In middle school, my family was broken and worn out. And so was I. My mother, who was diagnosed as bipolar, had been unable to give us a peaceful home, despite her love for us. The death of her father triggered a lostness in her that put her in an institution and my sister and me in foster care. We ended up living with my grandparents, which brought stability but not peace. My sixth-grade science teacher knew I needed something to dream about. So she introduced me to the world of Madeleine L’Engle, and I’ve never been the same.
L’Engle’s best-known work, A Wrinkle in Time, comes out as a movie this week. It promises to be a star-studded cinematic marvel. Yet, regardless of whatever wonders they bring to the screen, I cannot hope that it will compare to the wonder the book created in my heart. At a time when I most needed it, A Wrinkle in Time gave me hope.
Adults aren’t magical.
The story focuses on an awkward, middle-school girl named Meg Murray whose father has gone missing. Though they live their day-to-day lives like nothing is wrong, the wound of their absent father festers, until they meet some other-worldly ladies: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which who take Meg, a friend (Cal), and her brother on a journey to find Meg’s father (Mr. Murray).
When they travel to a new world and Meg finds her father, a battle ensues between them and the darkness of the new world, simply called IT. In a moment of desperation, Meg’s father is able to transport all of them out of there except Meg’s brother, Charles Wallace.
Meg is furious with her father for leaving her little brother behind.
All of Meg’s faults were uppermost in her now, and they were no longer helping her. “No! And you’d better take me back to Camazotz and Charles Wallace quickly. You’re supposed to be able to help!” Disappointment was as dark and corrosive in her as the Black Thing. The ugly words tumbled from her cold lips even as she herself could not believe that it was to her father, her beloved, longed-for father, that she was talking to in this way. If her tears had not still been frozen, they would have gushed from her eyes.
She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. Everything kept getting worse and worse. If the long search for her father was ended, and he wasn’t able to overcome all their difficulties, there was nothing to guarantee that it would all come out right in the end. There was nothing left to hope for.
Those words resonated in my wounded heart. My hopes for a happy family unit were shipwrecked on the shores of mental illness. I wanted to escape my difficulties through stories. But this story, however, didn’t let me escape; instead, it made me confront my own fears—the fear that things would not turn out okay. The fear that adults, no matter how well-meaning, could not fix what was broken inside.
Love breaks the darkness.
Meg feels that disappointment, and her anger makes her afraid. As much as she loves her father, she realizes that he is helpless. In fact, when Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which show up, the only solution to the problem of Charles Wallace’s captivity is for Meg, not her father, to go back and somehow break through to him. Before being sent off, Mrs. Whatsit gives her this last piece of advice—to remember that Mrs. Whatsit loves her.
She returns to the dreaded Camazotz, and at first her attempts to break the hold IT has over her brother are unsuccessful. Then she remembers Mrs. Whatsit’s words.
If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. . . . But she could love Charles Wallace.
When she begins verbally pouring forth her love for Charles Wallace, he finally responds. Once he is free, the unseen Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which whisk them all back home to a joyous reunion.
Meg knew all at once that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which must be near, because all through her she felt a flooding of joy and of love that was even greater and deeper than the joy and love that were already there.
Love, of course, is the answer, but, surprisingly, it is not the love of the parent, or even a human, that saves the day. Instead, it is the reminder of Mrs. Whatsit’s love, a creature similar to an angel. To a Christian, the analogy is clear: it is God’s love.
For me, a young girl not familiar with the gospel, this story planted a seed of hope for a love greater than what a family can offer. This hope is what pushed me forward, looking for the greater love.
The Hope a Pen Can Create
Years later in college, I gave my life to Christ. I look back over the years leading to that moment and see that a large part of my healing was the work of literature in my life. Without knowing it, I had been climbing the rungs of stories like A Wrinkle in Time that, all the while, were whispering a hope for something beautiful and eternal that prepared my soul for him.
Now, a mother of three, the greatest gift I give my own children is the gift of story. I pour out my love for them, but, as much as I love them, I know it is not enough. They need a greater love too. So I give them stories that display real hope and that point the way to experiences larger than their limited perspectives, so they too will take their own journey to him.
I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time to my kids and delighted in their intensity and wonder. I know that while they may not completely understand all the messages, seeds are being planted. This book, and many others are, a legacy that goes back centuries. Gifted authors, intentionally or not, have put their greatest hopes to pen, creating a trail that my children will be able to follow.
Cover image by Annie Spratt.