For my bloggy friend, K. L. Allendoerfer, at A Thousand Finds, neuroscientist, violinist, educator and geocacher extraordinaire, who knows the power of reading and science, and credits L’Engle for sparking her interest in both!
If I had read Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time when I was young, there’s a good chance I would have pursued a career in science. First published in 1962 before the concept of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) became a colloquialism for young women — a rallying cry, really — L’Engle’s book reads like a STEM Sisters manifesto, a how-to on being a girl and not being afraid to shine, even if it means being better than a boy in math or science. Today, a measly 12% of female bachelor students go into STEM careers, yet, I posit, that had more girls read A Wrinkle in Time as children, I’m pretty sure that number would be substantially higher. Did I mention that A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times by different publishers until it was picked up by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, because, as L’Engle has commented, it was “too different,” and she didn’t think anyone would publish it? It went on to win the distinguished Newberry Medal in 1963, proving that people will embrace “different” if it comes in the right package.
Given the groundbreaking nature of the story, it’s wonder the book was even published: a female protagonist, the concept of evil which wasn’t kids’ book fodder in 1962, and so much science talk, that there was no precedent for any of it. Would we have Dr. Who (first aired in November 1963) or Star Trek (first aired in 1966) without A Wrinkle in Time? Is it possible that L’Engle’s little book kickstarted the sci-fi craze that the modern-day public clings to like a free climber in Acadia National Park?
We earthlings need to stretch our imaginations beyond this little blue orb and our activities of daily living in order to experience fulfilling lives. Music, art, philosophy and books, books, books help us answer the darn eternal questions that plague us such as who am I? and where the heck am I going? L’Engle planted the sci-fi seed in a generation of kids who grew up to be Star Wars fans and believe in the power of possibility. No small feat there. Yeah, Madeleine. You go, girl. While Scientists have yet to figure out the time travel thing, you can bet that books like A Wrinkle in Time sparked the imagination like no physics class ever could.
L’Engle’s main character, Meg Murry, is a feisty firebrand of a girl who knows her way around a mathematical equation, but shrinks from the more traditional subjects that girls generally excel in. Meg’s brother, Charles Wallace, is a big genius hidden in the body of a small boy. When Meg’s dad goes missing while on a secret, scientific assignment for the government, Meg is distraught while Charles Wallace is busy gaining assistance from his secret contacts. When Mr. Murry doesn’t come back for almost a year, neighbors, teachers and friends all assume Meg’s dad ran off with another woman. Only Meg’s mom believes her husband is in danger; she works diligently in her lab — she’s a scientist, too — devising a way to bring him back.
Meg loves her father and knows that the man who taught her so much about math and science would never willingly leave his family so she and Charles Wallace and their friend, Calvin set off with Charles Wallace’s friends — Mrs Whatsit, who drapes herself in layers of colorful clothes and is the primary intermediary for the kids, Mrs Who, who speaks in only quotations, and Mrs Which, the wisest of the three and usually appearing as a shimmering light because 3-D is just too darn dense — on a quest to find Mr. Murry and bring him back. Meg and company travel the galaxy, encountering many bizarre creatures, including the inimitable Aunt Beast, all of whom assist the young travelers on their journey.
Thanks to the assistance of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, the crew finds Mr. Murry on the planet Camazotz, a dark foreboding place where independent thought is prohibited, where they are introduced to the Tesseract, a fifth-dimensional machine that allows you to jump through time, hence the wrinkle. The Tesseract is one amazing scientific advancement that the kids would love to learn more about, but with Meg’s dad being held in a bar-less prison, and Charles Wallace’s mind being taken over by It, there’s so little time to learn about all of the ramifications of time travel before they have to jump time again to make things right.
A Wrinkle in Time has all the best components of a sci-fi novel — other worlds, a special relationship rooted in earth, making it impossible to leave for good; crazy characters who, although foreign to us, endear us with their actions; a lovable, flawed protagonist possessed of true grit, heart, and purpose, and at her core, a mind for science and math — which, despite what the current elected officials of the American political system have to say, is the reason modern man has effloresced and is still thriving today in the 21st century. (Recall that the ruling elite of the 17th century imprisoned Galileo Galilei, the father of physics and modern astronomy and arguably one of the greatest thinkers of all time for being too science-y and, hence, heretical. Just sayin’. Plus it has the best (read: corny!) opening line of any mystery novel ever, one which the Washington Post’s Style Invitational attributes firstly to an 1830’s English novel by Paul Clifford, and of course, we mustn’t forget the inimitable Snoopy.
Want to get down with your hidden science side? Want to read a YA novel with big adult themes? Then read A Wrinkle in Time to see how it all got started and rekindle your childhood belief in worlds of possibility.
p.s. now out in a graphic novel format.