Review of Madeleine L'engle's A Wrinkle in Thought

by Jonas Moskowitz

Madeleine LÕengleÕs fantasy novel is much more than a mere childrenÕs story book. It is a lesson in disguise. It is an affirmation of the truth of story which takes us beyond mere fact into something more real. The story revolves around the concept of time. Yet time, in LÕengleÕs sense, goes far beyond what our faculties conceive of it. She explores the infinite macrocosm outside us while never failing to ignore the equally great microcosm within each of us. In the book, the characters delve into the questions that we all contemplate. Some of these questions donÕt [avoid contractions in formal papers] have finite answers, but it is the questions themselves that are important. Through her work she encourages us to exercise our habitual domain, to think beyond convention. Meg, the main character and a scientist at heart, discovers the reality of imagination. Her mind facilitates and gives rise to her reality. Her world is transplanted by its simulacrum, her hopes, desires, and wishes.

Meg is a young girl who lives with her three siblings and her mother. Her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is a prodigal child who has flashes of insight and seems to be able to sense what others are thinking. Their father is a physicist who was working for the government when he disappeared four years ago. A friend of theirs, Calvin OÕKeefe, joins Meg and her brother on a journey through time in search of their father. Time travel is accomplished through tessering. A tesseract is a concept. It is described as a wrinkle in time. Most people conceive of space in three dimensions. Time travel is made possible only in the fifth dimension. The fourth dimension is simply described as time. In the fifth dimension, time is essentially negligible. The only way to describe it is to simply conceive of two points in space converging. As the first point in space dematerializes, so do our protagonists. As the second point materializes in place of the first, the travelers also emerge from their anti-matter state. This process is called tessering.

[Weak transition here] The father of the two siblings is trapped behind a large black void in space. This veil [unclear referent] is symbolic of evil, ignorance, and darkness. It appears and conceals everything that succumbs to it. It is symbolic of conformity. It is to exist [awkward here] without questioning. In LÕengleÕs mind it is to acquiesce to a false existence, one without truth which can only be uncovered by questioning that which has come to be normative. Without revealing the entire story, it would be sufficient to say that this theme is brought out in many ways. Not only does this work teach us about our understanding of time and space, as does works of science fiction, but it also deals with the present in an allegorical form. In fact, one of the main characters reveals that our beloved planet is in danger of being overcome by the black void.

It is not just the plot of the story that asserts the value of questioning. Three characters, old ladies who teach Charles, Meg, and Calvin how to tesser, really bring out this theme. Their names are even indicative of LÕengleÕs theme. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which each maintain that the three travelers must always understand that their faults will allow them to discover truth, inquisition and communication are key to understanding, and that they must always remember that they donÕt know everything. [awkward list] After receiving these words of advice, our travelers tesser to a planet which has succumbed to the black void. This is LÕengleÕs way of showing how ultimate conformity can rob people of their livelihood and ultimately eliminate truth in its purest form[,] which is simply truth gained from an inquiring mind. The sky on the planet Camazotz was gray. As Meg, Charles, and Calvin materialized they saw a city below them. All the houses were exactly alike, small square gray boxes. In front of all the houses[,] children were either bouncing a ball or skipping rope. They were all skipping and bouncing in rhythm. As the ropes hit the pavement, so did the balls. All the doors on all the houses opened simultaneously and out came the women like a row of paper dolls. They all clapped in unison and each child walked into their house. Then all the doors shut at the same time. One little boy drops his ball and the three travelers grab it and approach the house which the boy entered. A woman answers and claims that her boy certainly did not drop his ball. She acts afraid, as if her family would be put to death if anyone were to find out that her boy did indeed drop his ball. Everything in this town is perfectly synchronized and each of its citizens accepts this way of life. They do not question the value of this rigid society, they simply abide by its rules. At the center of this town lies Central Intelligence. In fact, the sheer power of this agency has become so ingrained in the people of this town that they view it as an entity and refer to it as IT. In fact [repetitious: you just used this in the last sentence], the planet is characterized by one of its inhabitants as one mind. It seems as if LÕengle is asserting the danger associated with the acceptance of conformity. Furthermore, it is her assertion that the state of our world is slowly evolving into such a rigid culture. Governments, bureaucracies, capitalism, technology, efficiency, and normative behavior are all factors that will eventually transform our culture into one that demands a perpetual state of non-existence. Such a statement is certainly indicative of postmodernism. [How so? Needs explanation and elaboration.]

