2018 book cover.
Sarah Kendzior, an expert on authoritarian states who often appears on MSNBC to talk about the Trump presidency and its similarity with other autocratic regimes, shared her thoughts with Flood Magazine in which she uses the plot of Madeleine L’Engle’s famous 1962 young adult novel, A Wrinkle in Time, as a metaphor for the dark political days we are living in. As a lifelong fan of L’Engle’s Newbury award-winning science-fiction/fantasy novel (and being as against Donald Trump and his regime as I am), Kendzior’s words really resonated with me:
“It’s a good book for children to read now, growing up during the Trump administration,” Sarah Kendzior told me. “The rejection of conformity, the emphasis on compassion.” She’s called IT a “fascist monster,” comparing his brainwashing of Meg’s brother Charles Wallace to the “normalization” of Trump Times. “One of the scariest lines in the book is, ‘Just relax.’ Just give in, we’ll take care of you. Relaxing is much easier than trying to combat IT. That’s what happened to us as a nation—people had faith in institutions and checks and balances, but it comes down to individuals’ willingness to uphold those things,” Kendzior said. Lucky for her father, Meg takes responsibility, defeats IT, and rescues him by virtue of thinking hard and getting angry.
Kendzior is right. “Wrinkle” is very much about empathy, using one’s brain to solve problems, and the age old battle between good and evil. Madeleine L’Engle, who died in 2007, was a Christian who often explored religious and moral themes in her works, without ever becoming preachy or self-righteous. Rather than reject or deny science (as many evangelical Christians today do), in “Wrinkle,” she embraces science — specifically quantum physics and the possibility of alien life — to tell a riveting and rather dark story about a 13 year old girl (Meg Murry) who is forced to use her righteous anger to fight against an evil force that has kidnapped her father and is about to take over the universe. I agree with Kendzior that kids today should read this book. (The movie, which I believe is being released in theaters today, couldn’t have come out at a more appropriate time in American history — although I have heard the reviews for the movie aren’t that great, so maybe it’s better to stick with reading the book.)
Meg isn’t alone in her quest. She has help, in the form of three mysterious and sometimes humorous old women (L’Engle has described these women elsewhere as guardian angels rather than the “good witches” they appear to be). Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which have supernatural powers and can appear or disappear at will. Mrs. Whatsit is also able to shapeshift into a being who is a cross between an angel and a centaur. There is also Meg’s telepathic 5 year old brother, Charles Wallace, whose ability to empathize must be off the charts and who also has a genius level IQ. Finally, there is Meg’s new friend Calvin O’Keefe, seemingly average in most respects, but who, like Charles Wallace, seems to possess an impressive ability to empathize.
The story revolves around Meg’s father, a physicist who had been working on some top secret project involving quantum physics, and then suddenly disappeared and was never heard from again. There’s some kind of connection between his disappearance and a concept he’d been working on called a “tesseract,” which refers to a 5th-dimensional shortcut that can be taken through time and space by “folding” it.
Meg is a relatable but not always likeable girl. She is brainy, awkward, unsure of herself, and apparently not very popular with most other kids because she’s not perky or upbeat all the time (I loved Meg when I read this book at age 11 or 12 because she was exactly like me!) Meg’s reaction to things tends to be to get angry or sulk. Her teachers have expressed concern over her rebellious and uncooperative behavior and her falling grades. Since her father’s disappearance, her problems have only gotten worse. Her little brother Charles Wallace is the family’s youngest child and has an uncanny ability to always know when Meg is upset, and even know the exact details of what she is thinking about. Calvin O’Keefe, while he seems to be Meg’s opposite in many ways (he is popular, athletic, and only “average” IQ-wise) also is unusually understanding and empathetic of Meg’s emotional needs.
Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, who have ensconced themselves in an abandoned house in the woods near Meg’s home, come to the children one stormy October night. Soon the kids find out these old women are celestial messengers and know where her father is — and that only Meg can be the one to save him. Soon the three kids are embarking on a journey across the universe, traveling by “tessering” through space and time.
1960s book cover.
Meg is at the center of the fight to return her father from the forces of darkness that have captured him, and the evil and powerful entity (IT) that has engulfed and now controls a large part of the universe. Along the way the reader is treated to alien worlds and creatures. The world on which her father is held prisoner is a terrifying planet of total conformity and utter control, in which people are literally turned into programmed robots. Anyone who deviates from the “program” in any way is coldly disposed of. This is also the planet where IT resides. Some of the worlds Meg visits (that have not yet been engulfed by IT’s dark forces) are populated by beings with high levels of empathy and altruistic love. On these worlds, Meg finds the emotional and physical replenishment she needs to succeed on her quest. On one planet, she is nurtured back to health after almost losing her life by a huge and ugly but maternal creature Meg comes to call “Aunt Beast.”
Like Meg and her companions, we who resist Trumpism are on a journey to fight a force that, like IT, seeks to gain complete control and enforce lock-step conformity. It’s a force devoid of empathy, atruistic love, gentleness, and compassion, because those are values of the Light, which are alien to the dark forces of Trumpism. Trumpism holds a dark, violent, and toxic masculinity that insists that the Light is weak and feminine, or “socialist,” as somehow virtuous. Darkness hates the Light because it’s petrified of its power to expose the truth, so it will gaslight you and try to make you believe that goodness is really evil and evil is good. Light values are the same ones Jesus taught in the Gospels (and almost every humanitarian spiritual leader has encouraged, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr.) Ironically, the darkness of Trumpism, while insisting it’s based on Christian values, has in fact twisted and perverted Christ’s true message of love and inclusion into its polar opposite.
Like Meg, we in the resistance are going to be forced to go outside our comfort zones (Meg got quite sick while “tessering” at one point, and always did find the shortcut frightening). We can’t be tempted to “give in” to darkness just because it seems easier or because we’re being told that fighting it will only cause us more trouble than lying down like sheep and and accepting it. Like Meg, we may need to use those qualities we dislike in ourselves, especially anger, to fight off the darkness before it consumes everything it touches, including our souls.
A Wrinkle in Time has aged well since its 1962 publication. While the language the kids use in the book seems dated and overly formal (what kid calls their mother “Mother” anymore?), the book was well ahead of its time in its attitudes toward women and their intellectual aptitudes (Meg’s mother is a successful microbiologist). The battle between good and evil is as old as humanity itself, and is especially well told in this classic and entertaining book. The Christian message of the story is clear, while never beating you over the head with religion or Christian symbolism. I worry about kids today being brainwashed by the sociopathic, nationalistic, racist, pro-violence, anti-woman, anti-science, and anti-education messages of exclusion and intolerance they are hearing from Trump and his followers. A Wrinkle in Time is a great anecdote to that and if kids aren’t into reading, I’m sure seeing the new Disney movie can’t hurt them any.
It’s also a book that adults can enjoy too, and since reading the article I linked to above, I just started reading it again.