“A Wrinkle in Time” is a science-fiction children’s novel written by Madeleine L’Engle and published in 1963. The book won a Newbury Medal, a Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and has been adapted into television shows, movies, plays, operas and graphic novels over the years since it was released.
Because of some of the scientific and religious themes in the book is has been added to the ALA’s list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged books of 1990-2000. However, it is still commonly housed in school libraries to this day.
The book revolves around a high school girl named Meg Murray who, along with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her schoolmate Calvin, is suddenly transported to another planet in a quest to find her missing father and destroy a genocidal evil called the Dark Thing. The children travel to much different unheard of planets and meet aliens through a mode of travel called “tessering” which involves creating a wrinkle in space and time. Eventually, Meg and Charles Wallace find their father and free him, returning home to earth.
The story begins on a dark and stormy night. A high school girl named Meg Murray is tossing and turning in her attic bedroom over the troubles in her life. She feels that she does not fit in at school and her teachers are threatening to drop her grade. This makes her remember her father who has been missing for a year.
Downstairs, Meg hears her family’s dog, Fortinbras barking and worries that a stranger may have gotten into the house. A recent break-in where a bundle of bed sheets was stolen has her worried. Meg feels silly for jumping to the worst conclusion and goes downstairs to make herself a mug of cocoa so that she can calm herself enough to go back to sleep. When she reaches the kitchen, however, her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace is waiting for her, much to her surprise. Meg notes that she always feels that Charles Wallace is somehow capable of reading her mind.
Mrs. Murray, the children’s mother, soon joins them and tells Meg that she has heard from her school that she got into a fight with a boy. Meg tells her mother that she wishes she were more normal like her younger twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys. Mrs. Murray says that Meg needs to find a “happy medium.”
Charles Wallace notes that he has spoken to a friend about Meg, a friend that he calls “Mrs. Whatsit”. Mrs. Whatsit soon arrives, and she appears to be strange woman bundled up in wet clothes. Mrs. Whatsit tells the family that she normally enjoys the stormy weather but that she has been turned around in the weather. Meg realizes that Mrs. Whatsit is the local eccentric that has stolen the bedsheets from her neighbor’s house and Charles Wallace asks her why she has done this. Mrs. Whatsit only says that “There is such a thing as a tesseract” before hurrying out of the house. Mrs. Murray seems particularly disturbed by Mrs. Whatsit’s parting words.
The next morning, Meg awakes to wonder if the strange events of the night before were a dream. Meg goes to school and suffers the slings of her principal, Mr. Jenkins who tells her that he is sure that she could do better in school if she would only try harder. He asks about her father and Meg feels that he is prying into her private life. She snaps at him, defensively.
After school ends, Meg and Charles Wallace take Fortinbras to visit Mrs. Whatsit. Mrs. Whatsit has moved into the local haunted house with her two friends. On the way there, they bump into a popular boy from school named Calvin O’Keefe. Calvin attempts to lie about his reason for being near the haunted house but eventually admits that he felt like it had a strange pull on him for some reason. Charles Wallace is not surprised by this and invites Calvin to dinner at the Murray house that evening.
Inside the haunted house, a woman sits sewing the stolen sheets, and Charles introduces her as Mrs. Who. Mrs. Who cryptically speaks to the children in foreign quotes and tells the children that the “time” is drawing near. Meg later asks Charles Wallace to explain what the women meant, but he confesses that he has no idea.
Back at the Murray home, Mrs. Murray is preparing dinner over a Bunsen burner. Calvin calls his mother to tell her that he will be eating dinner with the Murrays, although he comments that as one of eleven children, his mother probably wouldn’t notice his absence. Before dinner, Meg helps Calvin with his homework, and he is surprised that she is so adept at math and physics work so well even though she is a few grades beneath him. Meg tells Calvin that her father was a scientist and that he used to play games with her that helped teach her these things.
After dinner, Calvin reads to Charles Wallace. Meg sits with her mother in the kitchen and Mrs. Murray talks about missing her husband. Mrs. Murray tells Meg that she believes that every mystery has an explanation but that the explanation may not always be clear to us. Meg does not like this idea because she likes to understand everything. She says that she thinks Charles Wallace seems to understand more than anyone else and Mrs. Murray says that she thinks Charles Wallace may be special somehow. Later that evening, Meg tells Calvin that her father was a physicist who worked for the government in New Mexico and Cape Canaveral, Florida. She adds that he disappeared a year earlier and had not been seen since.
