I give one of the most beloved fantasy books in American history...a 75/100.
Alright, I'll be honest with you guys here. I've never read a lot of beloved classic books as a child, especially stuff like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby or anything by people like Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy. I have been trying to rectify this as of recently, namely through renting a lot of books from my local libraries and seeing if I like them or not. But a lot of the time, I can't bring myself to like a lot of books that people love so much. I mean, I can like them and certain aspects of them, but they often have something that keeps me from seeing them as absolute masterpieces. I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and while I like it and its overall message, its slow pacing and a bunch of really annoying, despicable characters kept me from seeing it as a masterpiece. I was forced to read Lord of the Flies in high school, and I hated it. I thought it was too pretentious and boring for its own good. Same with Great Expectations, and I thought it was just an annoying slog to read. I thought most of Shakespeare's works were boring and melodramatic. I wasn't able to read much of Jane Eyre, so I don't have an opinion on that (Though that'll be rectified later). I've never read books such as The Grapes of Wrath, Gone With The Wind, The Great Gatsby, 1984, Brave New World, etc. Don't even get me started on Homer's Odyssey. That book can go jump off a cliff. But that's not to say I'm completely averse to classic books. Some of my favorites include Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Little Women, Bambi, Kitchen (by Banana Yoshimoto), Watership Down, and a few others. I finally managed to sit down and read A Wrinkle In Time last night, and while it's not perfect, I can definitely include it as a new favorite.
At first glance, the story seems rather simple. Margaret "Meg" Murry is an eleven-year-old girl who doesn't feel like anything's going right. Her father left some years ago, she and her family are shunned because of their intellectual careers and pursuits and for not being like everyone else, and Meg herself is prone to losing her temper and getting into fights. One day, a mysterious neighbor named Mrs Whatsit appears on their doorstep during a bad storm. They take her in so she can rest, but in doing so, Meg learns that there's more to her father's disappearance than anyone could have imagined. She, her young brother Charles Wallace, and a classmate named Calvin O'Keefe are taken by Mrs Whatsit and her friends to other worlds via traveling through time and space, and have to face off against an evil force called IT.
For what it's worth, the prose is fairly simple and easy to understand, even as it goes into more complicated topics such as God, tesseracts, mathematical things, religious themes, etc. Kids can probably read it without much trouble, and if they have trouble reading some of the more unfamiliar words, they can always ask a parent or teacher to help them read them. However, I think at times the simple prose can actually pose some problems for the book, especially in regards to its worldbuilding...or lack thereof. The characters travel to various plants, none of which are described beyond a few simple sentences. One planet is just a field of pretty flowers and a big mountain inhabited by winged centaurs, whereas another planet has faceless creatures living on it and not much else, and another planet is described as a winter wonderland kind of place, with nothing else to develop them further. Yeah, L'Engle choosing not to develop the settings really hurt the book a bit, especially since it's touted as a great sci-fi/fantasy novel.
The characters are also rather...one-dimensional as well. I thought the three Mrs W's were interesting, especially Mrs Who and her constant need to quote other people due to having trouble verbalizing her thoughts, feelings, and opinions on her own. However, everyone else was kinda...meh. Meg could be kind of whiny, but for a kid her age being thrown into a whole bunch of craziness and not being able to do much about it, I can let that slide. What I cannot let slide is how clumsily written her friendship with Calvin is...when they first meet, all they do is look at each other, and then he says he's glad to be friends with her, even though they had NO interaction before that. Heck, they don't even cultivate any kind of meaningful friendship or spend time together until after he goes to her house. I think maybe the part where he says he's glad to be friends with Meg would have been more fitting had he said it after he spent some time with Meg at her house, that way their blossoming friendship would be more believable. Speaking of unbelievable things, Charles Wallace was basically an adult in a five-year-old's body. He speaks and acts like an adult. No kid I know of talks and behaves the way he does. Plus, we're never given any insight into his powers and why IT wants him so bad, and the book keeps claiming he's gifted but he doesn't really do anything special other than talk like an adult. Calvin doesn't really get to do much either, and all we really know about him is that he likes basketball, is popular in school, and comes from a big, abusive family that often forgets he exists. I did think Meg's parents were interesting in that while they meant well, they didn't always make the best decisions and admitted that they're flawed people.
Unfortunately, undeveloped settings and one-dimensional characters aren't the book's biggest flaws. The main conflict, everyone going up against IT, never really gets resolved in the end. At one point, Charles Wallace gets brainwashed and kidnapped. Meg saves him by telling him he loves him a lot, and...suddenly they're back home! Completely forgetting the fact that a giant dark cloud is still harming space and IT is still in control over the overly conformist planet of Camazotz. It seems like L'Engle forgot that she set up all these various storylines and conflicts and just hastily ended the book the second the Murry family reunites and has their happy ending, with nothing ever being done about It and the Dark Thing. I enjoyed the book and even I thought the ending was complete and utter bullcrap.
I do feel kind of bad for harping on this book as much as I do, because for what it's worth, it does have a lot of unexplored potential and very neat story ideas, especially the planet Camazotz, where conformity is strictly enforced to the point where if a child doesn't bounce a ball in perfect rhythm with anyone else, he's considered defective and needs to be destroyed. Many scholars have interpreted Camazotz and its strict rules as being a critique of suburban 50s values, where rigid conformism and suspicion of outsiders in the wake of the Cold War reigned supreme, along with Stalinist Russia's equally rigid state attempts to control the lives and minds of its citizens. I do like the book's messages, that these values are not only wrong, but extremely stifling and toxic, and that individuality, free-thinking, and love should be celebrated. For what it's worth, I'll definitely give L'Engle credit for going against the grain during her time period.
But even with all the book's flaws, I can't bring myself to hate it. It's obviously not perfect, but nothing ever is, and I still read it and re-read it when I want to kill some time but don't want to read other books I've read. It's a nice, serviceable book that's definitely good for entertainment and light sci-fi without going all overboard with the technobabble. Honestly, if you tried to make me choose between this and The Odyssey, I'll go with A Wrinkle In Time. I'll gladly take a flawed but still decent and entertaining book over a nigh-incomprehensible sprawling stream of Greek hero consciousness any day of the week. I'm still on the fence about whether I'll read the sequels or not, so I'm not sure what I want to do about those. Maybe I'll rent them at the library and see if I like them or not. I do hear L'Engle's Meet The Austins series is good, so I might try that next, especially since the first book is pure slice-of-life.
Overall, A Wrinkle In Time has many flaws that prevent it from being a masterpiece, but it's still a fun and entertaining children's adventure...though the ending needs a LOT of work.