“A Wrinkle in Time” Turns 50

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

The literary cliché is the mark of purple prose. It’s also the first line of one of my favorite books — and probably yours, too — A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. The tongue-in-cheek opening was just the first of many publishing conventions L’Engle delighted in turning upside-down in the classic.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time, the beginning of the incredible adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry and their friend Calvin O’Keefe. For many of us, Meg is a soulmate — she’s smart, outspoken, socially awkward, wears braces and glasses, and has a quick temper. Meg just doesn’t fit in.

She comes by misfit status naturally, since her parents are brilliant scientists and her kid brother seems to be telepathic. Her dad, in fact, was experimenting with time travel when he disappeared. That sets the stage for Meg, Charles and Calvin to travel through time and space to rescue him from “IT,” a giant, pulsating brain.

Excerpt from “Exactly What Happened in A Wrinkle in Time” by Faith Erin Hicks

A Wrinkle in Time is not exactly a traditional children’s story. It blends quantum physics with complex mathematical formulas, throwing in phrases from ancient Greek, French, Italian and German along the way. Most publishers — 26 in fact — just didn’t get it.

Earlier this week, All Things Considered interviewed L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis, who describes publishers’ confusion. “Was it for adults, was it for children? What is this, science fiction? Oh, I know what science fiction is, but there aren’t female protagonists in science fiction. Are you sure you want to talk about good and evil — isn’t that a little bit philosophical? Can’t you just cut that part out?”

Two years later, a friend of L’Engle’s mom, John Farrar from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, agreed to publish the book, despite the fact that an outside reader hired by the company to review it called it “the worst book I ever read.” Farrar suspected that children might find otherwise. Ten million copies later, his hunch has more than paid off. In 1963, librarians awarded A Wrinkle in Time the Newberry Medal.

As is the case with many great children’s books, Wrinkle doesn’t please everyone. The ALA lists it as one of the most banned books of all time because it includes magic and fortune telling and witchcraft. Yet, the classic often has been criticized for overtly Christian themes.

Children, of course, don’t care. They just want to read a good story. And for 50 years, A Wrinkle in Time has given them that.

Join me in celebrating the anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time and the brilliance of Madeleine L’Engle. If you haven’t read it in awhile, read it again. Take a few minutes to listen to the ATC story (it includes L’Engle reading from the book). And share what the classic has meant to you.