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The Remarkable Influence of A Wrinkle in Time

4 January 2018

From Smithsonian.com:

When Léna Roy was 7 years old, her teacher read the first chapter of A Wrinkle in Time aloud to her second-grade class. After school, Léna ran to her grandmother’s house, which was around the corner from her school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to finish the book on her own. She curled up in bed and devoured it. She felt just like the hotheaded, stubborn heroine Meg Murry, and took comfort in the fact that a flawed adolescent girl could save the world. “It was almost like your permission to be a real person,” Roy says. “You don’t have to be perfect.”

Millions of other adolescent girls (and boys) have made the same liberating discovery while reading A Wrinkle in Time. What’s different about Roy is that her grandmother happened to be Madeleine L’Engle, the book’s author, who revolutionized serious young adult fiction with her clever mash-up of big ideas, science fantasy and adventure—and a geeky girl action hero way ahead of her time.

Since its 1962 publication, Wrinkle has sold more than ten million copies and been turned into a graphic novel, an opera and two films, including an ambitious adaptation from the director Ava DuVernay due out in March. The book also kicked open the door for other bright young heroines and the amazingly lucrative franchises they appear in, from whip-smart Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books to lethal Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games. Leonard Marcus, author of the L’Engle biography Listening for Madeleine, says Wrinkle “set the stage for the reception of Harry Potter in this country.” Previously, he says, science fiction and fantasy were suitable for high-end British authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in Britain but in the States were relegated to pulp magazines and drugstore paperbacks.

Then came L’Engle, a 41-year-old writer who spent three months in 1959 writing the hard-to-categorize story that would become A Wrinkle in Time. While Meg Murry and her companions traveled through time and space to save her father, a scientist trapped by evil forces on a distant planet, readers had to wrap their minds around the fifth dimension, the horrors of conformity and the power of love. L’Engle believed that literature should show youngsters they were capable of taking on the forces of evil in the universe, not just the everyday pains of growing up. “If it’s not good enough for adults,” she once wrote, “it’s not good enough for children.”

. . . .

Publishers hated it. Every firm her agent turned to rejected the manuscript. One advised to “do a cutting job on it—by half.” Another complained “it’s something between an adult and juvenile novel.” Finally, a friend advised L’Engle to send it to one of the most prestigious houses of all, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. John Farrar liked the manuscript. A test reader he gave it to, though, was unimpressed: “I think this is the worst book I have ever read, it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.” Yet FSG acquired it, and Hal Vursell, the book’s editor, talked it up in letters he sent to reviewers: “It’s distinctly odd, extremely well written,” he wrote to one, “and is going to make greater intellectual and emotional demands on 12 to 16 year olds than most formula fiction for this age group.”

When it debuted, not only was Wrinkle widely praised—“wholly absorbing,” said the New York Times Book Review—but it won the Newbery Medal, the most important award in children’s lit. “The almost universal reaction of children to this year’s winning book, by wanting to talk about it to each other and to elders, shows the deep desire to understand as well as to enjoy,” said Newbery committee member Ruth Gagliardo.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian.com

Fantasy/SciFi, YA

5 Comments to “The Remarkable Influence of A Wrinkle in Time”

  1. L’engle was formative for me too. But it’s funny, re-reading it recently (to decide whether my own daughter is old enough for it yet), what strikes me now as the most daring and provocative element of it, is that a mainstream book for young readers refers to God at all. Smart young female protagonists aren’t so shocking anymore, compared with using a prayer to combat the darkness.

    It makes me wonder whether L’engle would have been published today by the mainstream, or if she would have been relegated to a Christian publisher.

    Strange how much things can change, just within a few decades.

  2. I can’t say enough what a profound impact this book had on me at just the right age. The mixture of science and religion, rebellion and compassion and brains…I remain awestruck. Many years later, I discovered that my husband had never actually read a novel because of un-diagnosed reading disabilities that he’d worked around for years. I introduced him to audio-books, and the very first one I gave him was Wrinkle. I wanted him to catch up on all the foundational works he’d missed as a kid (I actually gave him all the L’Engle books in the series). He loved them as much as I do, proving you are never too old to discover the magic in them.

  3. My beloved 5th grade teacher read this to her Math class in my girls’ school, circa 1964. I had just given up religion the prior summer, but I loved the rest of it.

    Reread it fairly recently to see what I though of it 50 years later, and thought it even stranger, but it holds up well.

  4. I found Wrinkle in Time in our school library when I was 12. I’ve loved SF and F above all other genres ever since.

    When I reread it a few years ago, I was shocked how different it was from my memories of it, but it was still brilliant. It might be time to read it again. 🙂

  5. My fourth grade teacher read Wrinkle aloud to the class in 1969, and I loved it. That’s when I learned that there was such a thing as science-fiction and that I was a fan.

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