A Wrinkle in Time: A Timeless Tale


By the 1970’s, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) was a staple in youth literature throughout North America. As an adult in 1977, I fell in love with it while doing research for the Children’s Literature course I taught. Considering that it was published in the pre-internet/social media era, this modern fantasy was arguably as popular with young readers in the 1970’s and 80’s as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series was with millennial youth. In 2003 Disney turned it into an award-winning made-for-television film, and now, 56 years after its inception, a new version of this classic has at last arrived on the big screen. I couldn’t wait to see it, and did last weekend.

Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is the gifted oldest daughter of two brilliant astrophysicists who are developing theories about the origins and nature of the universe. When we meet her she’s an angry middle-school misfit, tormented with self-loathing and grief over the unexplained disappearance of her beloved father (Chris Pine) four years earlier.  Meg’s only joy is her little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a precocious genius and telepath whom she deeply loves and fiercely protects from bullies.

The story takes off when Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her new friend Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) to his strange new friends—Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Like the benevolent Mother Goddesses they symbolize, these beings have come to Earth from somewhere in the cosmos to help Meg and Charles Wallace rescue their father from imprisonment by the evil shadow known as IT. Traveling across a wrinkle in time and space called a tesseract—a new theory being developed by Meg’s mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) but as yet unproven by her—they are transported to the dark planet Camazotz where they rescue Dr. Murray but lose Charles Wallace to the evil. The timeless message of this story is conveyed by the way Meg saves him from the gathering darkness.

Almost everybody who reads a book before seeing the movie says the book was better. Unfortunately, I think this holds true for A Wrinkle in Time. Like dreams, we always prefer our own inner images to those of others. Nonetheless, there is much to love about this film.

For example, the child actors are remarkable. Storm Reid is pitch perfect as Meg. At times, her depiction of an array of confused and conflicting feelings brought me to tears. I’ve been there. Levi Miller as Calvin is a natural at portraying a wounded boy who hides his secret sadness beneath his earnest, inherent kindness. And Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace is a constant surprise and delight. Sometimes the youngest children, like eight-year-old Brooklynn Prince of the Oscar-nominated film, The Florida Project, are uncannily confident actors because they’re still too delighted with the imaginary world of “let’s pretend” to be self-conscious about it.

Once the travelers reach Camazotz, the costumes, sets, makeup, and auditory and visual effects are gorgeous and highly imaginative, but for me, unsettling and too much. Almost annoying. I would have preferred a more subtle palette with less in-your-face, technologically contrived color and pizazz! And as much as I admire the actresses who play the triple Mrs.’s, (symbolic of Hecate, Greek mythology’s three-faced goddess guide through the underworld), they are too young and glamorous for me.

Madeleine L’Engle described Mrs. Whatsit as a frumpy, bumbling and eccentric old woman (who morphed into a young and beautiful white winged creature that was part horse and part manta ray), Mrs. Who as a plump little woman in enormous spectacles, and Mrs. Which as a coldly authoritative black-robed, beaked-nose witch with a broomstick who had difficulty materializing into human form. In the film version none of them is remotely old or witchy. Mrs. Whatsis is a gorgeous young redhead and Mrs. Who an exotic, raven-haired beauty. And the majestic Mrs. Which is a stunning Queen of the Cosmos with a glass-beaded unibrow, glittering eye shadow and lipstick, a shimmering, constantly changing wardrobe, and impossibly thick blonde-white hair….. I quite envied her hair…..

Yes, the costumes and makeup are gorgeous and highly imaginative, but for me they don’t work. It’s not that I dislike what today’s highly sophisticated technology can do—after all, it made Star Wars, Avatar, and The Shape of Water possible. But too much of it detracts from the story and makes it difficult for the viewer to suspend disbelief, an attitude essential to the full enjoyment of a fantasy like this.