Calvin alludes to the rumors that the townspeople have about Mr. Murray’s whereabouts and Meg defensively gets angry at him. Calvin assures her that he never believed the rumors. He holds her hand and tells her that he thinks her eyes are beautiful and Meg blushes. Suddenly, Charles Wallace appears and tells them that it is time for them to leave on a trip to find Mr. Murray. Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit also appear as well as their other friend, Mrs. Which who tells the group that she will not be fully materializing and will have to appear to them as a voice because they have much to do and she doesn’t have the energy to put into both things.
Meg feels suddenly ripped away from everyone and pulled into darkness. She tries to call out to them but finds that she cannot. Suddenly she sees them again and Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which tell the children that they have traveled to the planet Uriel.
Calvin asks how they traveled and Mrs. Whatsit explains that they can “tesser” or “wrinkle” their way through space as a means of transport. Because of this, they did not travel but simply appeared in another place. Mrs. Whatsit tells them that their father’s life is in danger and they must go to him but first, they have to learn what they are up against.
Mrs. Whatsit transforms herself into a creature with a horse’s body and a human’s torso. Calvin is so astonished by the creatures beauty that he falls to his knees and Mrs. Whatsit scolds him for unthinkingly worshiping her. The children climb onto Mrs. Whatsit’s back, and she flies through the air. Below them, they see creatures singing and dancing in a garden. Mrs. Whatsit gives the children clusters of flowers the breathe through when the air becomes to thin for them. Mrs. Whatsit shows the children a view of the universe that no human has ever seen before. They also see a large white disc that she tells them is one of the planet’s moons.
Above the clouds, Meg spots a darkness that shadows everything around it, and she instantly knows that it is a concentrated form of evil. She thinks that it may be what her father is fighting. After Mrs. Whatsit lands, Meg asks her about the black shadow. She is told that her father is trapped behind the shadow and that they are going to help him. Mrs. Whatsit tells her that the Mrs. can travel by taking shortcuts through time and space and that this is called “tessering.”
Charles Wallace tells Meg that tessering is traveling in the fifth dimension. The first dimension consists of a line, the second is a square, the third is a cube, the fourth is the concept of time devised by Einstein himself, and the fifth is, of course, the tesseract. The Mrs. travel by adding the tesseract to the other four dimensions. Meg does not understand this explanation but pretends to anyway. Suddenly, Meg and the children are tessering again. They travel to a foggy planet where they enter a cave, and Mrs. Whatist introduces the children to the Happy Medium.
The Happy Medium is a happy woman in a turban and satin gown who is holding a crystal ball. Mrs. Whatsit asks the Happy Medium to show the children Earth, but she does not wish to at first. When she does, the children see a vision of Earth that is covered by the dark shadow that they saw earlier. Mrs. Which tells them that the shadow is a pure evil that they will have to fight. She tells them that there have been many warriors against the shadow, including other humans such as Jesus, da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Einstein. Mrs. Which tells them that Mr. Murray is being held captive on a planet that has been overtaken by the shadow.
The Happy Medium then uses her crystal ball to show the battle between the shadow or the “Dark Thing” as she calls it, and the stars. The children watch as a star sacrifices itself to fight the Dark Thing and they guess that Mrs. Whatsit was once a star who gave up her true self the same way. The children are moved by this sacrifice, and Charles Wallace kisses her as a token of gratitude. Before they leave, The Happy Medium shows them a vision of their mother. Mrs. Murray is writing her daily letter to her husband, and this sight makes Meg cry.
Next, the group travels to a planet called Camazotz where Mr. Murray is being held captive. The Mrs. tell the children that they will not be able to accompany them any farther and give them the gift of reenforcing traits they already possess as well as thick funny glasses for Meg, an extract from a Shakespeare play to Calvin and a quote from Goethe for Charles. Mrs. Whatsit warns Charles that he will be the most susceptible to the Dark Thing’s evil.
In the town on Camazotz, the children find an oddly regimented city. They go to a building marked CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE which they have been told contains the government for the town. Charles Wallace worries that he will not recognize his father after being apart for so long, but Meg tells him that this will not be a problem.
Upon entering, the children find the building filled with nondescript men in business suits. They soon find themselves in a large room lined with machines and robot attendants. A man with red eyes and a glowing light above his head is seated at the end of the room. The children sense that this man is exuding the same dark presence as the Dark Thing.
The man tries to hypnotize the children, but Calvin, and Charles Wallace manage to resist by shouting out random things like the Gettysburg Address and nursery rhymes. Charles Wallace suddenly kicks the man as he believes that the man is not fully in control of himself. The man tells Charles that he is the only one capable of understanding him and that he must look into his eyes to decipher his identity. The man stares into Charles Wallace’s eyes until the child’s pupils disappear. After this, Charles Wallace begins to act like a different person. He seems to have been hypnotized into thinking the man is good.
