A new wrinkle in "A Wrinkle in Time"
April 17, 2015 11:43 AM   Subscribe

A previously unknown 3-page passage, cut from "A Wrinkle in Time", has been found by Madeline L'Engle's granddaughter, and published by the Wall Street Journal. It provides strong insight into the political thought regarding conformity and security in the book.
“I’ve come to the conclusion,” Mr. Murry said slowly, "that it’s the greatest evil there is. Suppose your great great grandmother, and all those like her, had worried about security? They’d never have gone across the land in flimsy covered wagons. Our country has been greatest when it has been most insecure. This sick longing for security is a dangerous thing, Meg, as insidious as the strontium 90 from our nuclear explosions . . .”
posted by nubs (35 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Was this 3-page passage, by any chance, written on official "Dukes of Hazzard" stationery?
posted by Wolfdog at 11:49 AM on April 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


It flows poorly, as if Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which accidentally put in a tesseract to something by Ayn Rand.
posted by qcubed at 11:56 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


She was correct to cut it, but I'm glad to have seen it.
posted by feckless at 11:58 AM on April 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
posted by corb at 11:59 AM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm sort of glad this wasn't in the book; it's a little clumsy (in concept, and thought process, and execution), and L'Engle was not a clumsy writer. It could've been massaged into something that belongs in the book; but I still think the "trading freedom for security" narrative is a bit too simple. There has to be a better way to express the idea; it's not that people surrender rights for actual security, but that loss of rights can coincide with a narrative of false security.

Anyway, I adored L'Engle growing up, and one of my favorite things about her work is that there's not really a clear line between science fiction, fantasy or realism; the Murray and O'Keefe books include elements of all of those styles. Sometimes they go for outright, hugely imaginative fantasy, or allegorical sci-fi or realistic fiction about growing up and relationships and adulthood and children. Often they'd just blend all three; they felt like a glimpse into, not another world, but another way of seeing our world, and I completely fell in love with that.
posted by byanyothername at 11:59 AM on April 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


Awfully preachy stuff. I'm glad it was cut. Anyone who's recently read A Swiftly Tilting Planet knows that L'Engle's political thought, even though well-meaning, is mighty dated stuff.

Recently I found out that Camazotz is the name of a giant bat god. I wonder if L'Engle ever knew that.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:01 PM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I read this book when I was 11 or 12, which was over 30 years ago. I remembered that I liked it a lot, but I don't remember the details very well. Does it have a political bias that I wasn't old and sophisticated enough to notice at the time?
posted by double block and bleed at 12:08 PM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


(There's also another book I read when I was eleven or so that was very L'Englesque and did that whole blend of styles as well, but I've never been able to recall the title or author. It followed a family of synaesthethesics who could perceive parallel universes across several generations; it was deeply strange, and IIRC never did anything obviously sci-fi with that idea. It was just about the lives of these remarkable people who could do an impossible thing. I'm sure this is something that's much better in the personal myth of my vague memory than in reality.)
posted by byanyothername at 12:13 PM on April 17, 2015


I can't even see the name L'Engle without thinking about how she is a character in a short story by Miranda July (in which she is also the author of A Wrinkle in Time but Miranda ends with a disclaimer that it's really just fiction.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:18 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyone who's recently read A Swiftly Tilting Planet knows that L'Engle's political thought, even though well-meaning, is mighty dated stuff.

Like double block and bleed, I haven't read any of L'Engle's stuff in decades; my only recollection of ASTP was that it involved nuclear war, which I suppose isn't in vogue as an existential threat anymore in the same way that it was in the 80s. What else in it is dated?

Thinking on it a bit more, I do kinda remember thinking it was weird and off-putting that the cool adventuress-protagonist from the earlier books suddenly gets married, knocked up, and basically ceases doing anything cool in one of the later books. Not sure exactly when in the series that happens but I definitely remember thinking "holy shit having kids suuuuuucks". Kinda think that was maybe not supposed to be the intended takeaway though?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:21 PM on April 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


I read this book when I was 10-12 as well. And it creeped me the f* out. That end scene when Charles takes on that head dude, and it's basically a fight of icy manipulative intellect.... I didn't really understand it, but it was terrifying all the same.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:28 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of L'Engle's other work was terribly preachy, and in fact some was frankly just dumb. But none of that tainted Wrinkle/Wind/Tilting, and I'm glad this was cut.
posted by Foosnark at 12:28 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thinking on it a bit more, I do kinda remember thinking it was weird and off-putting that the cool adventuress-protagonist from the earlier books suddenly gets married, knocked up, and basically ceases doing anything cool in one of the later books. Not sure exactly when in the series that happens but I definitely remember thinking "holy shit having kids suuuuuucks". Kinda think that was maybe not supposed to be the intended takeaway though?

I remember that too, and it was awfully disappointing, because I thought Meg Murry and Meg Murry's mom were just such cool female characters when I read A Wrinkle in Time.
posted by peacheater at 12:33 PM on April 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I started reading this series to my youngest, based on good-but-vague memories from my own childhood. There was a definite religious tinge to them that I didn't remember at all--that may be because I was religious myself then, and having God invoked a lot just fit my view of the world.

