I think it’s a little embarrassing to admit that I never read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle until the movie came out this past year – and the reasons for that aren’t the best ones. Simply, my mother loved the book so much that because she constantly promoted it to me, I thought it was a bit underrated and never took the time to pick it up.
I saw the movie adaptation when it came out after being dragged to the theater by my best friend (and if you’ve read any of my previous movie post, you might begin to see a trend here). To my infinite surprise, the adaptation was charming and although I understood that it took themes from the book but deviated some ways from the original plot, I found myself compelled to read the book.
So I did.
In the following paragraphs, I express some unpopular opinions, but I encourage you, no matter how much you want to throw a book at my head for what I’m about to say, please read through to the end. So here goes:
The first thought that came to my mind was that it was still vastly underrated.
About halfway through it, I was talking with my mom about the book (still one of her favorites) and I said the following:
“Either it’s not very good, or I just don’t get it.”
My mom was of the mind that I just don’t get it.
It’s one of those books which, because of the way everyone talks about it, you expect it to be ultra-dense, written in a form of language that takes a doctoral degree to understand, and about four years to decode. Those kind of books I’m okay with, because if I admit that they were over my head, just about everyone else but the two or three snobs I know will admit, if a little sheepishly, that they felt the same way.
This was not the case with A Wrinkle in Time.
Instead, the book was simplistic. Since it was written for children (actually it wasn’t written for children; the original audience for the book was contested, and for that reason it was rejected by publishers for the most part; but these days we think of it as juvenile fiction) the language is simple and the ideas are forthright. There are no hidden messages, no complex themes, nothing that seems to give it the prestige everyone I know seems to ascribe to it. The hype around the book, and subsequently the movie, seems to be the result of a misleading trend.
Or so I thought.
It’s been about a week since I’ve finished it. I took some time to think about my experience before writing it because a.) I didn’t want to get hammered by the people who read this for my negative reaction to the book and b.) I really did want to understand why so many people found the book to be life-changing and I found it to be sort of a letdown. So that’s what I did. Like any good scholar, I thought about it. And I thought about it some more. And then I came up with a few ideas of my own.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, actually.
It’s true. There are quite a few books which rocked the literary world, and when I read them, I thought, “what the heck is this all about?” Some of those books are (don’t yell at me) The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and the Percy Jackson series. While I enjoyed those books for the first part, like I mentioned early, they either weren’t really that great or they went well over my head.
So which is it? I’m inclined to believe that they went over my head – because, if I’m honest, I’m a bit of a lazy reader. Every now and again I’ll find the motivation to really take a book apart and critically analyze it, but for the most part, I prefer to be spoon-fed. Each of the previously mentioned books (series, actually) probably deserve a re-read or two (except Harry Potter, because I’ve read them many, many times) when I feel more inclined to understand rather than criticize them. But what does this have to do with A Wrinkle in Time?
Since I waited a little more than a week to write this review, something strange has happened to me: A Wrinkle in Time has begun to sink in. In retrospect, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Even now, I still don’t understand exactly why the world freaked out in the years since its release – but here’s the good news: I’m starting to. Let me tell you why.
Madeleine L’Engle writes very much on-the-nose, something I’ve been accused of in my writing time and time again. I prefer to write this way, but it’s not something I usually see in the books which find their way into my hands (except for Hemingway). So when I picked up A Wrinkle in Time and found that L’Engle didn’t go to great lengths to hide her themes (love, salvation, family, etc.) I was a little surprised and very much disappointed. I really can’t tell you why. As readers, I guess we have this expectation that everything will be hidden from us. But L’Engle doesn’t write that way.
Looking back, I can’t imagine the book without it’s revelation quality: there is nothing hidden about this book, because everything is so strange and abstract that to hide it would be to transform the majestic into absurdity. Even if, while reading the book, I thought “there must be a better way to write this” (I will be honest, my writer/editor brain was constantly at war with my reader/critic brain) since finishing the book and letting it stew in my mind I have come to the conclusion that it really isn’t.
The truth is, you get this feeling when you read this book, and you can’t really describe it. I think it must be different for everyone, which is why it reached and continues to reach so many people all at once. A person could argue that some of the images we see here are a bit cliche, but I don’t think that matters. Darkness is cliche. Pain is cliche. Betrayal is cliche. Heck, even love is cliche. But we still want to read about it, because as human beings we still feel these things.
So maybe it is a bit over my head but I think that’s the point. I believe this book, in my case, deserves a re-read, but for the most part, I’m starting to get it. Or at least I get that I don’t get it.
What makes this book special to you? Do you have any ideas for me? I can’t wait to here from you!