Dania’s mind was racing at high-octane speed as she exited the theater. Visions of dark matter swirling around Storm Reid as she vaulted through otherworldly planets merged with her acute vision of what she had envisioned when reading the same scene on the page. It was a close approximation, though not perfect. She would do her best, in the coming weeks, not to lose her original vision of the novel.
“Holy cow,” Gwen said, gripping her coat as they passed though the front door of the building. “That was weird.”
“Yeah, it’s certainly some kind of ‘Wrinkle in Time’ movie,” Eleanor agreed. “At least better than the boring Disney Channel version from before.”
“Agreed.” Gwen nodded. “You’ve read the book?”
“Yes, I have,” Eleanor smiled. “I re-read it in preparation for the movie.”
“L’Engle has a very adept sense of how to use science to justify fantastical events,” Gwen explained. “Even if it’s hard for the audience to understand, we know that Meg and Charles Wallace do. It makes for a different kind of hero’s journey.”
“That’s what’s wrong with the other film version,” Eleanor added. “Aside from it being boring and dull. It feels too much like straight-up magic rather than science magic. You understand?”
“I think I do,” Gwen said.
Dania, meanwhile, was still staring forward as they walked, her hands tucked into her pockets. In her physicality, she imagined herself as Meg – though Meg was several years younger – weaponizing her intellect to save Chris Pine. She walked more confidently than she had for several weeks.
“You’re quiet, Dania,” Gwen finally said, noticing. “You liked it?”
“Yep,” was her quick reply. “Sorry, I’m distracted. After this and Black Panther, it’s a great time for people of color on film. I’m pumped.”
“True that,” Eleanor said, with a grin.
“Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who was perfect,” Dania said. “Exactly like I – well, maybe a little younger than I imagined her in the books.”
“Well, you don’t want her going full ‘auntie’ on you,” Eleanor said.
“Very true,” Dania agreed.
“Certainly, they’re the strongest aspect of the original book,” Gwen said. “Characters in general are well-developed in the book, and that mostly translated.” She glared, non-specifically, at Reese Witherspoon.
“I wonder if they’re going to make movies of the sequels,” Eleanor wondered aloud.
“Probably,” Dania said. “I mean, I can’t imagine them not trying to franchise it.”
“Perhaps Meg can cross-over with the X-Men,” Gwen chuckled. “Considering she has mutant powers.”
Dania’s eyes widened. “I would watch the hell out of that.”
She turned back to Eleanor as they neared their car. “I’ve never read the sequels, I only know they’re not as good.”
“No, they’re…” Eleanor began, before she broke into peels of laughter, which slowly broke into fake sobbing. She leaned against the car to steady herself, as Gwen laughed.
“You don’t even…” Eleanor began. “Okay, so neither of you have read the sequels?”
“I read them when I was a teenager,” Gwen said. “So it’s been a while. Still, I can recall the basic events of each book.”
“I’ve got nothing,” Dania said.
“Okay, so first thing’s first,” Eleanor started. They piled into the car, Dania at the wheel. “There’s no Mrs. Which, Who, or Whatsit.”
“Immediately disappointed,” Dania said.
“It’s like ––” Eleanor crumpled into the seat. Again, Gwen laughed.
“I know there’s a dragon in the second book.”
“Um, a cherubim, Gwen,” Eleanor snapped, with mock disgust. “Meg and Charles meet a Cherubim named Proginoskes, who has been sent to Earth to study with them…” Eleanor turned back to Gwen. “Which I just now realize makes no sense, there’s literally no end goal they’re training for and the teacher shows up, like, twice.”
“It also significantly decreases the presence of science in the book,” Gwen added. “I remember distinctly that the first line is Charles Wallace saying, ‘There are dragons in the twins’ vegetable garden.'”
“That’s an immediate shift in style,” Dania said.
“I know!” Eleanor gasped. “So then they go to school, where Charles Wallace is getting beat up constantly, and confront his principal Mr. Jenkins.”
“Meg and the cherubim?” Dania asked.
“I think the cherubim is there but Mr. Jenkins can’t see him,” Eleanor mused. “Calvin is there too, but he does nothing – that becomes a theme of these books, by the way, Calvin does nothing. Even in the first book, he’s only transparently there to be Meg’s love interest.”
