Welcome to the special Valentine’s episode of my multi-post in-depth salute to A Wrinkle In Time! I am generally not a romance fan (no offense, Corrina). I’m not enough of a naive snob to claim not liking romance at all: I can be quite passionate about some of my ‘ships and have been known to daydream the weddings of my favorite characters since the age of 12.* One of my all-time favorite writers is Jane Austen (though, admittedly, more for her observational wit and character development than the romance, with the exception of Persuasion. Persuasion is absolutely the most romantic of her books, and I will say it’s probably my favorite straight-up romance novel ever). It’s just I’d rather romance be a spice in whatever storytelling dish I’m consuming, not the main course itself. I prefer my romance firmly relationship-based, where well-rounded characters make sense together, rather than pure physical attraction and eye-making above all other matters (and I still hate sex scenes! Yes, 13-year-old self, that isn’t just you being weirdly undeveloped and childish compared to your peers, that’s an actual legitimate opinion that can even be held by adults!).
But when I was nine I actively despised romance, period. Maybe it was just a reaction against the other girls in my class who giggled about Who Liked Who and made me feel like a weirdo because I didn’t have a crush on any of the New Kids on the Block (though that would have been a couple years later, come to think of it). So I made a point of letting the world know that I had absolutely no interest in Who Liked Who and I wouldn’t read those books about it either! And then I read a book that singlehandedly mellowed my opinion on the matter out to the “I like my romance woven organically into a plot about something else besides romance” that I still hold today. And that book was? Yep. You guessed it. EVERYTHING in my life comes back to A Wrinkle In Time!
The chastely blooming flirtatious friendship of a couple of fourteen-year-olds** might not scream out ROMANCE to most people, but to my demisexual tastes, it’s just right. The romance in Wrinkle is subtle, so subtle it is never outright referred to AS a romance. It seems that Calvin is swept directly up by the entire Murry family, and is never singled out as being particularly more Meg’s. I’ve always suspected Calvin of secretly crushing on Mrs.-Dr. Murry—not so secretly, even! He refers to her stunning looks at least twice—and then conveniently projecting that crush onto the convenient girl conveniently his age of the family. He wants to be a Murry, dangit, even if he has to hit on this bitter nerdy chick to do it!
Okay, right, as we discussed last week, Calvin is way more awesome than that. In fact at their first meeting, while he’s being grilled by Charles Wallace, Calvin is making an effort to keep Meg involved in the conversation, to gauge her reactions, to—to just be quite sweetly polite to her even though her brother is treating him like a burglar. Even before he sees her mother, he’s paying her attention. What’s going through his mind at the beginning of chapter three, as he walks with “his fingers barely touching her arm in a protective gesture”? “Maybe we weren’t meant to meet before this… I knew who you were in school and everything, but I didn’t know you. But I’m glad we’ve met now, Meg. We’re going to be friends, you know.” Friends? Is he thinking “friends”? Is he thinking “my intuitive compulsions that I always listen to are telling me I’m going to make lots of babies with you someday”? Is he thinking, “I’m bored, might as well hang out with these weirdos” or “she actually would be pretty hot if she gave a crap”? I DON’T KNOW, because as I said last week, we’re getting this from Meg’s point of view, and Meg is busy being completely befuddled that the school basketball star is walking home with her in the first place! Also that bit about meeting cryptic old ladies in a haunted house in the woods who claim they know things about her long-missing father. That can make a person feel befuddled, too. But back to the subject of romance.
I don’t think I ever realized exactly how much flirting the future Mr. and Mrs. Murry-O’Keefe do their first afternoon together until I started writing these think pieces. Look at this passage once they’re back at the house, and Calvin’s just found a picture of Mr.-Dr. Murry:
“He’s not handsome or anything. But I like him.”
Meg was indignant. “He is too handsome.”
Calvin shook his head. “Nah. He’s tall and skinny like me.” [OH COME ON, CAL, you’re just fishing, now.]