The man offers the children a turkey dinner, but only Charles Wallace is willing to eat it. As he eats, he tells Meg and Calvin that the man is their friend and that the Mrs. are their enemies. Meg and Calvin try to rescue the regular Charles Wallace but cannot. They tell the man that they know how he is and that he is speaking through Charles. The man tells them that he is the Prime Coordinator and that Charles will lead them to Mr. Murray. Charles Wallace leads his sister and Calvin down a long corridor. Charles tries to convince them to give themselves over to IT which he identifies as the “boss.” He says that life on Camazotz is peaceful because the rules mean that there is no war.
Meg tells him that sometimes a little unhappiness is necessary for you to be happy later. At the end of the corridor, Charles Wallace waves his hand, and the wall disappears. A small room lies beyond where Mr. Murray sits, trapped inside. Meg runs to her father but finds that she cannot reach him. The wall has not disappeared, only become transparent. Her father cannot see or hear anything on the other side.
Frustrated, Meg tries to hit Charles, who punches her in the stomach. Finally, Meg remembers the glasses that Mrs. Who gave her. When she puts them on she can walk through the wall and get to her father.
Mr. Murray cannot see Meg until he puts on the glasses, but he is overjoyed when he does. He carries her out of the room and back to Charles Wallace and Calvin. Charles Wallace behaves obnoxiously toward him, and Meg explains that he has been hypnotized. Charles Wallace insists on taking them to IT. Mr. Murray is horrified but has no choice but to comply.
Charles then leads them out of the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE building and into a dome-like building outside that pulses with a strange, purple glow. Inside the building is a large, living brain. Mr. Murray tells Calvin and Meg that they cannot give into the pulsing, rhythmic control of the brain. Meg feels herself giving in as the pulsing of the building seems to be controlling her heartbeat. Her mind begins to go over to the IT’s control. Seeing this, Calvin tells everyone to tesser. Meg feels her father grab her wrist and then feels torn apart in the tesser.
Meg wakes up slowly and can only feel coldness around her. She hears Calvin and her father talking about her condition, but she cannot speak or move. Mr. Murray tells Calvin that he never intended to go to Camazotz but that he was on a team of scientists who were trying to tesser to Mars. Meg finally regains her ability to speak and asks where Charles Wallace is. When she learns that they left Camazotz without him, she is furious and yells at her father for his failure to keep them safe. Mr. Murray tells her that he isn’t a miracle worker and only a human being.
Suddenly, three odd creatures approach them. They have tentacles, four arms, and no eyes. Calvin politely introduces himself and tells them of Meg’s condition. One of the creatures reaches out to touch Meg and warmth spreads throughout her body. The creature begins tending to Meg, giving her food and furs to wear to warm her. Calvin explains to the creatures that they are trying to fight the Dark Thing. One of the creatures asks Meg to come up with an appropriate name to call her, and Meg settles on “Aunt Beast.” Meg tries to explain how the planet looks with eyes to Aunt Beast. Aunt Beast explains that they are on a planet called Ixchel and that they are also struggling against the Dark Thing.
After Meg recovers, she tries to ask if they can summon the Mrs. but realizes that she cannot describe them to the creatures as they have no sight. She concentrates as hard as she can on the image of the three Mrs, and suddenly they appear on the planet. However, the Mrs explain that they cannot help Charles Wallace become detached from IT. Mr. Murray tries to get them to help him tesser back to Camazotz, but they tell him that it will not work. Calvin asks if he can go and they say that he cannot.
After a pointed silence, Meg realizes that she is the only one who can go after her brother. But Meg is too scared to go and too overwhelmed by the responsibility. She realizes, however, that she is closest to Charles out of all three of the travelers and that she will be the most likely candidate to help him come back to himself. The Mrs. convince Mr. Murray and Calvin to let Meg go, and Meg apologizes to her father for accusing him.
When they arrive on Camazotz, the Mrs present Meg with more gifts, they enhances her love, give her a blessing from the new Testament and strengthen another thing that she has that IT does not. However, they tell her that she will have to find out what that thing is herself. Meg returns to the building where the IT is waiting. Inside, Charles Wallace sits while his eyes and head tic with the pulsing rhythm of the IT. Charles tells her that she can have nothing that the IT doesn’t have, about the gifts that she was given. Her new ability cannot be anger, hatred or resistance, for the IT has all of these things. Meg realizes that the only thing the IT doesn’t have is love. She cannot love IT, but she can love Charles Wallace, and she uses her love for him as she calls out to him. Charles Wallace recovers suddenly and runs to her. The children tesser off the planet together.
