My literary walk of shame, i.e., the list of books I should have read a long time ago, seems to involve a lot of youth lit. I’ve never read any Nancy Drew books despite the fact that we had a stack of them in the closet when I was a kid. I didn’t read Little Women until I was 40. I just read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn last month. And now, at long last, I have read Madeleine L’Engle’s classic time travel novel A Wrinkle in Time. In fact, I have read not only the original 1962 Newberry-winning novel but also Hope Larson’s 2012 graphic novel adaptation of the same and found myself delightfully entertained and moved by both. The original novel is short, just about 200 pages, and could easily be read by a a 4th-grader, but it contains some deep ideas about faith, love, and flawed humanity.
Meg Murry is having a hard time. As a ninth grader at Regional High, she just doesn’t seem to be doing too well. Her grades are terrible, she can’t seem to get along with other students very well, she gets called to the principal’s office frequently, and she feels like she is stupid and a failure, even though we discover that she is, in fact, quite smart, particularly when it comes to math and science. Meg’s younger twin brothers seem to fit in well, getting decent grades and participating in sports like others their age. Baby brother Charles Wallace, age 5, is another matter though. Locals refer to him as a “moron” and shake their heads that Mr and Mrs. Murry, both respected scientists, could have two such intellectually disappointing children. What makes this situation even worse is that Meg’s father has been missing for years. Her mother knows that he is engaged in some sort of top secret scientific research and has faith that he will return, even though the local community scoffs and assumes he ran off with another woman. Meg and Charles are very close; while others assume Charles cannot speak, he is in fact quite erudite and has an uncanny ability to read both Meg and his mother’s thoughts and emotions. Charles also has developed a relationship with three strange little old ladies who live in the haunted house in the woods — Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. After a storm blows Mrs. Whatsit into their home, Charles and Meg seek her out in the woods, where they encounter another teen named Calvin who seems drawn to the house and the ladies by destiny. In short order, our adventure begins, with the three children whisked off by the little old ladies, who are something quite more than that, into space and time-travel and an attempt to find and rescue Mr. Murry.
There are so many wonderful themes in this novel, perfect for children to contemplate. One would be recognizing the value and the gifts in each individual person and not to make assumptions based on appearances. Assumptions are made about Meg and Charles based on her grades and his seeming inability to speak, and these assumptions are both wrong and damaging. Mrs. Whatsit, at first glance, seems to be a ditsy sort of bag lady, but we learn that she possesses great wisdom and power as well as a tragic back story. Aunt Beast and her people look fearsome but are incredibly kind and helpful. Interestingly, they lack eyes and vision but “see” much better than humans.
Another theme would be acceptance of our flaws. Meg is really hard on herself and even refers to herself as a moron sometimes. She lacks patience and is quick to anger, which gets her in trouble at school, although I have to say I admire her assertiveness; she is quite brave, especially when confronting authority. Meg has a strong sense of what is right but is fearful, too. She expects others to fix problems and doubts her own ability to do so. Yet, her flaws will sometimes help on the children’s quest to find Mr. Murry, and Meg will find that she has a very important power besides. Meg will grow up a bit on this adventure.
The overriding theme, however, has to do with the power of good/light overcoming the power of evil/darkness. There is a theological component to the novel, including occasional references to Jesus and quotes from scripture. I personally had no problem with this, having attended Catholic school for a very long time, but these days, those references might make some uneasy. The ultimate message, much like the Harry Potter series, is that love is more powerful than hate and that self sacrifice is noble and sometimes necessary for the greater good.
The graphic novel is really beautifully done. Hope Larson’s adaptation is quite faithful, with only occasional editing of the original text. Plot points are left alone; it’s more a case of cutting small bits of dialogue here and there. The graphics are bold, done in black, white and blue. The characters have a classic cartoon look, rather like Archie comics or Steven Universe, in my opinion. It’s very kid friendly, and I think anyone who enjoyed the original novel would approve of Larson’s interpretation. I also think (and hope) that kids who might not be interested in a 200 page novel without pictures might be interested in the graphic novel form. I’m trying to get my 12-year-old to take a look!