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Literature: A Wrinkle in Time

The first book in the Time Quartet series by Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time opens with the well-honored line "It was a dark and stormy night" and the appearance of a stranger at the Murry household. The stranger, who calls herself Mrs Whatsit, turns out to be much more than the dotty old lady she initially comes across as. Soon, Meg Murry, her precocious younger brother Charles Wallace, and her schoolmate Calvin find themselves on an interplanetary and interdimensional journey with Mrs Whatsit and her equally odd buddies Mrs Who and Mrs Which to rescue Meg's missing father. To tell more would spoil your enjoyment of this unusual and fantastic (in more than one way) book.

Despite the prominent Newbery medal on the cover, A Wrinkle in Time does not follow the Death by Newbery Medal rule; in fact, it's firmly on the Idealism side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Well, sort of.

The further adventures of the Murrys and, especially, Meg are detailed in the sequels: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters, followed by a series of books centered around Meg and Calvin's daughter Poly.

This book contains the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Calvin O'Keefe. He's intelligent enough to fit right in with the Murry family, but he's also athletic, good with words, and generally socially adept in a way that neither Meg nor Charles Wallace can manage, with the result that he's able to fit in at school much better than either of them does. He's also pretty easy on the eyes.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: What the Mrs W's use, with the possible exception of Mrs Which, who has problems materializing fully and doesn't look like much of anything. Even when she does briefly materialize, she's in the form of a "stereotypical witch".
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Both averted and played straight.
  • Another Dimension: The fifth dimension, to be exact. And there's an "amusing" near-stop on a two-dimensional planet.
    • "Amusing" here meaning "the human protagonists nearly died just from being there."
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Excusable in the first book, but becomes progressively worse in the sequels. After Meg has saved her father from being assimilated and Charles Wallace from dying from lack of mitochondria, the twins have traveled to an odd interpretation of the world in Genesis and helped Noah build the Ark, and Charles Wallace has time-traveled throughout history to save the world, you'd think Meg and her parents would be very willing to believe her daughter when she finds a portal to the past.
    • Note though that many of the characters weren't present for a number of those adventures: the twins are in fact the biggest skeptics in the family until their journey back in time, since they had not been a part of (or seemingly particularly aware of, though surely their father reappearing after years of absence was explained) any of the previous adventures, but at the same time none of their family members were aware of THAT adventure either.
  • Assimilation Plot: Camazotz
  • Big Bad: IT.
  • Big Man on Campus: Calvin
  • Bigger Bad: The Black Thing.
  • Big Brother Is Watching
  • Big Sister Instinct: Meg is very protective of Charles Wallace.
  • Black Sheep: Calvin, in his family. The twins, Sandy and Dennys, in the Murry family, to a lesser extent. They're normal in a family of misfit intellectuals.
  • Brain in a Jar
  • Care Bear Stare: Works better than you'd think.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: For the series, Mr. Jenkins and Mrs. O'Keefe.
  • Child Prodigy: Charles Wallace
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The Happy Medium comes off as this, but may also be a Bunny-Ears Lawyer (at being a Medium.) Mrs Who and Whatsit also have overtones of this.
    • Charles Wallace has aspects of this, though is more grounded in reality than your average Cloud Cuckoolander.
  • Creepy Child: Charles Wallace, while under the influence of IT.
  • Cut-and-Paste Suburb: The city on Camazotz.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Dr. Murry has been missing since Charles Wallace was a baby; at least four years. However, being trapped on a crazy, ultra-controlling planet with no way to get home or communicate with your family is a totally plausible reason.
  • Dark Is Evil: Partly straight, partly averted. The "clear" darkness of space is contrasted with the "fearsome" darkness of the Black Thing, when the star attacked it.
  • Disappeared Dad: The search for Meg's father is the main plot for most of the book.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Camazotz comes across as a combination of the worst parts of both Cold War superpowers: one part 1950's America, one part Stalinist Russia, all parts bad.
  • The Dragon: The Man with the Red Eyes to IT.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Calvin's family.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Many examples. In A Wrinkle In Time, we have both IT, a superpowered Mass Hypnosis-inducing Brain in a Jar and The Black Thing, which is literally Made of Evil. In the sequels, all we learn about the Echthroi are that they're shapeshifting world-destroyers who wield The Power of the Void and can break laws other beings take for granted.
