Deconstructing A Wrinkle in Time



“The resonant voice rose and the words seemed to be all around them so that Meg felt that she could almost reach out and touch them: ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, ye who go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord!’”

So reads Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless classic, A Wrinkle in Time, a work of science fiction for juvenile readers. 

In this story, Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and her school friend Calvin O’Keefe travel the galaxy on a mission to free Meg’s father from a menacing, black thing known only as IT. IT’s control is spreading with wildfire intensity throughout the universe. This perverse force rules with conformity and mind control, and therefore cannot be defeated by the intellect. Only love can overcome its power and restore righteous rule. 

In the above quoted passage, the children have traveled by tessering through a wrinkle in the space-time continuum to the planet Uriel to find strength for the battle and to get their first distant look at IT. L’Engle casts Uriel in an Edenic light; the very atmosphere of the planet pulsates with joy and audible praise of the creator. Clever readers will notice L’Engle’s allusions, first to the Psalms, the source of her quote, and second to Uriel, the biblical angel who stands before the throne of the Christian God in service of humanity. Uriel, whose name means, “God is my light,” is the angel of wisdom, and he shines the light of God’s truth into humanity’s darkness and confusion. Here, on his planet, the children gain the wisdom necessary to defeat IT’S regime of darkness.

In L’Engle’s original novel, Meg, the protagonist, lacks self-control. Robbed of her father by a science experiment gone sour, her world has turned upside down. She longs for certainty and predictability, and strives to master the world with reason. When the world refuses to be controlled, Meg rages. She longs for her father, who is captive to IT. The nefarious IT, however, is not the greatest enemy in the story. The children struggle fundamentally against their own arrogance, anger, and fear as they attempt to find and free their father. The three Mrs. Ws, beneficent spiritual beings who aid and accompany the children on their journey, foretell that Charles Wallace, the youngest of the group, will fall prey to his intellectual pride on IT’s planet, Camazotz. The Prime Coordinator in charge on the dark planet uses reason to psychologically abduct Charles Wallace. Although Meg tries to match him mentally, she fails. Although she and Calvin successfully rescue her father, they lose Charles when they are forced to flee the planet, leaving him behind. 

Meg must return alone to fight IT for her brother, and rationality and conformity aren’t going to help her. Instead, Mrs. Which gives her a blessing straight out of the New Testament:

“The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are.”  (L’Engle 182)

Added to this blessing, Meg is given the thing which IT has not: love. With these, she must do battle for her brother’s life. 

In L’Engle’s story, that is…

Disney studio’s latest cinematic retelling tells a different tale. With a star-studded cast of talented actors, the movie promises much. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver L’Engle’s narrative. In place of L’Engle’s Christian allusions, the producers insert Cosmic Humanism. In place of God, they insert good vibes. In place of self-control and self-sacrifice, they insert self-assertion. In fact, the production team, eager to magnify the plot with special effects, tore out the heart of the story. Leeched of its lifeblood, the anemic remaining storyline dies. 

The recent film retains only the barest outlines of L’Engle’s story, portrays only the mutest shadow of her world. For example, although the planet Uriel remains a place of light and magic where the children run through fields of animated flowers like Wordsworth’s own company of daffodils, the reason for its joy is lost. Gone is the wisdom of the place, gone the resonant praise that makes its personified landscape skip with glee. Likewise, although the film does get the redemptive power of love right, it omits love’s source, thereby draining it of its life-blood. Notably, when Disney’s three Ws rattle off L’Engle’s list of those historic heroes whose love has indeed changed the world, conspicuously absent is the name of Jesus. Although L’Engle makes Him foremost in her novel’s list, the studio has excised Him. In His place, they insert Maya Angelou. Ultimately, for a film that eschews conformity, Disney’s Wrinkle in Time conforms to the media’s status quo by preaching a message of tolerance for everything but the Christ of L’Engle’s original work. He is strangely absent. Perhaps that’s because out of all those named as champions of love in the film, Jesus alone made exclusive claims regarding the source of love. 

As I pondered the film with my family and friends in the lobby after the credits rolled, I wondered how L’Engle could have sold the rights to do such violence to her Christian allegory. “I’d have thought she’d have done that over her dead body,” I suggested. A quick google search explained it all. L’Engle passed away in 2007; the film was – actually - made over her dead body. Sigh. Ah, well. If she were here, she would likely encourage those of us who share her worldview to defeat the IT that controls the film industry, the spirit of the age, cosmic humanism, and everything else that sets itself up against the Creator God, with the same counterintuitive love that rescues Charles Wallace. 

I leave you with the words of L’Engle’s Mrs. Ws: 

“Wee wwill cconnttinnue tto ffightt!” 

Something in Mrs. Which’s voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence. 

“And we’re not alone, you know, children,” came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle...”

…Mrs. Who’s spectacle shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” 

“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!” (84-85)

If you need a refresher regarding the nature and effects of this Lord’s love, read L’Engle’s original story…or go to her source:  “Jesus answered them….‘I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33).