the book that started my L'Engle obsession.

I remember that my 5th grade classroom had a small bookcase.  We were welcome to read any of the books there.  I was a voracious reader who was always on the prowl for something to read.  One day, I pulled A Wrinkle in Time off the shelf.  I'd thought about reading it before, but something put me off.  However, on that spring day, I had no other choices that looked better.   And so, I decided to give the book a try.

Right away, I was hooked by the main character Meg, who was stubborn and bossy and plain, but bewitching to a boy named Calvin.  I loved Meg's family.  I wanted to know what happened to their father.  And wow, what a story that was.

Did I understand the physics?  Can I tell you what it means to tesseract?  I didn't then, but I read lots of stuff I didn't understand--it never stopped me.  No, in fact, it stretched me.  We worry to much about what kids can and can't understand, although I am in favor of some censoring if the violence in a work is too graphic.  But rejecting a book because of the physics?  Never.

Some have rejected the book because of the spiritual elements.  Those elements didn't hit me as a child.  I imagine that when I reread the book in the next few months, I'll wonder why I didn't see them.  But as a child, the religious symbolism of many books didn't hit me.  For example, I read all of the Chronicles of Narnia and rarely glimpsed the allegory.  I just loved the story.  I wanted an enchanted wardrobe with a world behind it.

Luckily, I had that wardrobe--grown ups would call them books, but I saw them as a magical way to transport me to other places.  L'Engle did that transporting better than most children's authors.

Of course, it helped that she didn't see herself as a children's author.  She wrote for everyone, and that's one reason why we got books that didn't talk down to children.  She knew that children could handle big topics like love vs. totalitarian thinking; she didn't flinch.

I am grateful, profoundly grateful, to authors like L'Engle, authors who have split my world open again and again.  I am grateful to authors who take me to other places and to those books, such a cheap way of exploring other worlds.  I would love to be one of those writers who creates a book like A Wrinkle in Time--and now that I have a nephew who's getting to the elementary school reading age, maybe I will.

For a great retrospective of the book, head to this NPR site where you'll find a link to the All Things Considered piece on A Wrinkle in Time.

Tomorrow:  more about L'Engle and her inspirations as a writer and creative person.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Enjoying your posts on L'Engle, and I, too, remember my first experience with the book! A wow! story.