Something that makes the classic children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, such an interesting story is that it succeeds in straddling the border between science fiction and fantasy. It brings the two genres together by including, for example, both the concept of tessering (using physics and math to travel through space and time) and other worldly creatures such as the caring and tentacled Aunt Beast, centaur like creatures on the vibrant planet Urial, and Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which who claim to have formerly been stars. Regardless of which literary category A Wrinkle in Time belongs to, there is no denying that there also is strong religious messaging that can be found throughout the book. Sometimes L’Engle is very overt with religious connotations and other times, more subtle.
In order to better understand how religion plays into A Wrinkle in Time, A quick summary of the plot is as follows. The novel tells the story of middle schooler Meg Murry embarking on a journey through space and time to find her missing father. She is accompanied by her younger brother Charles Wallace, who is exceptionally bright for his age, and a popular boy from her school named Calvin O’Keefe. They are guided by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs.Which who are cryptic and ethereal beings full of wisdom. They tell the children that the Dark Thing has put the universe (and Mr. Murry) in danger and they must try to stop it.
When references to faith start to pop up in the novel, they are somewhat incidental and do not add too much to the plot. For example, before the children’s journey, Calvin reads Genesis to Charles Wallace, at his suggestion. Also later in the story when Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which first tesser the children to the planet Urial, Mrs Whatsit transforms into a majestical centaur like creature with rainbow wings. After seeing this transformation, Calvin falls to his knees. Mrs Whatsit immediately commands Calvin to stand saying “ No, Not to me, Calvin. Never to me.” (pg. 73). This implies that bowing down should be saved only for a higher power i.e. God.
There are also a few examples of direct quotations from scripture. Soon after Mrs Whatsit’s transformation, we hear the other centaur like creatures sing, “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth…Let them give glory unto the Lord!” (pg 77). This is found in Isaiah 42:10 and later on, when Meg is preparing to return to the planet of Camazots to save her brother from the Evil IT, Mrs Who quotes a long passage from Corinthians 1:25-29. It is possible that these references are used to suggest to the reader that the author is spiritually minded. In fact, L’Engle was an Episcopalian and and believed in Christian universalism. She worked as a librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City for more than three decades. While L’Engle starts out with religious undertones, they ultimately turn into overtones that play into the larger themes of the book.
Perhaps the most talked about example of religious overtones is when Charles Wallace asks who else from Earth had been fighters against the Dark Thing as well as evil in all of it’s forms. Mrs Who responds to him by quoting, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Charles Wallace recognizes the quote as being from the Gospel of John and declares, “Why of course, Jesus!” (pg. 100). Ms Whatsit continues to list other fighters such as Einstein, Michelangelo and Marie Curie.
One way to look at this is to think of it as confronting modernity’s tendency to distance itself from the fantastical. The people of Camazots are controlled by a giant brain called IT. IT makes it so that every citizen is the same and doesn’t have to worry about making choices. Those under the control of IT think of perfect order as a good thing. However, Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which think of this kind of conformity as a prison. Those who break out of the mold, like Rembrandt and Da Vinci, to achieve greatness through exploration and questioning of our world are the true heros.
Others read this passage as L’Engle putting Jesus on a comparable level to human historical figures meaning that Jesus was just an exceptional human being and nothing more. This subsequent blending of science, the arts, and religion has resulted in A Wrinkle in Time being a regular on banned book lists across America. Typically because of the concerns of conservative Christian parents who did not believe secular ideas and the incorporeal can coexist. While they found this as undercutting Christian values, L’Engle is able to see that what is holy is not at odds with modern scientific thought. While the book was written in the 1960’s, this is still a relevant today as Pope Francis has come out as accepting of Darwinism. Both of them regard these scientific findings as simply part of God’s creation.
Another religious theme that A Wrinkle in Time plays with is the concept of evil and what kind of good can be used to combat it. At the conclusion of the story, Mrs Whatsit gives Meg her love as a gift. She implies that Meg will need this when she returns to Camazots to rescue her brother. In the climax of the story, the IT possessed Charles Wallace brings up hate while Meg is trying to draw out the real Charles Wallace. As a result, Meg realizes that love is the only thing that can defeat IT because it is the one thing that IT will never have. The force of love is so strong that Meg is able to save Charles Wallace from the IT’s control.
The theme of love and its power is also prevalent in the New Testament as a love of Christ is a core concept in Christianity. Jesus accepted his death because he loved people. Because of his love, Christians are told to do good, repent for their sins (evil), and to love one another. L’Engle wanted to bring this into A Wrinkle in Time as this was Jesus’s most significant teaching. Another example of emphasizing the commandment of love is a little earlier in the story when Meg and Calvin are trying to explain to Aunt Beast what Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which are. Suddenly it clicks for Calvin and he exclaims that they must be “guardian angels” or “messengers of God” (pg. 210). Calvin concludes that because Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which preach love, they must be part of a higher and holier power.
It is also important to mention that this was not A Wrinkle in Time’s only controversy. Ironically, despite the fact that faith was sacred to L’Engle, other conservative Christian parents viewed Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which as too witchy. In addition, they thought that the novel promoted demons and occultism. Some even took issue with how the protagonist was a tenacious and bold teenaged girl. Overall, A Wrinkle in Time has proven time and time again to be a revolutionary piece of children’s fiction. It makes the reader consider how science, the arts, and religion.