Despite this, the story and characters are as moving and inspiring in this film as they were in the book. Meg’s wounded but indomitable will, Charles Wallace’s belief in his inner knowing, Calvin’s desire to help, and the determination of the three Mrs.’s to conquer evil with good are deeply familiar, soul-satisfying themes.  Most satisfying of all is the way Meg saves Charles Wallace. By loving him. It’s the same timeless message about how anyone is ever really saved from the world’s darkness. Love is the one power evil doesn’t have, will never have. Knowing that love conquers all, we can endure anything. Even a highly anticipated film that doesn’t quite live up to our expectations.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

Join 5,851 other subscribers


19 Responses

  1. I agree with what you said here. I was also disappointed they didn’t show the connection of the “Love Frequency” being part of how tessering began. It was a spotty plot but beautiful and entertaining for young teens.

  2. Yes, I was disappointed about that too. I thought it was an important part of the story. but I agree that young teens will probably enjoy it. I’m glad for that. Thanks for writing. Jeanie

  3. Did don’t know if the book embedded itself in children’s literature over this side of the pond or whether it just passed me by, so you’ve got me hunting it and the rest of the series down….if it’s good enough for Jeanie! ?

    1. I don’t know if it did either, but around the same time, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia became very popular here with young people, and I suspect on your side as well. They were made into films too. Lewis and L’Engle were both very spiritual, and both wanted to convey the deeper, universal meanings of religion without the limiting cultural trappings of organized religion. Seeing and conveying a much bigger picture was their strength, that and their psychological self-awareness. They understood the power of the shadow, the value of seeing and accepting our flaws, etc. and managed to write highly readable books to acquaint children with these difficult concepts. They were really quite progressive for their time in many ways. A sort of advance wave of what came to be called New Age spirituality….. If you do read Wrinkle, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it. Best, Jeanie

  4. That was a beautiful critique or analysis. I love the way you interpret the films through your knowledge of myth! Thank you. XQ

    1. Thanks very much Que. I love this kind of writing…..seeing the psychological meaning beneath the cultural output….I think I’m finding a new niche. 🙂 Jeanie

  5. Hi Jeanie, Such a powerful summary you wrote in your final paragraph: ‘Most satisfying of all is the way Meg saves Charles Wallace. By loving him. It’s the same timeless message about how anyone is ever really saved from the world’s darkness. Love is the one power evil doesn’t have, will never have.’ How beautiful. And even with weakness as a film – if that message comes through it would be, as you say, most satisfying! As an aside I once had a job in an elementary school teaching a non-academic arts program. One year I spent a day a week reading A Wrinkle in Time to children in grades 4-6 who, for the most part, had not been read stories at bedtime and owned little visual imagination. But they were captured by this story and transported and their innate imaginations awakened.

    1. How lovely to hear from you, Steven. Thanks for the kind words. I do hope that message comes through. It’s so simple, yet seems so incredibly difficult for us humans to get right. I love it that you once read A Wrinkle in Time to school children. I’m curious to know what kinds of activities you might have had them engage in to stimulate their imagination. I’ll bet some of those young minds remember you because of that book, and have benefitted from the experience! Thank you for writing.

  6. Thanks Jeanie – I’ve not read Madeleine L’ Engle though I know of her. Despite the physical glamourisation of some of the characters it seems the message of love did come through clearly enough in the film. Re C.S. Lewis, my children as youngsters were entranced with his stories … and I with his adult fiction (‘Till we have Faces’ – a retelling of Amor and Psyche) and non-fiction. Wondrous writings .. Am thinking also of his ‘The Screwtape Letters’ –

    1. I loved his writing too, Susan. He was an amazing pioneer with the way he conveyed sound, universal spiritual truths with his imaginative writing. What a gift he and Madeleine L’Engle both were to the world. We need more writers like them. Thank you for writing, Susan. Blessings from the chilly northern hemisphere!

  7. Jeanie,
    You write so well, you should review all films. It might make me want to go see a movie. I definitely want to see this one.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts