It was a stormy night, and Meg in her room in the attic was scared by the wind. She went downstairs to the kitchen, where she found that her prescient youngest brother, Charles Wallace, had anticipated her and was making hot chocolate for her and mother. Meg was an insecure teenager. She did poorly in school because she was angry about her dad’s disappearance, and simply did not do her work. She also thought that she was ugly. Meg was smart (when she put her mind to it), but Charles Wallace was a child prodigy, and seemed to be able to anticipate what she was thinking. He had an unusually expansive vocabulary for his age, and perceived what adults felt better than they themselves, it sometimes seemed. However, the world thought he was a half-wit; he found it useful to be underestimated.
Charles Wallace was talking about his new friends, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Just then the dog started barking. Meg worried it might be the thief who stole the blankets from one of the houses in town. It turned out to be Mrs. Whatsit, who was dressed rather oddly. She stayed just long enough to empty her boots of water, have a quite bite to eat, and inform them—just bye the bye—that there is such a thing as a tesseract, as she left.
Meg’s father had disappeared about a year earlier. Her mother had not given up hope, and so Meg clung to that, but everyone in town thought that they were not facing the facts. Her parents were scientists, and her father worked for some secret government project. (It should be noted that the book was written in the 1960s.) He had gone on an experimental trip and had not come back yet. The government had not said anything one way or another.
After school the next day (Meg got sent to the principal’s office for being rude), Charles Wallace took her to see Mrs. Whatsit at the haunted house a bit beyond their’s. Along the way they met Calvin, who was a year older than Meg, and a popular athlete. He took an immediate liking to Meg. They found Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who at home, and Charles Wallace chastised her for taking the blankets. They said that Calvin was not part of the plan, but that he was a good choice. And she suggested that Mrs. Murray invite Calvin over for dinner that night. Despite being an athlete, Calvin was intelligent and felt like he was going home for the first time.
After dinner Calvin went out walking with Meg, where they got to know each other a bit. Then Charles Wallance arrived, saying that they were going, followed by Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who. Finally Mrs. Which arrived, and in a solemn voice declared that she would not fully materialize as it was too much effort. The three took the children by tesser to Uriel, third planet around a star in Messier 101. Tessering, as Mrs. Whatsit explained (accompanied by occasional comments by Mrs. Who, who found it easier to speak in quotations from famous people), was wrinkling time, bending it like a sheet of paper, and walking across the bend to go much farther than would normally be possible.
Mrs. Whatsit became something like a flying horse, and took the children to the top of a mountain so high up that they needed to breathe from flowers because the air was so thin. At the beginning they briefly heard the most wonderful music as they passed creatures singing praises to God. At the top they could see the stars spread out, and a dark mist. Meg was afraid of the mist. Mrs. Whatsit said that some planets, like Earth, were fighting the evil. She made them cite people from history like Jesus and Michelangelo who were bright lights fighting against the blackness. And she said that Meg’s father was behind the mist, in a planet that had given up fighting.
They came down from the mountain and were taken to the Happy Medium, who was not so much a safe place between extremes by someone who used a crystal ball to see things. She did not like to see darkness, but the Mrs. Whatsit persuaded her. She showed them a star going nova—its brightness and wind pushing out the dark cloud. Meg suddenly realized that Mrs. Whatsit—who Mrs. Which had chided as being only two billion years young—was a star, and herself had fought the darkness in that way. Meg wanted to see her father, but was not allowed, although Charles Wallace talked them into being shown their mothers. The medium showed Calvin his parents (not a happy sight), and then Meg’s mother, writing her daily letter to her husband, who did not write back.
They tessered again. Meg did not tesser well—she was always scared and definitely did not travel through the black mist well. But she made it. The three—what seemed to be angels, given their age and relationship to the singing creatures—could not come with them to the planet, but took the children to a hill outside the capital city of the planet Camazotz, where their father was. Mrs. Which told them to stay together, and she gave Meg her faults, and Mrs. Who gave her a pair of glasses to use if all else failed.
They walked in to town, where they saw a row of identical houses, which children playing with identical balls, all at the same time. One child was out of sync. Then they were called by their mothers, all at the same time. This seemed quite strange and creepy, but Charles Wallace wanted to find out what was going on, so he knocked on the door of the house of the kid who was out of sync. The mother was afraid, and said that she did not have to talk to them unless they had papers. So Charles Wallace asked the paper boy (who threw the paper in identical arcs where it landed in exactly the same spot at each house). The paper boy talked about how this city was very orderly with no anomalies, and with machines and factories running non-stop with the highest efficiency of production, which was why it was the capital city and had CENTRAL Central Intelligence and IT here. He talked at lot about proper permissions, but when he started asking them questions, Charles Wallace asked he if was allowed to ask questions and he turned white and hastily went back to his work.
They found CENTRAL Central Intelligence with little difficulty, which was bustling with people. Charles Wallace asked a man how they would talk to someone in charge. He, of course, said that you simply put your papers in the appropriate slot. He, himself, was there to report a failing spelling machine on the second-grade level, requesting that it be oiled by an ‘F’ grade oiler to prevent jammed minds. Charles Wallace asked if it was strawberry or raspberry jam, and the man said he would need to report them, or he would be in danger of being reprocessed, and did not want that. Shortly after he left, the wall behind them opened up, and then, despite even Charles Wallace being scared, the went down a long hallway to find a man with red eyes.
The man talked to them, trying to persuade them to look in his eyes, or at least submit to his thoughts. He tried to get them to not talk and communicate telepathically, but Charles Wallace insisted on talking. The man felt wrong somehow, like he was a robot except he was definitely human. The man said that their cooperation was required to see their father, but that, actually, it would be far better for them personally if they would let him help them. The man got Charles Wallace to look at his eyes, and only Meg tackling him prevented him from being hypnotized.
The man fed them synthetic food, which he assured them was more nutritious than their food. Although it’s natural taste was bland, to Meg and Calvin it tasted like turkey dinner. For Charles Wallace it tasted like sand, as the man had predicted, because Charles Wallace had shut his mind to them. Meg and Calvin could not shut their mind so completely, so he could get in and make it taste like something. The man persuaded Charles Wallace that he was trustable, and said that he would be able to leave the connection if he so desired, although he didn’t think he would want to. So, against Meg’s protests, Charles Wallace looked into the man’s eyes, because he wanted to find out what was going on, and he wanted to have his father back. However, once he had done that, he turned into the shell of a person, just like the others (and he found the food delicious).
The man had Charles Wallace take them to their father. Charles Wallace walked unnaturally, and kept telling them how that would be happy if only they stopped resisting. He took them to their father, who was in a transparent column. They could see him and Meg tried everything to get his attention, but he seemed to neither be able to see or hear them. Desperate, she remembered Mrs. Whatsit’s glasses. She put them on and found that she could go through the column. Her father recognized her voice but could see nothing until she gave him the glasses (at which point she could see nothing). Mr. Murray took her through the glass.
Charles Wallace told them that IT was not pleased and began to be rude to them. Meg thought her father would be able to bring Charles Wallace back, but nothing he could say made any difference. When they found IT, they found a slightly oversized, and very creepy, brain. It sought to bind them to its rhythm, to bind them to its thoughts. The beauty of Camazotz, it said, was that everyone was the same. Everyone was identical, everyone centrally directed, everyone happy. Meg tried resisting the pulsing rhythm, but was losing until her father had her do math problems. But even so, she slowly lost ground, until Calvin suggested that her father tesser, which he did.
He was not very experienced at tessering, and they landed on nearby planet, but Meg was frozen from traveling through the black mist. Everything on the planet was a dull color, because the creatures that lived there did not see by light. One of them, who Meg named Aunt Beast, helped care for her over night and restore her to warmth and strength.
The next day they had a meeting with the three angels. As she always was, Meg was emotional, only this time she was mad. Mad at her father who couldn’t save Charles Wallace and mad at the angels who had let all this happen. After some discussion, the angels decided that Meg needed to go back alone; the other two would only be pulled in to IT. So Mrs. Which took Meg back to the hill outside the capital city of Camazotz, telling her that she had something that IT did not have, but she would have to figure it out herself.
Meg made her way back to CENTRAL Central Intelligence, and was sucked inside to IT. Charles Wallace awaited her, and accused the angels of lying and of not be good. Meg hated IT for its malicious untruths, but realized that hate was something that IT had. Then Charles Wallace (or rather, IT through him) said that Mrs. Whatsit hated her, which was a mistake, because Mrs. Whatsit had explicitly told Meg that she loved her. And Meg realized that IT did not have love. She was unable to love IT, but she could love Charles Wallace. Her love freed him, and Mrs. Which snatched them both back as the black mist attacked them. All of them were reunited safely back on Earth, and the three angels bid them a quick farewell, for they had something pressing to attend to.
A Wrinkle in Time is a creative blend of science fiction and Christian values in a sort of C.S. Lewis way. The characters are each very different and unique, and efficiently sketched out. As a middle-aged man, Meg is sort of a tiresome character, always insecure and angry, but she probably resonates with the intended audience. I do not remember thinking the same way about Meg when I read the book as a teenager, so maybe it works okay. Actually, the only thing I remember is a strong association with Communism, and not liking the book because I did not like Camazotz. Having lived in a nominally Communist country for a few years, the association is not so strong, although it is relevant—Communism and totalitarianism does seek uniformity. Central control does not have the creativity or even the bandwidth to manage anything other than uniformity. My own conclusion has been that control is the work of the enemy, so it is interesting to see L'Engle having also identified it. It is hard for me to evaluate this book, as I did not enjoy it on second reading, either, but that’s because it portrays things that I do not enjoy, even though it does it well. In fact, it feels like a short book, and each event takes at most a couple of pages, so the description is terse. Nonetheless, it is a lavish and creative book, which I think is the more impressive because of its terseness. It is a book that straddles sci-fi and fantasy, and does so in a way that no other book I have encountered does.