“She’s right, L’Engle is very unsubtle about it,” Gwen agreed. “The first book contains lengthy passages where Meg and Calvin talk and develop a sweet, incidental romance. It doesn’t affect the plot, considering that the emotional climax is based on Meg’s love for Charles Wallace, not Calvin.”
“And then he’s just there in Book Two – it’s called A Wind In The Door, I think they say that, once, somewhere – doing nothing, distracting Meg…”
“Okay, okay, Calvin’s pointless,” Dania said. “Mr. Jenkins?”
“Well, there are these imposter Mr. Jenkinses. There’s something called the echthroi now, and they’re the root of all evil, and it’s poorly described.”
“Again,” Gwen said, straining to give context, “the term ‘Echthros’ does come from the Bible, meaning ‘nemesis.’ So L’Engle isn’t pulling the idea of a nihilistic villain out of nowhere.”
“Right, she’s pulling everything else in the second book from nowhere.”
“Anyway, defeating the echthroi Jenkinses is the first task – there’s three tasks.”
“And then something, something, telepathy, poorly justified pseudo-science, they end up inside Charles Wallace’s body because he’s sick from his mitochondria acting up.”
Dania, still driving, had to grip the wheel harder to retain control. “What?” she stammered.
“It’s sad, considering,” Gwen said. “Think about the first book. It’s approach to science is summed up in this elegant moment where Mrs. Who joins the two sides of her skirt to symbolize the ‘wrinkling’ of time. It’s understandable, but still fantastical. But in the second book ––”
“Everything just happens!” Eleanor added. “The number of times that Proginoskes says ‘we have to use X now,’ and Meg is like, ‘What? X?” and Proginoskes is like, ‘Oh, you Earthlings have never understood X.’ Like, give me information, Progo!”
“Wow,” Dania said, inching slightly further from Eleanor’s wildly gesturing hands.
“The second one is the worst book,” Eleanor explained. “They only get better after that. But the second one.” She twisted her head to the side, as though she were trying very hard not to swear.
“What about the next one?” Gwen continued. “A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I recall it being fine.”
“It’s less boring than Book Two,” Eleanor agreed. “It starts with Meg pregnant – Meg and Calvin get married in between Books 2 and 3.”
Dania rolled her eyes.
“The dad gets a call from the President – this one is the most fanfic-y, there’s literally a line that’s, ‘It was not unusual for Mr. Murray to receive a call from the President.'”
“And then I met the President and we became Best Friends,” Dania said mockingly.
“The point is,” Gwen summed up, “there’s a South American dictator with a nuclear weapon, and they want the father to use his knowledge of space-time to help save the U.S.”
“Very surreal to read right now,” Eleanor grumbled. “Then, somehow, Charles Wallace discovers that the dictator is distantly related to Calvin, so he meets a Unicorn named Gaudior ––”
“And they travel back in time to relive the lives of Calvin’s ancestors so they can stop the dictator from rising to power, butterfly effect be damned.”
There was a moment’s silence in the car, stopped at a red light, before Dania’s head fell onto the steering wheel with a pathetic groan.
“Watch the road!” Gwen chided.
“But like what the hell?” Dania said. “That’s basically just Timecop with unicorns.”
“Oh, it gets better,” Eleanor said. “Meg isn’t there, because she’s afraid for her pregnancy, so she follows via “mind-meld” kything with Charles Wallace for no reason other than I guess L’Engle felt she needed to be there?”
“I thought there was a reason for Meg to be involved,” Gwen said. “Doesn’t she read a rune in a book at home while Charles is away? And that somehow helps him?”
“Maybe. If she did, it wasn’t interesting,” Eleanor said. “There are entire chapters of this book set during the Civil War and the Salem Witch Trials, with no mention of Charles Wallace because he’s inside the completely incidental host bodies.”
“At the very least,” Gwen said. “The second book retained the pretense of being scientific. There were mitochondria, brain waves, concepts you’d expect the father had studied, and taught Meg about. Books 3 and 4 are straight fantasy classic, without any of the X-factor that made Wrinkle In Time stand out.”
“The fourth one does that, too?” Dania asked.
Eleanor sighed deeply.