[Weak transition here] Our planet may be a troubled one, but we have also had crusaders of truth that have fought to drive away the dark presence. Those who have questioned accepted truths such as Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Pasteur, Madame Curie, Einstein, Schweitzer, Ghandi, Budda, Rembrandt, St. Francis, Euclid, and Copernicus have all rebelled against this darkness. [This seems to come out of nowhere]

[weak transition] LÕengleÕs descriptions of the various creatures that our protagonists come across serve as an exercise in imagination. Her descriptions are very vivid yet lacking in some sense. They encourage the reader to exercise his imagination. For instance, one of the creatures is described as gray and bipedal. It had four arms and far more than five fingers to each hand. But the fingers were not fingers, they were long tentacles. It had a head and a face which was far less than human. Where the features would be, there were several indentations, and in place of ears and hair were more tentacles. It was tall and it had no eyes, just soft indentations. This creature had no sense of light simply because [logic?] it could not see. It was impossible for Meg to convey to the creature what light was. [So far, this paragraph feels like a tangent. Can't the preceding be reduced?] Conversely, this creature had a far superior sense of touch than did the humans yet it could not accurately describe its superior sensation of feeling. Such a simple concept like light was virtually impossible for Meg to explain to the creature. Just as the perfectly simple concept of touch was difficult to explain [sentence fragment]. This exposes the limitations of our thinking, of our brains. We may either choose to simply disregard [split infinitive] that which we cannot understand, or we may strive for understanding even if it may be in vain. To undertake such an endeavor via questioning and imagination is to uncover truth. To simply ignore that which cannot be wholly understood is to simply acquiesce [split infinitive] to conformity.

This point is further illustrated when Meg confronts IT. It is the embodiment of a conformist life. It does not give credence to concepts that donÕt have finite definitions. In order to confront this entity, Meg must delve into her last vestige of consciousness and manifest a notion which she truly believed in that could not be reduced to a mere definition. Her solution was love. She had to allow herself to love IT, or at least some aspect of IT. Love is such an abstract concept that seemed so foreign to IT [something's missing here]. And in giving IT love, she managed to triumph over IT. [Why is this significant?]

This book truly encourages the reader to engage his imaginative faculties. Thus we are asked to imagine our world slowly becoming one of accepted truth and compliance. If we allow this to happen, we cease to exist. We must yearn for understanding. LÕengle believes that everything has an explanation, but with our human limitations weÕre not always able to understand the explanations. But [you just used 'but'] just because we canÕt understand doesnÕt mean that these explanations donÕt exist. [Why is this interesting given the issues explored in our course?]

What recommends this book is its applicability to readers of all ages. To think critically and to analyze the validity of society, institutions, and normative beliefs is certainly a valuable lesson that children should learn, and that adults should be reminded of. Often times we neglect to evaluate who we are and what we believe. We tend to operate on a functional level at times [not clear what this means]. LÕengle reveals the danger of such an existence. Furthermore, children are often raised and taught to accept certain beliefs as axiomatic. This novel asserts that it is okay [too colloquial] to question those who may try to force beliefs upon you. It also shows that people have faults and that they cannot know everything. A child who merely accepts what he is told will become an adult who cannot readily accept that which contradicts his way of thinking. This book has a valuable message to convey, one which is far too often overlooked.

There is only one glaring fault with this novel. Throughout the book there are many religious undertones. There are mentions of prophets such as Jesus. The book of Genesis is mentioned. A poem about God is recited towards the beginning of this book. The danger of these undertones is that one could interpret this book as having a deep religious meaning. One could argue that one must allow his [unclear antecedent] scientific mind to acquiesce to the concept of God. With this concept, one gains love and compassion which will overcome the evils of the world. The black void is simply characterized as the forces of darkness. Meg overcomes this darkness with love and an open mind. It is my opinion that this was not the message that LÕengle intended to convey, yet one who is a devout follower of a theological school of thought might argue for such an interpretation [not clear why you're saying this is bad. Explain]. Beyond that one fault, however, this book is certainly one without flaws. It allows us to transcend the parameters placed upon us in our everyday lives. It is a journey through our own minds.

[Final Comments: There are a number of places where you do not really take your points far enough or where you do not explain the points that you do make. That fact is keeping your grade from reaching the level I'm sure you were aiming for. It would have also been nice if you explored more fully the connections to the issues we've been exploring, particularly perhaps the point about postmodernism. Nonetheless, the review is well written and i get a good sense for why you're such a fan of the work.]