My Own Personal Tesseract: Reflections on ‘A Wrinkle in Time’
Although my work as an author has been overwhelmingly centered in realms of darkness and horror, as cross-fertilized by my deep and personal focus on matters of religion, philosophy, and psychology, I have also been a lifelong lover of fantasy and science fiction. So perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the foundational books in my life has been A Wrinkle in Time, which wraps up all of these genres, themes, and concerns inside a story, a writing style, and a sensibility that together epitomize the word “wonderful.” Interestingly, over the past decade-plus of my involvement in professional writing and publishing, I’ve found that many other authors who likewise work in the field labeled “horror” count Wrinkle as one of their most cherished books.
Yesterday I caught wind of the fact that a graphic novel adaptation has just been released. I did a bit of looking into it. This involved reading several plot summaries and celebrations of the original novel. And, appropriately enough, it all sent my thoughts and emotions soaring backward and forward through time.
I was first introduced to A Wrinkle in Time and its author, Madeleine L’Engle, when my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Preddy, read it aloud to our class over a span of two weeks (a chapter a day, roughly). As I recall the scene, most of us were spellbound, although there was a certain amount of collective fidgeting, as 10-year-old kids are innately prone to do when gathered together and asked to sit still. The story was magnificent, even transformatively so, and Mrs. Preddy was a good out-loud reader. I still remember her vocal performance as she tried to convey the impossible sounds imputed by the written text to the metaphysically mysterious Mrs. Which, who, as an interdimensional being, has trouble limiting her presence to a single plane and successfully expressing herself in speech that’s comprehensible to us humans. She thus communicates via (to quote Wikipedia) a “long, drawn-out method of speech, symbolized by doubled and tripled consonants in her words.” Mrs. Preddy, I’m proud to report, spoke these words aloud with an appropriately long and drawn-out pronunciation style.
I savored the whole thing from beginning to end: Mrs. Preddy’s measured reading of the text; the marvelous, otherworldly story; my powerful instinct to identify mentally and emotionally with the fears and hopes of the young protagonists; the alternations among fantasy, science fiction, and frightening supernatural menace; and the distinct religious, spiritual, and philosophical overtones of it all. Some of these things I noticed consciously, as when Ms. L’Engle challenged the Protestant evangelical orthodoxy of my family and social environments (and dazzled me in doing so) by invoking Jesus, Einstein, and the Buddha in a single breath. Other subtleties seeped into me at a deeper level.
After the group reading was done, and before that school year was over, I borrowed the book from the classroom shelves and read it myself, and found that it became all the more powerful when experienced in the privacy of my own mind. By the time I graduated from junior high, I had read it two or three more times, as well as its first two sequels, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I found the former to be fully as wonderful as its predecessor and the latter, although somewhat more difficult, to be thoroughly rewarding in the end. The books were magical, almost literally so, and I was quite aware of it. (This makes my ongoing failure to read the final two books in what eventually became the “Time Quintet,” 1986’s Many Waters and 1989’s An Acceptable Time, all the more unaccountable.)
At the age of 30, I went back and reread A Wind in the Door and was astounded to find that the effect hadn’t worn off, and that my adolescent impressions were dead-on. In fact, rereading the book as an adult uncovered richnesses of spiritual and philosophical import that had passed over my head and sunk into my heart when I was a child. The book expands on the themes of Wrinkle: the idea of a cosmic war between good and evil that plays out both in the universe at large and in human life up close; the crucial role of humans and other sentient beings throughout the cosmos in this conflict; the status of the earth as a “shadowed” planet living under the sway of malevolent spiritual entities; and the fusion of art, religion, science, and spirituality in the battle against these forces. (And yes, it vibrates sympathetically with C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy in doing all of this.) And it pointedly channels these into a profound and moving examination of the meaning of finding one’s true, deep identity, and of the necessity of achieving a proper coming of age by consciously aligning with this identity and thus becoming a channel for the light side in the act of finding one’s deep wholeness.
This all transported me back to the more innocent and psychologically primal time in my life when I had first read the book, even as it spoke to me deeply and piercingly in my present life circumstance. I was then an adult leaving his twenties and approaching the full decade mark from having graduated college, gotten married, and entered the world of professional life and adult-level social and economic obligations. It had not been an easy passage. I had struggled the entire time with a sense of fundamental unfitness for and misplacement within the arc of the whole thing. There was also the fact that, at 30, I was deep into being psychically undone by ongoing eruptions of nightmarish daimonic weirdness into my daily and nightly life. And I was astonished, shaken, and not a little delighted as I rediscovered Wind’s direct invocation of and resonance with these things. The book reignited an old flame of longing and helped me to articulate many thoughts, fears, and insights that had been incubating for a very long time.
Along with being marked early on by Ms. L’Engle’s young adult novels and then reconfronted with this fact in a later era, over the years I have also come to cherish her many talks, essays, interviews, and books on writing, art, creativity, and spirituality. These have even influenced my own experience of and writings about the deep reality of creativity, as I reconfirm every time I see her saying things like this:
The moment of inspiration does not come to someone who lolls around expecting the gift to be free. It is no giveaway. It is the pearl for which we have to pay a great price, the price of intense loneliness, the price of that vulnerability which often allows us to be hurt; the less readily understandable price of hurting those we love, even though in less radical ways than Gauguin’s. And I am not sure it’s a choice. If we’re given a gift — and the size of the gift, great or small, is irrelevant — then most of us must serve it, like it or not. I say most of us because I have seen people of great talent who have done nothing with it and who mutter about getting down to work “when there’s time.” 