“I remember the fourth one,” Gwen smiled. “You describe it, Eleanor.”
“Only two things you need to know about Many Waters,” Eleanor said. “First, it stars Sandy and Dennys, the twins who don’t matter in the previous books.”
“Are Meg and Charles Wallace there too?”
“For about three lines in the last chapter,” Eleanor said. “In the Wrinkle Cinematic Universe, this is a complete anomaly of a book.”
“The ‘Time Quintet,'” Gwen reminded.
“Second point:” Eleanor continued. “It’s Noah’s Ark.”
“Oh, don’t spoil that,” Gwen said.
“I’m not going to read it,” Dania said. “What do you mean it’s Noah’s Ark?”
“Exactly what I mean,” Eleanor said. “Sandy and Dennys – sorry, Sand and Den, that’s what the people call them – they get transported to pre-flood desert, and meet with Noah and Japheth and Yaleth and all the rest of the Bible characters ––”
“And then I met Noah and we became Best Friends,” Dania repeated. “It’s just more fanfiction.”
“Biblical fanfiction,” Eleanor said.”See, when I was re-reading the series, I was playing my favorite game while reading old books, ‘Racist or Religious.’ It’s where you’re on the lookout for the writer slipping unsubtle racism or Christian overtones into their fantasy novel. Admittedly, it takes until the fourth book before we get any crazy overt Christianity, aside from the fact that the Murray family are clearly Catholic.”
“Even then,” Gwen said, “there are parts of the fourth book where the Twins question whether or not what Noah’s doing is inevitable or right. Since they’re from the present, they know the flood won’t wipe out the evil the way God wants. There’s a strain of religious questioning that occurs in Many Waters that none of the other books have.”
“What about the racism?” Dania asked.
“Well, it’s never inadvertent,” Eleanor squirmed. “Sandy and Dennis describe the loincloths and ‘ancient medicines’ that the Biblical people use.”
Dania winced. “Yup, there it is.”
“L’Engle also has that patronizing ‘respect’ for Native American communities that you saw during the 20th century,” Gwen added. “She invents a tribe called the People of the Wind in Book Three, and then most of Book Five, An Acceptable Time, is about Polly and them ––”
“Meg and Calvin’s daughter,” Eleanor said. “She gets untethered in space-time, and she and her dickish boyfriend Zachary travel 3000 years back. There’s also a priest involved, which is where the religious messaging comes in more forcefully.”
“And then they think she’s a god, right?” Dania joked. “Or a goddess?”
Gwen winced. “Pretty much.”
“Admittedly, the fifth book is probably the strongest written besides the first one,” Gwen continued. “The characters, especially Polly, are sympathetic and act realistically for the situation. When Polly gets mistaken for a goddess, she uses their fear to free herself, rather than making them obey her. Although it has the sustained scenes of dialogue, as in the third book, L’Engle includes more action between lines to prevent the book from turning into talking heads spouting exposition.”
They stopped at a red light again. Dania sat back, considering what had been said. Wrinkle was never her favorite book – she enjoyed the STEM-focused lead, obviously, and the scenes with Aunt Beast. Images from L’Engle’s cosmic world provided a universe for the imagination to roam – a universe that could be captured cohesively on film. With the sequels, she imagined only a mess of contrasting characters, conflicts, and settings, none substantial enough to sustain their own narrative, save for the reader’s own search for meaning in the story.
“So you’re saying I should run out and read all of them,” Dania said with a wink.
Gwen shrugged. “Read the first one again if you haven’t. I’d skip the rest, you won’t be in hot water for not knowing them.”
“If you like the first one, maybe try An Acceptable Time,” Eleanor suggested. “Just to see more from Meg’s kid and the Murray parents. Even if it completely ditches science in favor of magic at the get-go.”
“Not that the first one was ever entirely accurate,” Dania added, as the light turned green.
“It builds a world,” Gwen clarified. “One where the leaps in logic are plausibly explained with science. The sequels don’t have the strength of worldbuilding that makes A Wrinkle In Time stand out.”
“Yes. They replace that with religion.”
“There’s certainly religious iconography in the first book, too.”
“Maybe,” Eleanor said. “But no one is mistaken for a God.”
Image Credit: Raptis Rare Books