You can feel politics pushing in a bit, all over the place, but it doesn't fit neatly into the current splits--there's a lot of "gosh, society just *sucks* these days, with all the violence and hating, and can't we go back to the nicer earlier days" that feels pretty conservative, along with implied gender roles that's really that way, but it's right there with environmental concerns and warnings against religion being used against those who are different. The anti-conformity message of the first book could be viewed as either liberal (the conforming society we see looks very 1950's-America) or conservative (the discussion makes it sound more communist).
posted by Four Ds at 12:34 PM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


published by the Wall Street Journal
...after owner Rupert Murdock creamed his jeans. But isn't that the test of ALL WSJ Scoops and Exclusives these days?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:04 PM on April 17, 2015


Recently stayed in my mother-in-law's creepy, gated retirement "community" in Camazotz-I-mean-Florida and I’ll take all the L’Engle anti-security propaganda I can get.
posted by latkes at 1:05 PM on April 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


some of y'all might like The Toast's Serious Lengthy Discussions about A Wrinkle In Time and A Wind In The Door
posted by kagredon at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


Please count me in the "this is awesome and I don't care terribly if it's preachy as long as it's true" club.
posted by Poppa Bear at 1:10 PM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not sure how anyone is reading this as Randian. The manifest destiny bit is offensive and I'm glad that contemporary progressives critique it, but support of the mythos around Western expansion was certainly in-keeping with the left-leaning-thinking of the time.
posted by latkes at 1:11 PM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


latkes: Not sure how anyone is reading this as Randian.

It's not the content that I was complaining about, but how blindingly, boringly preachy-speechy it was, with token comments from the lectured that allows the lecturer expound further.

Admittedly, it's been a while since I read The Fountainhead or Shrug Shrugged, but I recall sixty-page speeches that followed that same format in those books.
posted by qcubed at 1:14 PM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ugh, and don't get me started on Many Waters. The chapters alternate between Sandy and Dennys, and one of them is sunburned for 3/4 of the book, and his chapters are basically, "He was so sunburned he laid around all day."

Though it did introduce my daughter to the whole Human-Are-Hypbrids stuff that Zalanzy goes on about.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


(There's also another book I read when I was eleven or so that was very L'Englesque and did that whole blend of styles as well, but I've never been able to recall the title or author. It followed a family of synaesthethesics who could perceive parallel universes across several generations; it was deeply strange, and IIRC never did anything obviously sci-fi with that idea. It was just about the lives of these remarkable people who could do an impossible thing. I'm sure this is something that's much better in the personal myth of my vague memory than in reality.)

That's more of an AskMe qustion, but it sounds like either Doris Piserchia (Star Rider, Earthchild, The Dimensioneers) or Michael Moorcrock (The Eternal Champion saga).
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:37 PM on April 17, 2015


I remember even _A Swiftly Tilting Planet_ as preachy, manipulative and creepy, and I think I read at least one sequel that was even worse. L'Engle was never an author I got into because of that, even when I was young and less discriminating. And had read essentially everything in the SF/Fantasy section at the library.
posted by tavella at 1:43 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure L'Engle didn't mean to be racist, but the plot of A Swiftly Tilting Planet turns on the literal association of blue eyes ("blue for birth, blue for mirth") with inborn goodness, in explicit contrast to brown eyes. It also favorably features the settlement of North America by Welshmen, one of those less savory pre-Columbian European settlement theories.

I was obsessed with it once when I was a little kid, though, alone at camp with only a few L'Engle books to keep me company (God forbid I make friends with anyone). At night, in my bunk, I kept whispering the rhyme to summon the unicorn Gaudior to come and take me away from there.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I feel like the bit in the book with the kid being reeducated in ball bouncing said all this and more. The security thing is a bit hammy in these pages, but the chilling implication that cruelty can be so effectively rationalized is one of my most lasting impressions of the book.
posted by ethansr at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


The weirdest part of this draft is where Mr. Murry claims that the fall of Camazotz to IT and the Black Thing had taken "not only thousands, but billions of years centuries."
posted by straight at 3:15 PM on April 17, 2015


Yeah, no. I understand the gist of what she's trying to say, but it's clunky and awkward and the metaphors are actually just plain wrong. The US has also been at its worst when most insecure, but maybe that doesn't count if you're not Native American. Sure, security can be ominous and dangerous - McCarthyism, for example - but anarchy isn't much good either.

I have a very uneasy relationship with L'Engle these days. I loved her work so much as a kid, and I felt like her books really spoke to parts of me that had trouble fitting in. They had so much influence on me. But whenever I reread something, it's the intolerance and bigotry that jumps out at me instead. Homophobia, racism, noble-savage-ism - ok, I made that last one up but you get the idea. So on the one hand, my childhood memories make them comfort reads but my adult awareness makes them acutely uncomfortable. The answer is obviously not to read them anymore, but it makes me sad. Kind of like realising that your beloved auntie is actually a total bigot, even though she's very nice to you.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:39 PM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


The ball bouncing bit from this book viscerally set off a latent anti-authoritarian streak in 7 year old thsmchnekllsfascists that has survived to the present. It doesn't excuse anything else she wrote, but that particular passage had a huge impact on my life and I'm thankful to her for that.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:44 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I reread Wrinkle, Wind, Planet, and Many Waters to my kids recently. (OK, "recently" means a year and a half or so ago. "Recently" in my mind.)