And also things like this (presented through the mouth of one of her characters):
There’s a theory, which I take seriously, that we live until we do whatever we’re meant to do. Mozart started composing at an incredibly young age, and when he died young he had accomplished the purpose for which he was born. 
All of this is what lay beneath the surface of my life and psyche when I discovered yesterday that A Wrinkle in Time has been adapted and illustrated as a graphic novel by bestselling author and cartoonist Hope Larson. The news came via a review of the book by Jenna Brager for Los Angeles Review of Books. Ms. Brager gives it a strong passing grade while offering astute and heartfelt observations about the way the project may be received by different generations of readers, including those who, like her, and like me, were weaned on the book and its companions:
It is possible to imagine that Larson will face a tough audience of adult readers who grew up with L’Engle’s Time Quintet, who, like me, still keep their childhood copies on their shelves, a fan-base that might see A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel in bookstores and ask, like I did: Why did they need to adapt A Wrinkle in Time?! It’s already perfect! It is at least equally likely that readers whose copies of the Time Quintet have grown dusty on their shelves, or have been lost over the years, will see the adaptation and be reminded of their love for the series, will pick it up for their children or grandchildren to be swept up into L’Engle’s universe in a whole new way. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel is a love letter to a book that Larson (and I) both adore. Sit with the images — one artist’s gorgeous interpretations of L’Engle’s universe — and perhaps remember how you once imagined those fantastic worlds. 
She also offers some beautiful observations about the novel itself, couched in a fond swirl of her own childhood memories:
A Wrinkle in Time is part of a subgenre of young adult literature in which ordinary, plain children are called upon to do brave, incredible things with the help of newfound powers, and then, inevitably grow up to be extraordinary, attractive adults. In my solitary fort, I ate it up (along with the chips and chocolate). I was Hermione Granger, frizzy-haired and mocked and too smart for my own good. I was Bastian Balthazar Bux from The Neverending Story, chubby and lonely and transported into an epic adventure through the pages of a book. I was Meg Murry, bespectacled, outcast, and misunderstood. Superimposing myself onto Meg, I tessered across the universe with witches who quoted Shakespeare, flew on the back of an angel, fought against the Black Thing shadowing Earth, saved my father and brother from a giant brain that turned people into living automatons, and was cradled in the arms of a kindly fur-covered tentacle beast. I grappled with my own fears, of losing my parents, of being unpopular, of the world ending. I thought about good and evil, about conformity and difference, about love and hate and the existence of God. (A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, has been read as Christian allegory, drawing upon biblical themes and sometimes quoting the Bible directly, though it is accessible to readers of any background.) Rereading L’Engle’s classic today, I am astounded by the work that young-adult literature can do, the sophisticated places it takes our minds before we’re old enough to realize just what is happening. 
Such considerations carry an extra dose of meaningfulness for me in my present life circumstance, because I currently share very close relationships with a number of young family members who are now or will soon be at that age of perfect ripeness for discovering these books and being affected by their wisdom and power. And as anybody who has read this blog for any length of time is aware, my expectations for the near and far future prospects of book love and literate culture, and for the wider intellectual, spiritual, social, political, economic, and cultural fate of America and human civilization at large, are not positive. Will this graphic novel perhaps speak to the crisis as it impacts my young family members by providing a bridge to the original novel, or by providing a life-changing reading experience in its own right? If any of these young readers, whom I care about deeply, find themselves struggling to read pure text in an era dominated ever more fully by the (corporate-controlled, propaganda-laden, consumerism-driven) image, will the graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time help them to access, experience, and enjoy the book’s profoundly valuable and soul-shaping effects in a way that undercuts and illuminates the dystopian gloom all around them? Will it help to humanize and elevate them and the rest of us in an increasingly debased and inhuman age?
“You have to write the book that wants to be written,” Ms. L’Engle once said. “And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” The publishers of her Website have placed this as an epigraph presiding over every page of it. (Update July 2017: Currently there’s another, and equally apt, quote from Mr. L’Engle appearing at the top of the site: “A book, too, can be a star, explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”) In a moment of tentative and uncharacteristic optimism about the concrete shape of our collective future, I’m led to wonder whether she and they are right, and whether it’s the young ones today who might prove to understand all of these things much more clearly than those of us who have been spiritually jaded by our longer sojourn through the wilderness.
My own personal timeline suddenly wrinkles. A tesseract forms in the temporal wake of the man I am today. The present folds over to touch the past, and my young, yearning self steps forward from the shadows to watch me silently and intently, waiting to know what I will make of him.
 Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (New York: North Point Press, 1995; 1980), 165.
 Madeleine L’Engle, A Severed Wasp (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989; 1982), 131.
 Jenna Brager, “Back in the Fold: On ‘A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel,'” Los Angeles Review of Books, December 10, 2012.
Image: “Cosmos” by moby from Desktop Nexus
Posted on December 13, 2012, in Arts & Entertainment, Religion & Philosophy, Writing & Creativity and tagged a wrinkle in time, Books, Dystopia, madeleine l'engle, monastic option, reading, religion, Science Fiction, screen culture. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.