Monday, February 6, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time for the first time

For years I watched people recommend A Wrinkle in Time. For years I thought, "I really must read that." Last week I saw that Farrar, Straus & Giroux were making the fiftieth anniversary edition available for Kindle. I read it.

I didn't like it.

I don't think I would have liked it as a kid, either. Why? Because the viewpoint character, Meg Murray, is utterly passive. Everything just happens to her. She absorbs what's going on around her but rarely makes decisions. (Those decisions are all made by her brother, a trio of 'witches' and her father.) She makes no real choices and suffers no real consequences--apart from one moment near the end when she fatalistically (very unexcitingly) is forced to be brave. And that, to me, read as a rather flat moment: she moved through the rescue of her father blankly. She is dull.

In addition, it was an utterly linear book, a travelogue. It reminded me a bit of The Silver Chair: a supposed catalogue of wonders that struck me as contrived and bored me rigid. I just didn't care. I didn't smell, feel, taste, worry or wonder about anything. And the god stuff felt like treacle left out so long it had turned stiff and unappealing as cardboard. I only managed to finish the book because one, it was short, and, two, it was so thin, so thuddingly uninvolving that I could think about other things as I read.

So: the book didn't work for me. I know that it's a favourite of millions, but I just don't get it.I'd love to hear what other readers think.

Print

25 comments:

  1. I agree. I only read it once, which tells you something. I don't remember a lot about the plot or the characters - not much stood out for me, either. I did have mental fun with the concept of the tesseract, but that's about it.

    I don't think I noticed how weak a character Meg is at the time - as a child I was taught to revile being female because females were weak and frivolous. I didn't expect strong female characters, so I didn't notice their absence. I do know that I found the reading flat - I just didn't know why at the time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jo, I just kept waiting for her to do something, feel something, think something, say something...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I liked it but was always vaguely disappointed. As an adult the passivity resolved and I understood why I didn't like it. It is, after all, a strongly Christian book.

    Have you read Robert C. O'Brien's The Silver Crown? I used to confuse the two, not sure why, but The Silver Crown has a much more interesting heroine.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Farah, no, I'd never even heard of The Silver Crown. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Silver Crown is wonderful, re read it recently still got a little scared

      Delete
    2. The Silver Crown is wonderful, re read it recently still got a little scared

      Delete
  5. I remember liking it, but would have to read it again to see if I still do. For what it's worth, I didn't like The Hunger Games. Books can be wildly popular and yet disappointing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. ElaineB, I thought The Hunger Games was okay. Good premise, active protagonist. But I don't think Collins really went there: the reader doesn't *feel* the enormity of taking a life.

    I didn't bother with the others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree! I think I'll like the movie, though. The trailer looked spectacular.

      Delete
    2. I haven't seen that. I'll keep a lookout for it. This is one of those stories that I think could be improved by film.

      Delete
  7. I read A Wrinke In Time over and over as a child but not because I liked it, but because I felt I must be missing something. It felt to me like the whole thing is a metaphor for grappling with learning 'adult stuff' but I expected if I could crack the secret code that actual adult stuff would enter my brain. In the end I gave up. I felt similarly about AWizard of Earthsea though I liked it better. I felt Meg was not a protagonist. She was a narrator. Charles Wallace is the protagonist. I thought at the time it was intentional, but now I wonder if it wasn't just unconscious on Lengle's part

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cecilia, well, I can only say that whether intentional or not choosing a passive character as narrator really didn't work for me.

    I read the Le Guin in my twenties and enjoyed it thoroughly: I Ged's yearning, and arrogance, and remorse. I understood him. I rooted for him (while occasionally rolling my eyes at him for being so bloody young and foolish).

    ReplyDelete
  9. Being raised in an extremely Christian family, I always liked the book (and still do) while recognizing that it is chock full of faults.

    My pre-teen self found L'Engle's visions of the universe and of god amazing and liberating, because the book actually implied that the earth and the universe was much stranger than I had been taught, that non-human beings (prescient animals, "witches," aliens) might exist, and could be friendly and agents for "good." The book also demonstrated that fantasy books could have multiple female characters who had some kind of significance and authority (even if Meg is a let down to many, my very shy and passive pre-teen self didn't perceive her as hopelessly passive).

    On one hand, the book seemed to imply a reverence and respect for non-human beings that was very different than that taught in many Christian churches. On the other hand, it was moralistic and constrained by what I'd argue are deeply absorbed Christian ideas of gender, though still more "liberal" than my upbringing was.

    Of course, comments about the overall passivity of Meg are well taken. But I'd also point out the date of publication: 1962. Given that context, it's a surprising book for its day. Even LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1969?) contains explicit and latent woman-blaming/hating, which is perhaps easier for contemporary readers to ignore, as many people are aware of how her later books worked to dismantle sexist structures and assumptions.