Wrinkle was awesome, it was fun and funny and scary and exciting. (I agree that this passage is entirely redundant, that everything worth saying here was better said indirectly in the parts of the book that remain.)

Wind in the Door was intense because we recently lost a family member to something very like what was killing Charles Wallace and I would have given anything for a Proginoskes.

Swiftly Tilting Planet, I'm just old enough to remember those nuclear fears, so yeah, that made sense to me though my kids are a million miles from it and thank God for that. I found it very emotionally affecting too, the familial conflict and loss that Charles Wallace lived through, through other people's eyes.

Many Waters was a gigantic disappointment. It made no goddamn sense, and was tedious, and there was this slut shamey thing going on with one of the minor characters, and when it comes down to it the story of the flood, if you take it literally, makes God awful and murderous in a way that is in complete contrast with the mostly indirectly present God of the other L'Engle works. So bad compared to the first three books.
posted by edheil at 10:58 PM on April 17, 2015


I'm comforted by how poor her typing was, for some reason.

Swiftly has Problems--big, big problems. It's racist and has this weird Druids-among-the-natives thing going on that was repeated later in the (terrible) An Acceptable Time. But it is also sensitive and complex about abuse. And has wonderful unicorns hatching from eggs.

It is my favorite book ever, for all of its flaws.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:03 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a preteen, L'Engle was my favorite author, but I hadn't read anything by her in almost 20 years when I decided to re-read the Chronos and Kairos novels last year. To my surprise, L'Engle's work was more retrograde, reactionary, and preachy than I'd remembered - - but, more importantly, her novels were far more incisive, progressive, prescient, and spiritually meaningful than I could have imagined.

For example, I know most modern feminists probably see the way Meg's life turned out as a huge disappointment, especially in comparison to Calvin's scientific achievements (that's certainly been a theme in this thread.) But that is far too simplistic a reading. L'Engle was actually far ahead of her time in unflinchingly describing the disproportionate expectations upon women to be the primary homemakers and caregivers.

In the 60s and 70s when L'Engle was publishing those books, the myth of someday "having it all" was in full force; it's really only been within the past decade or so that large numbers of women have admitted that it is basically impossible for any individual to meet our society's current criteria for being a "good" woman, worker, mother, and wife.

Yet L'Engle is explicit in describing the very realistic sacrifices - and joys -that led Meg to "fail" at fulfilling her intellectual promise. And she's equally frank in describing Mrs. Murry's inadequacies as a homemaker and mother; it's more explicit in the Chronos (Polly O'Keefe) works, but the theme is present in the kairos novels as well. In a not-so-subtle contrast, Calvin and Mr. Murry are unquestionably adored by their families and society, despite repeatedly endangering their children, disappearing for years at a stretch (Murry), and dragging his family halfway around the globe in a whim (Calvin).

(And OK, yes, L'Engle's novels feature moments of jaw-droppingly retrograde behavior, sanctimoniousness, and bigotry. For the most part, it's nothing worse than any other novel from 30+ years ago. But let's just not with "A House Like a Lotus" and parts of Many Waters; there's no excuse for that.)
posted by lesli212 at 11:17 PM on April 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Awfully preachy stuff.
I found 'Wrinkle' (which I read for the first time last year) to be hella preachy.
I wish I'd read it as a kid, frankly, because as an adult I couldn't get The Power Of Love out of my head, or my head into they story.
posted by Mezentian at 11:24 PM on April 17, 2015


I wish I'd read it as a kid, frankly, because as an adult I couldn't get The Power Of Love out of my head, or my head into they story.

Maybe that's the secret to it -- my mother started reading Wrinkle to me when I was tiny, maybe six? And it's still one of my favorite books, because I first learned about defeating evil literally with the power of love before I could recognize that as a trope that's turned more than a bit twee. The idea of teachers, of stars come to earth to help people, the warning of Camazotz (that part sticks in my head more than any other -- perhaps that's why I'm fascinated by Levittowns?); I'm glad it got implanted in my wee brain.

As an added bonus, I'm really interested in some advanced mathematical and physics theories, probably due to having to figure out tessering at a very young age.
posted by kalimac at 4:20 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really wish I hadn't read Many Waters. That book nearly ruined L'Engle for me; how could such anyone who created such limp loveless nonsense be worth reading at all?

Luckily, A Wrinkle, on re-read, was still wonderful anyhow.
posted by Erroneous at 7:24 AM on April 18, 2015


Clearly Madame L'Engle was a wise woman. Both as a philosopher and an editor.
posted by Twang at 8:41 AM on April 18, 2015


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