A Clash in the Cosmos: Reflections on Madeleine L’Engle’s Classic Novel
“All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle.” –Mrs. Whatsit
It was a dark and stormy night. So begins Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the Newbery Medal-winning 1962 novel. Meg Murry huddles up in her attic room as the storm rages outside, battling public gossip and private fears about her scientist father’s disappearance. But soon Meg is whisked away through space and time to rescue her father, accompanied by her brother Charles Wallace and her new friend Calvin O’Keefe. Their story, though, is about more than Meg’s quest for her missing father: the three children find themselves in the midst of a battle against a terrible darkness preying on the universe. Meg, a classic unlikely and awkward hero, ultimately confronts this evil face-to-face.
In many ways, this is a familiar story, sharing elements with countless other novels of the fantasy and science fiction genre. I thought I knew exactly what to expect when I recently revisited this novel to refresh my memory for the new film adaptation. But while rereading, I found myself constantly surprised by the things I’d overlooked or underappreciated when I was younger. I was struck by L’Engle’s concise explanations of tesseracts and dimensions, by her explosive imagination—and most of all by the strong Christian influences in the novel and its rallying message of hope and encouragement.
Madeleine L’Engle herself was a devoted Christian, a member of the Episcopal Church and a Universalist, penning books like Walking on Water to more deeply express and explore her faith. While not everyone agrees with L’Engle’s Universalist theology, it’s hard to deny the Christian themes present in A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle’s most direct allusions to Christianity come in the form of Bible verses she uses in her characters’ dialogue. I was startled to stumble across several verses pulled from the King James Version hidden in plain sight. Meg’s father voices Romans 8:28, encouraging Meg not to spiral into angry hopelessness because “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 unexpectedly crops up to remind Meg of what matters the most, for “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” However, by omitting citations, L’Engle integrates the verses into characters’ speech so that anyone unfamiliar with the Scripture might never know the lines came from the Bible—unless, of course, there are explicit references to God. L’Engle’s method of embedding Scripture into the novel allows her to quietly and indirectly present Christian ideas to a largely secular audience without alienating non-believing readers. In a way, L’Engle’s approach to including her faith in her fiction reflects an approach to Christian life: one that may not always speak overtly about Christianity but that is nonetheless permeated with its principles.
Christianity colors the novel not only through Bible verses but also through elements crucial to the story’s central conflict. Like the writers of the Bible, L’Engle does not shy away from the reality of evil but instead rallies readers to fight against it. From the very start of Meg’s adventures, three magnificent and celestial beings (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which) make it clear that the stakes are quite high. The powers of evil manifest themselves as a terrible shadow, a “Dark Thing” so strong that it succeeds in extinguishing starlight. This shadow imagery is perhaps a nod to the language in Psalms 23:4, which references the “the valley of the shadow of death.” In A Wrinkle in Time, this shadow attacks planets and stars throughout the universe, and Earth, of course, is not by any means free of its influence. As Mrs. Whatsit explains to Meg, “That is why your planet is such a troubled one.” But while the presence and power of this evil is disheartening, there is still reason to hope and to fight. The entire cosmos is waging a war against this invading darkness, and everyone is called to take a stand—to be lights in the darkness, or, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:15, to “shine like stars in the universe.”
Love also plays a central role in A Wrinkle in Time, just as it plays a significant role in Christianity. John 3:16 proclaims that it is because “God so loved the world” that Jesus descends into it and all its brokenness. It is out of love that Jesus sacrifices himself, saying in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” When Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace falls under evil’s control, Meg descends into the “dark planet” of Camazotz, which is essentially a version of Earth that has completely submitted to the darkness. At the peak of her struggle to win back Charles Wallace, Meg realizes that evil has the power to hate but not to love, and it is through her love that she manages to save her brother—just as it is through Christ’s love that He has redeemed us.
But perhaps the most interesting way in which Christianity influences A Wrinkle in Time is in its intersection with science. While many argue that science and faith are incompatible, L’Engle suggests that the line that divides them is not so hard and fast as it might seem. A Wrinkle in Time is obviously influenced and inspired by science and by faith, combining ideas from both to build the plot. Perhaps the best example of this creative interplay between science and faith is in the characters of Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit. These “angels” or “messengers of God,” as Calvin O’Keefe later calls them, are the ones who explain tesseracts, dimensions, and time as they take the children through the universe. L’Engle clearly takes care not to reject the material world entirely in favor of the spiritual. Far from condemning this reality, she affirms the goodness of God’s creation by drawing inspiration from space and time and by showing that the even the stars are sacrificing themselves in the war against evil. Creation’s involvement in God’s work aligns with the praise in Psalms 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” L’Engle argues that the whole universe plays a part in the battle to drive back the dark—and that this creation is worth fighting for.
A Wrinkle in Time might open with an ominous dark and stormy night, but the novel goes on to triumphantly remind us that love and light will ultimately prevail. Similarly, Christ’s death and resurrection remind us of this victory over darkness, and furthermore, point to redemption for all creation as well, in the form of a new heaven and a new earth. “Weeping may remain for a night,” Psalms 30:5 declares as well, “but rejoicing comes in the morning.” In the meantime, L’Engle prompts us to do what Paul likewise urges us in 1 Timothy 6:12, to “fight the good fight of faith.” A Wrinkle in Time calls us to give it our very best—to resist evil, to use love as our weapon and our shield, to join the whole cosmos in this battle.
Naomi Kim is a freshman intending to concentrate in English.Tags: evil, fantasy, hope, literature, love, Madeleine L'Engle, science, science fiction