When they recover from tessering, they realize that they are back home on earth in their vegetable garden. Mr. Murray and Calvin are also there. The family reunites, happily and the three Mrs. appear. Mrs. Whatsit apologizes for not saying goodbye and tells them that they have a new mission. But before she can finish her sentence a gust of wind blows through, and she vanishes.
Meg Murray – the book’s protagonist. Meg is an awkward, out-of-place teenage girl who, at the beginning of the story, is mainly worried about her grades and how different she seems to be from her classmates. Meg’s life changes drastically when she is suddenly taken on an adventure through time and space to save her father from the grips of the evil Dark Thing.
Meg often jumps to anger and impatience throughout the book. She also lacks self-confidence, but ultimately she overcomes these shortcomings and saves the day and her family.
Charles Wallace Murray – he is the younger brother of Meg and a brilliant child who, though he is only five years old, shows an understanding of not only science and math, but the world at large more on par with a grown adult. It is obvious that Charles Wallace is incredibly intelligent, but the book suggests that he is also able to read minds several times and that this may be the key to his intelligence.
Charles Wallace is empathetic as well as intelligent and is capable of understanding creatures in a way that his sister is not.
Calvin O’Keefe – a popular, athletic boy at Meg’s school. Calvin is interested in Meg romantically, and the two almost kiss before they are interrupted by Charles Wallace at the beginning of the book. Calvin is brought along on the Murray children’s adventure almost accidentally although he is never thought to be out of place by anyone but himself.
Calvin comes from a very large family where he feels overlooked and not well taken care of. He does not feel that his mother will miss him while he is gone. But Calvin shows a bravery and capacity for love that falls right into place with the children’s mission.
Mr. Murray – Meg and Charles Wallace’s father. Mr. Murray works for a secret government agency that runs experiments on time travel and space time travel in the fifth dimension. It is while undergoing one of these experiments that Mr. Murray accidentally tessers to Camazotz where he is captured and imprisoned. Mr. Murray is missing for a year when he is found by his children. He reveals to Meg that he was almost ready to give up and join the IT before she appeared and rescued him.
Mrs. Murray – Meg and Charles Wallace’s mother. Mrs. Murray is an experimental biologist. She has a lab in her home where she works. She is not only a brilliant scientist but a loving mother who regularly cooks meals for her children on a Bunsen burner. She misses her husband greatly and still writes letters to him every night although he has been missing for a year.
Madeleine L’Engle Biography
Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born on November 29th, 1918 in New York City, New York. She was the daughter of a writer and a pianist. L’ Engle (Originally named Camp) wrote her first story at the age of five and began writing regularly at the age of eight. However, she was ostracized by the teachers in her school who assumed she was dumb and branded her as such. L’Engle retreated into a world of books and writing. During her childhood, L’Engle’s family moved around the world frequently before her father’s death in 1935.
In 1937, L’Engle settled in New York and began attending Smith College where she graduated cum laude four years later. In 1942 she met the actor Hugh Franklin while appearing in a play with him and later married him in 1946. In 1945, her first novel, “The Small Rain” was published.
L’Engle gave birth to her first daughter, Josephine a year after marrying and the family moved to Goshen, Connecticut shortly afterward where they bought and ran a small general store. In 1952, L’Engle gave birth to her son, Bion and seven years later adopted the child of a recently deceased family friend named Maria.
The family moved back to New York in 1959 so that Hugh could begin acting again and it was during a camping trip shortly later that L’Engle came up with the idea for her most successful novel, “A Wrinkle in Time.” She began writing and completed the novel the next year. However, it was rejected by over thirty different publishers before finally being picked up by a company called Farra, Straus and Giroux in 1962. During the 60’s, L’Engle taught at St. Hilda’s and St’ Hugh’s School in New York and worked as a librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. She was a devout Episcopalian and often shared her beliefs through her work.
Throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, L’Engle continued to write the ‘Wrinkle in Time’ series and the subsequent off shoot of the series about the O’Keefe children. She also completed several other series such as the “Katherine Forrester” series and the “Chronos” series.
L’Engle received many personal honors and prizes over the years including The Newbury Award for “A Wrinkle in Time,” a National Humanities Medal in 2004 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Series in 1997.
In 1986, L’Engle’s husband, Hugh died of cancer. For many years after this L’Engle continued to write and do speaking arrangements until she died of natural causes on September 6th, 2007 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She is interred at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, New York.