It’s not solely because of A Wrinkle in Time that I’ve come to this conclusion, but…science fiction leaves me cold.
We’re in a mini-boomlet of renewed interest in Madeline L’Engle’s children’s classic thanks to the Ava Duvernay movie and Sarah Arthur’s upcoming biography, A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madleine L’Engle. So, I tried to do what I failed to do in middle school—get to the end of Wrinkle. Thanks to Suzanne’s encouragement (“I’ll keep driving if you’ll finish that book”), I accomplished at least that.
Suzanne also questions my thesis. “You like Douglas Adams.” Yes, but The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is more humor and philosophy than sci-fi. “You like sci-fi movies,” she said. Do stranded astronaut movies even count? I think my conclusion holds and my disappointing experience with Wrinkle is only the latest piece of evidence.
So let me hate on science fiction for a moment.
L’Engle was clearly enrapt by Einstein’s theories when she built a universe for Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, and her long-lost physicist father. But the scenarios she creates, like so many sci-fi plot lines, seem entirely arbitrary. There’s always a novel power or mode of transport to appear out of nowhere making the tension of the moment before seem silly.
To wit—watching the end of the latest Avengers movie, which has been noted for its somber slaughter, we know its not forever. No great tragic moment will be allowed to endure. Events that signal endings in our reality are merely plot twists in the sci-fi world.
There is some strong Christian symbolism in the Trinity of “witches” that guide the children through Wrinkle. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are entertaining presences. The Black Thing and IT are effective manifestations of a Christian view of evil (and the mid-20th century specter of totalitarianism). The ultimate power of love that saves the day—I get that.
But too much of the plot seems like unnecessary complication. The characters wobble in tone and never really become three-dimensional. Despite the empowered female characters, this is still a patriarchal world where little girls are frightened and have to be comforted while boys get/have to be brave and reckless. (And just how did the witches get a Mrs.?)
In her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech in 1963, Madeline L’Engle proposed that books, like stars, are “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly.” If A Wrinkle in Time is that for new generations, I am content. I’m also happy to own that I’ve got a permanent blind spot with regard to science fiction. L’Engle and I have met each other. Nothing exploded for me. So, I’m going to tesser on over to that Appalachian fiction book I’ve been eyeing on my nightstand and stay earthbound for awhile.