    • Averted and lampshaded with the Beasts of Ixchel, which are more Starfish Aliens. They're little more then humanoid outlines covered in tentacles and are telepathic, but they are the dead opposite of IT: Warm, gentle, life-giving, they are totally dedicated to fighting the Black Thing. They also have no eyes, and have no concept at all of light or sight.
  • Elective Mute: Charles Wallace.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: "And the light shineth forth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not."
  • Exposition: When Meg is frozen, Calvin and Mr. Murry's conversation starts with a brief discussion of how Meg is starting to recover, even though they've both just seen it happen; then they talk about the research into tessering being done on Earth.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The tesseract, although Mrs Whatsit disclaims moving at any speed. Instead, they "tesser" or "wrinkle."
  • The Fifties: Written in 1959. Not really any fifties stereotypes show up though, and the story really could take place in any era if not for some of the kids' slang.
    • However, Camazotz does reflect a creepy version of fifties suburbia (see DTRYOA above).
  • Funetik Aksent: Kind of. Mrs Which's wwwordss llookkk llikee tthhisss, to indicate that she's speaking very deliberately while shimmering like a light.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: Mrs Who's glasses.
  • Good with Numbers: Meg is excellent at calculations and hopeless at all other subjects. Calvin is conversely best with English.
  • Green Eyes: Meg has them, and Calvin is so dazzled when he sees them that he tells her to keep them hidden behind her glasses.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: They witness a star give up its life (i.e. go supernova) to fight the evil.
    • A similar incident is revealed to be part of Mrs Whatsit's backstory.
  • Hive Mind: On Camazotz.
  • Human Aliens: The people of Camazotz. They look just like ordinary people on Earth, living in an ordinary suburb...except they all do exactly the same things at the same time. And then our protagonists meet The Man with Red Eyes.
  • Honorary Uncle: Aunt Beast.
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: When Meg is among Aunt Beast's people, recuperating from her tessering by her father through the Black Thing, this is the food she gets.
  • Improbably High IQ: Charles Wallace, who has an IQ that is off conventional charts.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: On Camazotz.
  • Innocent Prodigy: Charles Wallace.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Charles Wallace, although his peers would be more likely to taunt Loners Are Freaks. Admittedly, his (vaguely-defined) mental abilities — like Telepathy, maybe — ain't quite Normal. But the horrors of enforced Normality are what the story's all about.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: These are the first words of the book.
  • It Was a Gift: The children receive gifts from the Mrs W's, when they first land on Camazotz. Later, Meg receives three gifts from the three Mrs W's when she returns to rescue Charles Wallace from IT.
  • Karma Houdini: IT gets away scot-free. Not so in the movie.
    • Then again, the TV movie has Meg free an entire planet from brain-washing by making one awkward, rambling speech. Talk about an Anti-Climax.
    • Later books imply that IT and the other "forces of evil" out there have not escaped their karma per se; they will get what's coming to them as soon as one of the "good guys" gets around to gathering enough strength to fight them off. Which makes the entire climax of the book into something of a Hopeless Boss Fight.
    • It is intended to be rather real world, as if he was captured by a Earth nation run by a dictator, the battle between good and evil continues on after the story. In Real Life dictators sometimes get away and sometimes don't.
    • In general, the plot of escape from the evil land or rescue someone from the evil land leaves the evil land and its evil rulers intact.
  • Large Ham: IT in The Film of the Book.
  • Liminal Being: Meg is neither one thing or the other.
  • Made of Evil: The Black Thing, literally, according to Mrs Which.
  • Meaningful Name: The planets Camazotz and Ixchel are named for the Mayan deities of death and birth, respectively.
  • Meganekko: Played with. Calvin learns to love Meg for herself, glasses and all... when she takes off her glasses, he's amazed by how beautiful her eyes are, and asks her to keep wearing them because he wants to keep their beauty secret. Awww.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: When the pupil vanishes, watch out.
  • Mind Your Step: A step creaks. Charles Wallace uses that to signal to Meg that he wants to talk.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Calvin seems to think so.
  • Official Couple: It's clear from pretty much the moment they meet that Meg and Calvin are made for each other. This assumption will be proven thoroughly correct.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Played with as far as the Mrs W's go. We never find out what exactly they are (Mrs Whatsit was a star once, but we don't know what she really is now). At one point, though, Calvin describes them as angels for lack of a better description. Also, the first sequel, A Wind in the Door, features Proginoskes, a cherubim who is much closer to Biblical depictions of angels than anything else you're likely to see in fiction.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Similar to the example above, the Echthroi from the sequels. Somewhat averted, though, because they're never called demons, but they very much seem to fulfill that role.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Meg says this of mind-controled Charles Wallace to try and explain to her father that Charles isn't himself. First when he calls her "dear sister" and later he is rude to his father, calling him "pop".
