Review of “A Wrinkle in Time”

Many book lovers have a soft spot for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time based on fond childhood memories. Though perhaps not on par with The Chronicles of Narnia in terms of popularity, A Wrinkle in Time has quite a fan following. I am in the unusual position of a bibliophile who did not read A Wrinkle in Time as a child. I believe my late, adult introduction to A Wrinkle in Time gives me a certain advantage in writing an unprejudiced review since my clarity of analysis is not obscured by any warm emotional attachment rooted in a childhood identification with Meg.

My first impression upon finishing A Wrinkle in Time was a certain vague disappointment. After all the hype I had heard about Christian themes, gripping plot, and memorable characters, I was hoping for so much more than I found. Upon reflection, I decided my dissatisfaction might in a small measure be rooted in the fact that I was not the twelve year old audience at which the book is aimed. But more fundamentally, I think I was disappointed because I grew up reading and re-reading Fantasy and Sci Fi such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ The Space Trilogy , and Children of the Last Days. And L’Engle’s skill as a writer, depth of thought as a philosopher, and moral imagination is not remotely on par with the likes of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Michael O’Brien.

I do truly appreciate that L’Engle tries to clearly define the conflict as a cosmic battle between good and evil. In this aspect, I believe A Wrinkle in Time was intended to be reminiscent of Lewis and Tolkien. The evil fog and IT are supposed to be evil, while the Mrs W’s and humans from earth are combating in the name of good and love. However, though L’Engle had good intentions, I believe her portrayal of good is flawed in several essential areas.

Madeleine L’Engle was an Episcopalian, and her book reflects a watered down Protestant version of Christianity. Biblical references are strewn generously throughout A Wrinkle in Time, although Meg and the other characters are not overtly identified as Christian. There is on the one hand an acceptance that certain Christian themes, such as free will, and Bible passages contain wisdom and even a certain inherent beauty, truth, and power. Yet on the other hand Jesus is placed on par with other artists and spiritual leaders like Michelangelo and Gandhi. If you say Jesus is just another good teacher, you discredit the Bible message, reducing it to just another good book. In this sense, A Wrinkle in Time is a decidedly poor witness to Christianity.

Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Witchcraft
I don’t by any stretch accuse L’Engle of nefarious intentions, but another reason I would hesitate to hand my tween a copy of this book is her comparatively lighthearted take on the occult. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which are described as guardian angels and messengers from God. Yet these angels  “play” at being witches. Calvin calls the witch symbolism of broomsticks, cauldron, haunted house, old crones, “their game.” Since Catholic popes, priests, and theologians have repeatedly cautioned again any “games” dealing with occult objects, I find the concept of playing at witchery disturbing. I immediately thought of the passage in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters in which Screwtape says one of the best ways to allow power to a devil is to deny its existence.

One final detail in the plot that I found particularly troublesome is that when the climax comes, Meg finds she must rely on herself. Her love is most powerful.  A common theme in Catholic literature is a person realizing that they are nothing before God, but with God they are everything. Perhaps one could try to make a case that Meg’s love for her brother must come from God, and so bring God into the victory. But your average ten or twelve year old is not going to leap to this interpretation, which is a stretch even for me. L’Engle is pretty clear that Meg herself sees it coming down to just her love alone.

I kept having this reaction while reading A Wrinkle In Time: “Lewis already used this idea, and he did a better job.” To be clear, I am not accusing L’Engle of plagiarizing. But for a devotee of C. S. Lewis, details such as the disembodied brain controlling people and scientists being taken to another planet by celestial guardian angel figures will inevitably lead to comparisons. And in my opinion, A Wrinkle In Time just can’t begin to compete with The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Add to that the fact that I find L’Engle to lack an authentically Christian voice, and my advice is to skip A Wrinkle In Time, or at least be sure to have a discussion with your children about it before handing it over. And also make sure they read some C. S. Lewis.


4 thoughts on “Review of “A Wrinkle in Time”

  1. I had read this as a child and remembered liking it, but couldn’t remember what it was exactly about!
    As a Catholic convert, I was a bit weary about letting my kids read it without first doing my research. Thanks for doing it for me!

  2. Frank

    Excellent points! You’re right. I was one of those who read A Wrinkle In Time in childhood and had that emotional attachment to it because of my identification with Meg. Then I became a Catholic as an adult and found the book wanting in so much when I reread it. Aliens on the side of good stealing and pretending to be witches, Calvin’s mom worn out and hating life because she’s the mother of a large family, Jesus just one of many… no. I agree, Narnia is so much better.

  3. Travis Arnold

    I just read it, and was pondering on giving it to my 8 year old. I had the same problems with the book. The “witchcraft” was not too unsettling, since, within the story, it isn’t really presented as occult in nature. (Though, I agree that I would need to warn my daughter about flippancy toward magic… a warning she’s heard more than once.) But I really had a hard time with Christ being but a member of the good guys’ team, which apparently includes everyone who tries to make the universe better by mere moralism or aesthetic contribution. Blah! I do appreciate the progressively present quotations of Scripture, but at times one wonders if L’Engle intends to convey that these apply in their original Christian context (so that, for example, God works all things out for the best for those who love God and are called = those who are in Christ); or if she is de-Christianizing such references by implying that anyone fighting for the “good guys” (including the likes of “Gandhi” and “Buddha”) are recipients of these promises as well. The latter appears to be her intent; and I believe L’Engle espoused a kind of universalism, or at least annihilationism. Admittedly, Lewis flirts with these ideas as well, especially in the Last Battle. If I do let her read these books, we will need to discuss these things. We’ve read a kid’s version of the Odyssey while constantly discussing the differences between Christianity and Greek polytheism. But this almost seems more dangerous by way of sneaky quasi-Christianity. Anyway, if she doesn’t read it, she isn’t missing much. It was decent, but not even close to Lewis or Tolkien, as you have pointed out, and as most would probably agree.

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