    But you get no argument from me about which is ultimately a better book! Earthsea all the way!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 9 years old, and it completely captivated me. It may actually have been my first introduction to science fiction and fantasy. I'm trying to pin down what spoke to me then, and I think it was partly the world-building and sense of wonder it gave me. (And the fact that the Good Guys won in the end, which was always important to child-me.) But I also identified with Meg, and it never occurred to me until I read your post that she could be considered passive. To me, she's always felt much more like a reluctant protagonist (whose external time-and-space journey allows her to resolve her internal struggle) than a passive one, although in thinking about it now, I see your point. I'm not really sure where this leaves me, except that I adore many of L'Engle's books, despite their flaws.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anon, Natalie, everyone reads a different book. And when we reread, it's different again. I have no doubt that this is a wonderful book for many. I suspect if I'd come to it when I was very young--say, eight--I might have found it okay. But I know by the time I was nine or ten I would have disliked it. And, of yep, I hear you on the relative nature of sexism.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I didn't like it and unfortunately, I've never read anything else by Ms. L'Engle based on my dislike for the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is turning out to be interesting. Until I wrote this post, I'd never heard anyone say they didn't like the book. I wonder how many other classics are secretly not loved by a lot of readers.

      Delete
  13. I was one of those that read and loved A Wrinkle in Time as a child. . . but I have stayed away from it as an adult because in retrospect I can see a particular way that it contributed to my body image issues.

    So, not having read it in years, it's hard to really remember what I loved about it. I think heroines were rare enough in my fiction (even growing up in the 90s!) that Meg's femaleness did mean something to me, even if she was utterly passive; I think I also found the Murray family life comforting, because there weren't very many families in my reading and my own family has always been important to me. I liked, especially, that Meg and her mother were both girls who were good at math/science -- I wanted to be a scientist, and so just their ability meant something to me even though Meg's mom had to give up her career to have her family.

    But even not having read the books in ages what I remember of the plot has bothered me as an adult, and I think I had already put them on my list of books to eventually give to my children carefully, making sure I talk with them about the problematic aspects, when I started seeing other people talk about them critically, like this.

    In case you're curious, Cat Valente read this for the first time last year and also found it curiously not good: http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/646261.html

    ReplyDelete
  14. I did think of something positive I got out of it - Chris had read the series, too and we talked for hours about the metaphysical and time-space thoughts the books inspired. I've never found anyone else I can talk to on that level, not sure I ever will. As to how much was actually in the books vs. in our heads, I can't say.

    I think a review of the classics would be an awesome blog post!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I did enjoy this book tremendously, but your post is certainly making me reflect on reasons.

    It may have been my first exposure to science fiction as well, and the sense of wonder is what I remember most from my childhood experience of the book. My twelve-year-old son recently read it, and he was clearly astounded by L'Engle's imaginative concepts, in much the same way I was, I like to think. Cecilia's comment above about Charles Wallace as the protagonist struck a cord with me in this context.

    The true reason I liked it, if I'm honest? Meg is a passive, nervous girl with glasses, and when I first read it, so was I.

    Meg saves the day (even if she's forced to do so). I wanted to be brave like her.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Meg annoyed me and I read some other books in the series too, I just tried to ignore her and her sappy predictable family and boyfriend. I liked how the book expressed concepts, that was where I first learned of the sonnet and I still love the metaphor she uses. I could picture a wrinkle in time and the 4th dimension... the witches that were almost there.... I was about 10 when I read it and the book brings together science and imagination which was cool for me to see.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is one of those that I tried on multiple occasions to read at various times and just couldn't get into. I seem to have an invisible barrier to certain books---they just bounce off.

    That said, reading all the posts here, I think the problem was, for me, that the protagonist was a "child as she should be" type, which always annoyed me and put me off many books aimed at children. (I read Huckleberry Finn at age 9---that was a character I could get into!) It's also one of the reasons I am so profoundly under-read in children's and YA, because as soon as I could, I stopped reading "age appropriate" material and went for adult books, precisely for the reasons stated here---passivity, powerlessness, and all-too-often "preciousness" masquerading as precociousness. I found too many of these books dull to insulting.

    I've grown gun-shy now and won't bother with all those books I probably should have read back then. There's not enough time to waste on being disappointed.

    However, I did recently read for the first time "The Phantom Tollbooth" and enjoyed it quite well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of those books I tried as a child that didn't work for me. And the TV thing (film? series? I don't remember) was equally uninteresting. I'd say at a guess that there's no violence--I liked the life-or-death thing even as a kid.

      Delete
  18. No overt violence, but plenty of threat. However, I agree with you, and I imagine that at age 10 I wouldn't have cared for it much, but now I can appreciate the inventiveness and the fact that the author did not talk down to anyone.

    ReplyDelete