The graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time hews so closely to the original novel that this review will in many ways serve for both. But first a quick story.
I was one of those kids (mostly girls) who discovered A Wrinkle in Time on her own and fell madly in love with it. I read all of the books about the Murrays and still have all my tattered paperbacks 30+ years later. Because I’m not alone in that love, A Wrinkle in Time has become a staple of many classrooms, where lots of kids have learned to hate it—mostly, I believe, because it was foisted upon them rather than discovered.
Anxious that this not be my children’s experience, I read the book aloud with them when they were about 8 and 9. It was fun to experience with them, but it also ended up being a little inaccessible to them at the time and they’ve not gone on to read any of the sequels.
This is where I think the graphic novel serves an amazing purpose. I wonder if reading it first will make the original novel easier to grasp and more accessible for a new generation of readers. My hope is that after reading the graphic novel, a lot of readers would reach for the original novel and possibly have a better grasp of some of the dense philosophical and scientific aspects of it.
The graphic novel is lovingly made and feels very true to the novel, although it’s been a number of years since I’ve reread the original. The art is beautiful, all done in blue, black, and white. I don’t always do well with graphic novels—I tend to only read the words and forget to look at the art to get the rest of the story that’s being told. I didn’t have that problem with this book.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
This is probably why the book speaks to so many readers during those awkward tween years. Meg is unusual—she’s really good at math, but not doing it “their” way, so she falters at school. A lot. And gets teased. A lot. She’s angry and frustrated and impatient and a bit disillusioned by the world. She’s very easy to identify with.
Her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is a very unusual kid, and a lot of people say he’s “wrong” in some way. He’s way too bright for a normal five year old (he’s in many ways more plot device than character—Meg doesn’t understand him, and the reader won’t really either, but like Meg, we come to love him) and he’s the target of rumors and teasing. He has some kind of empathic ability that lets him know when Meg or his mother needs him. His mother is well aware that Charles Wallace is somehow more than the rest of them, but she doesn’t fully understand him either.
Calvin, a neighbor and classmate, seems like a normal kid. He’s cute, athletic, and popular. But he’s never felt like he fits in—he just pretends so he can survive. His skill is writing, expression, and communication. Readers who don’t identify with Meg may very well see themselves in Calvin.
The whole Murray family is considered a little weird, with two brilliant scientists as parents. Mr. Murray has been missing for a while, and rumors fly around the town about what might have happened to him. But it’s a loving and supportive home, regardless of how strange the neighbors think it is.
Meg’s innate ability is in math, and Calvin’s is with words and intuition. Charles Wallace reads emotions really well. All of these kind of fly in the face of common assumptions.
Mrs. Murray is a working mom, continuing her scientific studies in the lab they have in the house while she’s struggling on as a single parent. She cooks dinners there so she can juggle everything. Since the original novel was published in 1963, she was pretty groundbreaking. She still felt pretty groundbreaking when I read about her nearly two decades later. Her beauty is frequently mentioned, and while focusing on a woman’s looks isn’t ideal, I think it’s important that a woman thought to be traditionally beautiful by a community still breaks traditional norms. She’s not a scientist because her brain is the only asset she was given but because it’s what she’s called to do.
In many ways, Mr. & Mrs. Murray (I should probably call them Dr. & Dr. Murray, as they both have multiple PhDs, but that would just get confusing) are wonderful parents. We see Mr. Murray primarily through Meg’s memories at first, but he was supportive of his kids who didn’t fit in, knowing they would do things in their own time and their own way. Mrs. Murray is the type of mom who’s always there when her kids need to talk.
However, one of the main themes of the story is Meg learning that her parents can’t solve everything. They’re human and fallible. Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace go to rescue Mr. Murray and Meg assumes everything will be fine as soon as they find her father. However, to save Meg, Mr. Murray ends up leaving Charles Wallace behind, and he can’t go back to save the boy. Meg is furious with him, and she’s allowed to work through these negative emotions. In the end she forgives him, but has to come to terms with the limitations of her father.
Mr. Murray has to learn the difficult lesson that sometimes you can’t help your kids do even dangerous and difficult things. Sometimes they have to do things on their own, even if it’s risky.
Calvin’s mother is neglectful and possibly abusive. She has more kids than she can handle and Calvin doubts that she ever notices he’s gone. In one of the illustrations, she’s hitting a kid with a ladle. Calvin is embarrassed by his family and feels much more at home with the Murrays.
Love is at the core of everything and is the most powerful thing in the universe. This isn’t at all as cheesy as it sounds like it could be. Many kinds of love are explored—love for family and friends, love of parents for children, romantic love both new (Calvin and Meg start to have feelings for each other) and old (Mrs. Murray loves and misses her husband very much). There is also love for the world, for humanity (a limited word—it should be for more than just humans), even for those who don’t care about you.
To save Charles Wallace, Meg must face something terrifying and, instead of anger or fear, find the love inside her at that most crucial moment.
Anger and Fear
Anger, however, is also a useful emotion. Meg says that when she’s angry, there’s no room for her fear. She’s told to stay angry to help her face some of the challenges ahead. She was called out for her anger at school, but when saving the world, her “faults” like anger and impatience are useful.
There’s no shame in feeling fear, though. It’s a necessary emotion. But courage is moving on in the face of fear.
Science and God
God and science exist together, neither diminishing the other, interconnected in all ways.
Concepts of science are discussed and explored, sometimes getting you right to the point where you can nearly grasp a seemingly impossible concept like the 5th dimension. Science is valued on a fundamental level. On the other hand, exploring the unknown is highly dangerous—that’s how Mr. Murray disappeared, and there seems to be little question that this wasn’t a good thing, and he’s not the first who disappeared. Using things you don’t understand can be really dangerous. But the search for knowledge and understanding is still very valued.
There is no question that a God exists. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which—the supernatural creatures that help the kids along the way—are essentially a type of angel. They go to a beautiful place where everything is singing the praises of God. The way to fight against the Dark Thing (a darkness taking over the universe) is to bring light—Jesus is one who brings light, but so are other prophets, artists, and great thinkers.
Other Ways of Looking at Things
From the beginning, we know that Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, and Mr. & Mrs. Murray don’t see things quite the way other people do. They’re, for the most part, seen as more open minded and more in tune with things. Along the way, though, they encounter a lot of beings who experience things in totally different ways. They have to learn to communicate and reach an understanding with them. This challenge is explored in several ways, as they struggle to find words or to find other ways when words are simply inadequate. They learn that Earth itself is one limited corner of a bigger universe, and their experiences are only a sliver of what’s out there.
Equality and Sameness
The darkest world they go to is one that seems perfect. Every house is the same. Every child bounces a ball or skips rope in rhythm. People are equal because they are the same, with all the stress of making decisions taken away from them. This is supposed to bring happiness and an escape from pain. Meg, who struggled with being different early in the book, realizes that being the same without choice isn’t happiness. Making everyone identical and punishing differences doesn’t remove pain. The people live in paranoia and fear. A child who bounced his ball out of rhythm is punished so it will never happen again (although not graphic, that image was a bit disturbing to me).
I’m biased, because A Wrinkle in Time has always been one of those books for me, one that changed my world. Although certainly lots of details are left out of the graphic novel, it feels like it covers all the main points and helps make some of the difficult and amazing concepts a little clearer and more accessible, especially for younger readers. I loved it. I hope my kids will read it and I hope it will lead them to explore the novels again. This is suitable for any reader ready to wrestle with the fact that the world is a complex place and even those you count on are fallible.
This book is the December 2015 Patreon choice.