Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Trilogy

I was going to focus this post on A WRINKLE IN TIME, a book I must have read about a million and two times when I was a youngster. But then I remembered that the last time I read it, I was slightly disappointed. That happens to us adult MG and YA readers. Books that set us on fire in youth leave us cold as adults. I still think WRINKLE is a good book, but there are some things about it that troubled me as an adult reader.

The most obvious, and expected if you know me, is the whole Christian overtone. I was still a Christian when I first read this book, and even still  when I met L’Engle at a book signing in Toronto in the mid 80s (MANY WATERS was the release, one with even more unpalatable Christian overtones), but reading it now as a rational humanist atheist some of the messages are a bit too overt. Ironically I think the Christianity in the Narnia books is less forced.

I also have a problem, believe it or not, with Meg.  I know she’s held up as this great MG heroine, but I found her a bit whiny and stupid. It was Charles and Calvin who really gave the oomph to the plot. Meg felt a bit reactive. Sure, she ended up saving Charles through the power of love alone. Maybe that wasn’t a trope in those days, but it seems that it is now. Heroes get to save the world through honor and courage, heroines save an anti-hero through love (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan. Don’t pretend you can’t see me looking at you).

Anyway, even as an adult I feel completely differently about A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET, the last book in the trilogy. I picked up this book one night at about 10pm and stayed up all night to read it (I was about 14 or 15 at the time). This was the first time I had pulled an all nighter to read a book, a bad/good habit I have yet to break (Now I’m looking at YOU, Katniss. Yes I am.) Charles Wallace is the hero of this one, with an adult (and pregnant) Meg as his advisor. The spirituality in this one feels more ancient, Celtic or Indigenous and therefore, to me anyway, more palatable. But also more organic.

A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET is what a time travel book should be: tightly woven, mysterious and dramatic, with the ultimate end of the world stakes.  It’s a product of it’s time. Published in 1978 when nuclear holocaust was a very real and very frightening possibility, it still feels fresh today.

The second book in the trilogy, A WIND IN THE DOOR, is slightly weird and reflects L’Engle’s fascination with molecular biology. I’m not crazy about it but I definitely recommend reading the trilogy in order.

Here’s the vitals:

A WRINKLE IN TIME – 50,000 – READING LEVEL 4.7

A WIND IN THE DOOR 48,500 – READING LEVEL 5.0

A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET – 64,000 – READING LEVEL 5.2

All the books have lowish reading levels and word counts, but the esoteric nature of their content might be a challenge for younger, less sophisticated readers. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, I think the trilogy is well worth it. I know it’s a “quintet” now, but I’m just going to ignore that.

For this week’s I can’t Wait to Read I’m going with THE UNWANTEDS, by Lisa McMann. One of my gifted students describes this book as “exactly like The Hunger Games except completely different.” So, really, how can I say no?

Here’s the blurb: Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths

Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret–behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime.

In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.

But it’s a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

Other Marvelous Middle Grade Mondayers can be found here:

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8 thoughts on “Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Trilogy

  1. It really is interesting how our thoughts change in adulthood. One book I will go back and read soon is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I loved loved LOVED that book when I was ten.

  2. I absolutely loved that movie, but I don’t think I ever read the book. I think it’s probably pretty unrealistic compared to something like HATCHET by Gary Paulsen, which I loved.

  3. It’s very difficult to get students to read these, although I still have my own tattered paperback because I loved it. I have maybe three students a year who will get through Wrinkle; maybe one other will continue with the series, and yet I can’t get rid of the books!

  4. I understand the ambivalence or outright dislike of L’Engle’s Christianity, but I’m not sure I agree that Meg saved Charles Wallace only through love. What Meg did — resisting temptation and standing up to IT — took extraordinary courage and strength. Sure, love gave her the impetus (not really the word I’m looking for, but I’m tired!) to find her courage and strength, but I don’t think she merits a comparison to Bella Swan at all! That makes me sad!

    Re: L’Engle’s Christianity — have you read her memoirs? In the first of the Crosswicks books (_Circle of Quiet_), she writes at length about becoming an Anglican in the first place. When she and Hugh Franklin moved to Connecticut, they were pretty hard-core agnostics, if not atheists, so I’ve always found her exploration of Christianity, religion and spirituality interesting. Of course, having grown up Episcopalian, the same as L’Engle (and Lewis), it’s pretty easy to swallow in the books, even though I’m rather lapsed these days.

    BUT! Thanks for sharing! This is an interesting discussion!

    1. You’re right. It’s unforgivable to compare Meg to Bella. I don’t know what came over me. But there’s something to be said for a heroine who triumphs through sheer ruthless single-mindedness.

      1. Hee! Who’s an example of that kind of heroine for you? I like the multi-faceted-ness of Meg, and the humanity. In fact, I’d go so far as to posit it’d be better for the strong, courageous heroes to have a little more human frailty and depth to them. What do you think? Honestly, I should reread the entire series again before wading much deeper into this discussion, ha (but I’m having fun!).

        What IS interesting is how the characters like Meg change as they grow and become background mother figures in books starring others — I’m thinking especially of _The Arm of the Starfish_, where both the O’Keefe parents were just models of perfect parenthood, and Meg had put her scientific career on hold to raise her brood, at least in Adam Eddington’s eyes. L’Engle’s children — especially Josephine — were outspoken in their criticism of her as a mother, and directly contradict a lot of what she wrote in her Crosswicks memoirs, but to her grandchildren — especially Lena Roy and Charlotte Voiklis, Josephine’s daughters — she seems to be the supportive maternal figure from her books.

        I’m not really sure where I’m meandering with this, and it’s definitely too much for a blog comment, but I think about the threads of motherhood and womanhood and daughterhood in L’Engle’s fiction, her non-fiction, and the stories of her children and grandchildren often, and wonder what pattern they form. And now it’s officially time to stop writing, since this is getting a little melodramatic!

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