A Wrinkle In Time is a science fiction book by Madeleine D’Engle, published in 1962. Winner of the Newbury Medal, it is famous in sci-fi circles for being one of the first books that might be classified as ‘young adult’, and also for its treatment of complex themes involving science and spirituality. I thought it was time to take a look.
The plot involves a group of children and interplanetary travellers, using wrinkles in space time to move around the universe, fighting a vaguely defined enemy called The Black Thing.
Reading the book made me think of both Dr Who, and The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. The Dr Who elements were creaky sets, clunky creatures, frequently dodgy dialogue, combined with interesting ideas. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe came to mind in the not very subtle Christian theme.
So ignoring the creaky sets, clunky creatures and dodgy dialogue, let’s have a look at the book’s more complex aspects. Scientific concepts of travelling in space by bending space time are nicely explained. Then there are the more philosophical questions about dealing with life’s difficulties. The book presents various trials and tribulations, ranging from a girl getting picked on at school right up to dark forces threatening the universe. But then we are invited to imagine what life would be like if there were no troubles at all. The space travellers visit a distant planet where a disembodied brain regulates everything, including how little boys bounce balls. On this planet nothing goes wrong, there’s no doubt about what will happen next, and there are no painful decisions to make. And yet the resulting regimented society is hardly depicted as one in which you might want to live. In this context doubts and troubles are maybe not so bad. I was once again reminded of Dr Who – with that message that, hey kids, life may be confusing, and there’s no one to help you except an eccentric, oddly dressed English person with a sonic screwdriver and a space ship that looks like a defunct police phone box; but it’s better than marching about with the Daleks or the Cybermen.
So the ideas are interesting, though I became uneasy when they moved into more overtly religious territory. At one point a friendly alien tries to explain about an unseen, helpful force. After saying something about stars and light, the alien gives up and declares:
“Oh my child I cannot explain. This is just something you have to know or not know.”
The alien is not saying that a few more years at school, or even greater alien intelligence, would allow understanding of the subject under discussion. Okay, I accept that there are things that might be incomprehensible to me – lots of things actually. I had a rough ride with Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and don’t mind admitting it. However, lack of understanding is different to saying that something is impossible to understand, and you just know about it or you don’t. That’s what’s called blind faith. Thinking about it, this is the resort of a certain type of leader we’ve seen much of lately, the type who wants to evade facts, because they are not helpful to the image of infallibility they wish to portray. If an alien came to me with claims of an authority that was impossible to challenge with pesky facts, then I, even as a mere earthling who had a tough time with Steven Hawking, would be suspicious.
Overall A Wrinkle In Time was an intriguing read, though, for me, more as an historical artefact than a book I really enjoyed. Its heart might have been in the right place, but my view of it was mixed.