Friday, November 25, 2011

Adventure classics -- Tessering with strangers

A Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L’Engle


It’s not true that all books with the strength to become classics faced rejection. It just seems that way. Still, learning that more than two dozen publishers rejected A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 blend of science fiction and fantasy, amazed me. Still more amazing -- some Christian schools also banned Wrinkle and other books by the overtly Christian L’Engle from their classrooms.

Why? Some of her obituaries (and the popular culture site Hollywood Jesus -- ) blame her advocacy of universal salvation, the belief, as she wrote, that “all will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time.”

I think the more likely reason for the book’s initial rejections was that publishers in the early 1960’s just found it baffling. What begins as an apparently realistic novel for children -- what publishers would characterize today as young adult -- changes shape into an exploration of time and space through the semi-scientific concept of a “tesseract” -- explained in the book as a wrinkle in the time-space continuum.

And the guides through this wrinkling are a trio of old women who look like the popular conception of witches. And then, of course, there was a psychic known as the Happy Medium who reads the future -- kind of -- with her crystal ball.

So is Wrinkle science fiction or fantasy or Satanism? In a world now aware that Harry Potter is less about wizardry than the struggle between good and evil and that even Gandalf was an angel in disguise, it’s hard to imagine anyone mistaking Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which -- the beings who guide heroine Meg Murry and her fellow time/space travelers -- for minions of evil.

But publishers, parents and schools in 1962 may well have wondered how American kids in a country still reeling from McCarthyism and the sting of losing round one of the race for space to the Soviet Union were supposed to know the difference. Even the review from Horn Book, one of the most prestigious guide’s to children’s literature, noted that the rewards offered by A Wrinkle in Time were the result of its “unusual demands on the imagination.”

Somehow, L’Engle’s readers managed to sort things out. Wrinkle won a Newbery award (given by a division of the American Library Association) the year after its publication. And L’Engle went on to write a multi-part series about the family of its heroine Meg and her future husband, Calvin O’Keefe. And kids (as well as the cast of the TV series Lost) kept reading.

(Next Friday, a December of spirited adventure opens with “The Light Princess,” a tale of a heroine who lost one of womanhood’s least appreciated assets -- gravity. By L’Engle’s influence and fellow universalist, George MacDonald.)

1 comment:

  1. I remember when this came out. A rolling boil happened and then quickly simmered down because of the award. I was entering high school and lost interest so I never read it. But, her idea--“all will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time”--popped up years later in a speech by Bishop Tutu that he gave at my church. It was an eye-popper of an idea, again. One we don't like to consider because it makes us uncomfortable and question why evil deserves redemption. She issued a conceptual challenge that still stands.