“Well, I think you’re handsome,” Meg said. [WHAT’S WITH PEOPLE THINKING MEG’S A SHY WALLFLOWER? Oh, right, that was just me projecting myself into her Everygirlness].
And then she adds this, just in case Calvin didn’t pick up that she was really staring at him: “Father’s eyes are kind of like yours, too. You know. Really blue. Only you don’t notice his as much because of the glasses.”
Which of course brings us to, later that evening, THE MOMENT WITH THE GLASSES. Calvin gently removing Meg’s glasses to dry her tears, only to get distracted by her “dreamboat eyes,” is so apparently a widespread fantasy of bespectacled girls everywhere that it just keeps coming up as the example of Calvin’s swooniness. I know I often thought something like that: that maybe as soon as HE (whoever the particular “he” was) saw me without my glasses, he’d realize that I’m SECRETLY GORGEOUS. I am really sore about this fallacy of mine to this day.
But never mind that, now. The truly swooniest moment in the book, that planted itself indelibly in my romantic fantasies forever after, is actually the moment just before this. There’s Meg, crying (“too much” as she says—I can relate to that). And there’s Cal, comforting her. And she’s sure she’s making a terrible impression on him and then he says, “Don’t you know you’re the nicest thing that’s happened to me in a long time?”
To be the nicest thing to happen to somebody (particularly when you’re feeling your worst)! I’ve always been partial to any confession of love that involves some statement along those lines, and I don’t think I realized that it probably traces right back to page 53 of this copy of A Wrinkle in Time.
Page 53 of 190. I point this out to show how little the romance is the point of the story. It isn’t some will-they-won’t-they longing across the course of the book, only to come to fruition at the end; it’s pretty well out-there and settled one quarter of the way through. Meg’s story is not about getting her dream guy.
In fact, Calvin has, for the moment, unwittingly become an obstacle in Meg’s character arc!
Meg’s arc involves learning not to expect others to solve all her problems for her—learning to be brave and strong on her own. At the beginning of the book, she wants people to swoop in and comfort her, protect her, and along comes Calvin, who has this crazy chivalrous streak. He’s “the kind of guy who needed to be needed,” as a friend of mine noticed. He instinctively seems to sense that Meg is feeling vulnerable, and from the beginning, before he even hears her story, he’s reaching out to support her at every opportunity. EXACTLY WHAT SHE WANTS. But is it what she needs?
I’m like Meg—I longed for a knight in shining armor to protect and comfort and shelter me, too—which is why I didn’t realize exactly what was going on until I read it as a somewhat-settled-but-still-trying-to-grow adult. Calvin is over-protective. I’m not dissing Calvin! I’m not saying his knight-in-shining-armor tendencies make him a chauvinist unworthy of our love! But he’s babying her, and she wants to be babied, but she shouldn’t be. What Meg most needs to learn in her story is self-sufficiency. It was hard enough for her to do before, but now, now that she has someone who wants to protect her, letting someone else keep protecting her is such a warm and cuddly and romantic option compared to standing strong on her own!
Which makes it all the more awesome when she does overcome the coziness of her inertia and goes off to face down IT on her own. Calvin has to step back and let her—and to his credit, he does. With a kiss for luck.
It’s okay, they’ve got years ahead of them to work these things out. We know from the other books in the series that Meg and Calvin do eventually marry, which may be unusual for early-high-school sweethearts, but when they’ve spent so much time traveling through time and space and even learning (in A Wind in the Door) to outright speak telepathically to each other, how could anyone else ever do?
*Side note: One of my favorite observations my BFF ever made about us (and making observations is one of the things she does best), was, “That sums up the difference between you and me! You daydream characters’ weddings, I daydream their funerals!”
**While Meg’s exact age is never given, Calvin says he’s fourteen and in eleventh grade already because he’s “bright.” Before he reveals this, Meg tells Charles Wallace that Calvin is “a couple grades ahead” of her in school, which would put her in ninth grade, and therefore also, most likely, fourteen.