I’ll never forget where I first met Meg Murry: Mrs. Beville’s 5th-grade language arts class, Aurora, Colorado, 1978. Mrs. B. always picked the best books for her classroom read-alouds: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The Cricket in Times Square. How to Eat Fried Worms.
And Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
I don’t recall whether Wrinkle was my first science-fiction novel. My dad was (is) a huge sci-fi fan, and he raised me up properly on Heinlein and McCaffrey. But those authors are firmly rooted in my middle-school and high-school memories. I think it is very possible that A Wrinkle in Time was my gateway into the soaring, wide-ranging world of science fiction.
In any event, that book grabbed me instantly, for all the reasons it has grabbed millions of readers around the world. I’d never met a hero like Meg. Awkward, kind of grumpy, often in trouble at school–this was no Flossie Bobbsey. This heroine had flaws. She wasn’t entirely likeable. But Calvin O’Keefe was, and he saw something promising in Meg. For me, this was a revelatory experience: here was a book character you couldn’t figure out right off the bat. Meg was my first glimmer of understanding that first impressions aren’t always trustworthy. Sometimes you have to take a journey with a person in order to get to know her.
And oh, what a journey it was! Traveling to other planets! Tessering–what a marvel! Can’t you just picture that drawing of the string with the ant crawling on it? It’s seared on your brain, right? And all those Camazotz kids bouncing their balls in perfect unison! Remember how your heart pounded when that one boy lost control of his ball and it went rolling into the street, and his mother totally panicked?
I swear, my heart is beating faster right now, just thinking about it. Because this is a book that still tessers me to another world. I couldn’t wait to share it with my own kids–although, as it happens, my husband was the one who read it to them first. I watched with glee as my oldest daughter tore through the rest of the series on her own. I had the Austin books ready and waiting when she finished A Swiftly Tilting Planet: my old, battered copies that I’d hauled from state to state during the many long-distance moves of my adult life–just like Miranda, the young heroine of Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me, carried her copy of Wrinkle everywhere she went. It gets under your skin that way. A Ring of Endless Light is probably my favorite L’Engle, but Wrinkle is the one I feel most tender about.
In honor of its fiftieth year in print, FSG has reissued A Wrinkle in Time in a special commemorative edition with some extra goodies tucked in the back: photos of Mrs. L’Engle, her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, a Murry-O’Keefe family tree, a letter to Madeleine from Ezra Jack Keats, and an afterword by Madeleine’s granddaughter, Charlotte Voiklis. And especially exciting: original manuscript pages marked up with penciled notes and edits. Honestly, I could pore over this kind of thing all day, comparing her first draft to the final. I mean, check this out: at the top of one page, a handwritten note that says: “If necessary substitute sceortweg for tesseract and scegging [for] tessering.” !! Can you imagine? Meg and Calvin might have scegged?? Thank goodness tesser made it through!
(I think my heart just tessered to my throat and back.)
The new edition also includes a foreword by the great Katherine Paterson. These essays, the Paterson and the Voiklis, are treasures for a L’Engle-phile like me. Charlotte’s essay opens with the much-repeated tale–so comforting to novelists everywhere–of Wrinkle‘s numerous rejections before it finally found a home at FSG. It was an unusual book, genre-busting, and there were a lot of publishers who simply didn’t know what to do with it. Three cheers for Mr. John Farrar, who recognized its brilliance and took a chance on it. (And then it won the Newbery! Boo-yah!) It’s one of the books that helped write the story of me–and now, my kids.
Lucky for me, I still have three little ones in line to tesser with in the years ahead. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, Meg: don’t leave without us.
For a list of more entries in the 50 Years, 50 Days, 50 Blogs Celebration, click here.
Bonus GeekMom Wrinkle in Time love in this post.
Review copy provided by publisher. Childhood copy provided by mother.