  • Pair the Smart Ones: Meg's parents are both doctors; her father is a physicist, while her mother is a microbiologist.
  • Paper People: When they try to land on the two-dimensional world.
  • Parental Abandonment: Meg's father, though by accident.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: Used to explain how Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which "tesser" or "wrinkle" through space. Works for both Meg and the audience.
  • The Power of Love: "You have something that IT has not. This something is your only weapon."
  • Psychic Static: Reciting the digits in the square root of five works, as does the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, but not the multiplication table (in fact, the Man With Red Eyes tried to break through their static with it). The trick is throwing off IT's rhythm with a continuous thought that can't easily fall into mental sync with it. Irrational number sequences and prose work temporarily, and love works even better.
  • Punctuation Shaker: An odd inversion: Meg's mother is "Mrs. Murry" but the witches are "Mrs Whatsit" and so forth. I.e., the witches don't have a period at the end of their "Mrs". What this means is up in the air...
  • Really 700 Years Old: Mrs Whatsit is over 2 billion years old, and she's described as being very young compared to her two companions whom she looks up to.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: And how. The Man With Red Eyes is a soulless monster right at the bottom of the Uncanny Valley, as befitting IT's enforcer.
  • Rule of Funny: The two-dimensional planet, to a certain definition of "funny". It's almost instantly fatal to any three-dimensional being (like, say, humans) that find themselves on it, so their visit is quite mercifully cut short.
  • She's a Man in Japan: The Happy Medium is played by a man who claims he's "beyond gender" in The Film of the Book, even though she's clearly a woman in the book.
  • Speaks In Shoutouts: Mrs Who.
  • Starfish Aliens: The peaceful people of Ixchel, who are blind, hairy, tentacled, beasts but much wiser and kinder than humans.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Camazotz.
  • Superior Species: Many non-terrestrial species are this. They're beautiful, kind, loving, and in touch with the music of the spheres. Earth, on the other hand, is a "shadowed" world that the Ultimate Evil is trying to corrupt (other worlds, such as Camazotz, have already fallen, and are called "dark planets").
    • Note that most of the species we meet are on the front lines fighting the evil, one would expect they would be good. Although not mentioned, the only way the evil could be a threat and "shadowing" Earth would be if there were plenty of non-good species as well.
  • Techno Babble: Mrs Whatsit explains to Calvin that instead of traveling at any speed, they "tesser" or "wrinkle", going from 'here' to 'there' without crossing the space in between.
  • íThree Amigos!: Meg, Charles, and Calvin
  • Twin Telepathy: Notably averted. Sandy and Dennys are the most normal members of the family, though we can see in Charles Wallace that they could have potentially been this.
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked. The people of Camazotz, and especially the Man With Red Eyes, derive their intense creepiness from this.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Mrs Whatsit transforms into a winged being to escort Meg, Charles, and Calvin across the planet Uriel.
    • Also, just for fun, Mrs Which transforms into a witch with a broomstick at one point.
  • What Beautiful Eyes: Explicitly noted by Calvin, who tells Meg flat out that "I don't want anyone else to see what dreamboat eyes you have."
  • What Happened to the Mouse? / Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Black Thing never appears in the sequels. The beings of evil are now the Echthroi.
    • Nor are Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which, or Progo ever mentioned again.
  • Who's on First?: A minor running gag. When Charles mentions Mrs Whatsit for the first time...
    Mrs. Murry: Mrs who?
    Charles: No, that's the other one.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Charles Wallace, though Mrs Whatsit warns him against the trap of Pride and arrogance.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Probably one of the more infamous examples: the definition of "tesseract" in this book has nothing to do with its real meaning. The error is compounded later on in the book when the characters start using "to tesser" as a verb: the root word of "tesser" in Greek actually means "four" and has nothing to with warping space.
    • Well, there is that description about dimensions (a tesseract is a four-dimensional structure similar to a three-dimensional cube, or a two-dimensional square.)
    • Justified: "Mrs Whatsit sighed, 'Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words.'"

Island of the Blue DolphinsNewbery MedalChronicles of Prydain
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World of TiersLiterature of the 1960sThe Venom Business
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alternative title(s): A Wrinkle In Time
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