Flashback Fridays: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .

You’re a girl whose father has gone missing and who just can’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You don’t see yourself as pretty or smart or anything like that.  You wear glasses and have braces and get in fights when other kids provoke you.  But now strange forces are gathering, and they want you and your little brother to go on a quest across the universe to rescue your father . . .

Do you remember:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c1962)

It’s finally that time when I can take one of my favorite, Newbery award winning novels off the shelf and read it aloud to my son.  I’ve planned to read it since he was born, but couldn’t be sure when he’d be ready.  At nearly 8 years old, he seems to be ready.

I remember my own encounters with this story, way back when I was in fifth grade,  devouring anything set before me with words.  This was–startlingly different.  I’d read fantasy books.  I’d read science fiction works.  But I’d never read anything that deftly combined the two into one breathtaking whole.  I’d never read anything in science fiction or fantasy that had a character with glasses and braces like me.  Meg was so much like me . . . except that her thing was math and mine was words.  But we were both out of step with the ordinary, but not really at peace with the extraordinary either.  Meg didn’t have superpowers that saw her through her adventure–she had only herself.  And that was enough.

Reading this to my son is the first time I’m hearing the text aloud–and so it’s a reintroduction for me that’s made me realize several things.  The first is that my beloved book has some startlingly dated  word choices.  The most notable of these is the use of the world “tramp” to describe a wandering homeless person who may or may not be a threat.  I found myself reading over that word with some discomfort and having to explain its meaning to my son.  The other word that came up a lot was moron, which is still used some times, but I found it painful when Meg used it to describe herself.  There are other little things that date the book, of course.  At over 50 years old, it hardly exists in a complete vacuum.

Still for all that it’s dated, that only colors the work so far.  My best advice for new readers encountering this book?  Get through the introductory three chapters–once you hit the fourth chapter, the words start to forge themselves into amazing narrative landscapes and story.  Despite the opening line, I found by reading the book aloud that the author really hits her stride by the fourth chapter.  Reading it aloud becomes easier, and more interesting.  Once our characters are set on their journey, things just flow.

Out of all the books, this one remains my fast favorite.  But the Time Trilogy, as it is often termed, is all excellent.  Granted, the books may not be for everyone.  L’Engle willingly and freely combines Christian mysticism with science concepts to come up with her own brand of story, something that may be uncomfortable for those favoring a stricter Christian interpretation or a  purely science and fact approach to story.  But I feel there’s lots of room for a middle ground.  Stories do not have to fall into strict definition of genre in order to be great stories.  Madeleine L’Engle was writing at a time when women writing science fiction at all was unusual.  When having a female protagonist was far from the norm.  And she made it exceptional enough to win the Newbery.

My son and I just got to Camazotz, so it’s hard times ahead for Meg and company.  We’ll begin our battle of the Shadow tomorrow night.

Happy reading!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on September 25, 2016, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I was just debating this, as my daughter Madeleine is 7-and-a-half– is she old enough for her namesake’s book yet? Her older brother is now the exact age I was when I first read it– I was a READER, he is not, but he loves to be read TO– is it time yet?? Is it time to pull this one out or should I give them a little longer so I know they’ll be able to appreciate it?!? I keep wondering…!

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