Tuesday, April 12, 2016


One of the interesting advantages of a science fiction or fantasy novel is that the plot and the story’s messages are not bounded by rational fact or restricted by realism. In Madeline L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, this genre-induced freedom of imagination acting upon the mortal limitations of the human characters successfully highlight these characters’ exploration of the deeper significances of their universe. Human limitation, especially when compared to fantastical liberties, plays it’s own role in the novel, as it hinders the characters on their quest to help their Father and to defeat the Black Thing. From the very beginning of the novel, we see these limitations at work on the human characters. These characters’ flaws, the frustrating inadequacy of words, and the scientific laws of humans on Earth, all seem to be intent on creating a barrier between the characters and the deeper understandings of the universe that seem so elementary to the enchanted characters.
            Humans are limited by many forces in L’engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time. For one, they are limited by the essence of who they are and where they come from. A few of the main scientific ideas in this novel are the presence of a tesseract, a fifth dimension, and a “wrinkle” that allows time travel. Human beings and the world as they know it can only exist in the third dimension. They are at an innate disadvantage to the other characters in the book that seem to be something more than human. Meg Murry is the best example of this because she is the epitome of human and lacks the “more” that Charles Wallace and, even, Calvin seem to have. Meg struggles to understand complex ideas that are not necessarily grounded in this dimension. For example, on page 76, after Charles Wallace is trying to help her understand the possibility of time travel through the fifth dimension, Meg exclaims, “I got it! For just a moment I got it!” The difficulty with which Meg attempts to understand this idea is juxtaposed by the easy understanding and use of this concept by the Mrs’, again highlighting their human limitation in understanding of the universe that they live in. The children are dependant upon the Mrs’ to travel to other places through the fifth dimension and they can only take the Mrs’ word for it on the worlds that they are incapable of understanding. This point brings another level to the limitations of human understanding because, in this story, there are other worlds that exist in the other dimensions. For example, when Mrs. Which accidentally brings the children to a two-dimensional planet and we learn from Meg’s acute and crushing pain that “this is a two-dimensional planet and the children can’t manage here (77)!” This is one of the first times that we learn that there are worlds that exist that are undetectable by humans, not because of distance or discovery, but because they exist in a different dimension than humans. It also highlights the unlimited nature of the non-human characters as the Mrs’ explain to the unsettled children that “it’s really a very pleasant little planet, and rather amusing to be flat. We always enjoy our visits there (79).”
            Aside from being fundamentally at a disadvantage due to the nature of Earth, the human characters seem to be limited by their language and the inadequacy of words. This limitation is much more familiar to us than trying to understand alternate dimensions because it is something many people experience everyday. Anyone who has ever tried to explain what it felt like to stand on top of a mountain on a warm, sunny day, or to describe why a beautiful song gives them goosebumps, or to explain what they felt when they first held their child, would testify to the limitation that language sometimes places upon us. This theme is obvious many times in the book. For example, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which “find it difficult to verbalize” in the language of the children (59). Mrs. Who points out that Mrs. Whatsit is young and na├»ve because she “keeps thinking she can explain things in words (60).” Another instance that is important to note when examining the inadequacy of words in this novel is Meg’s interaction with Aunt Beast in Chapter Eleven. Meg is unable to explain to blind Aunt Beast what day and night looks like, to which Aunt Beast replies, “we do not know what things look like. We what things are like” then goes on to say “it must be a very limiting thing, this seeing” pointing out another perspective on human limitation. This is interesting to read because it seems as though seeing a limiting hindrance as opposed to the elucidating understanding that is often associated with sight. We see the limitation again when Meg attempts to describe the sound of Aunt Beast’s song. The novel explains it by saying, “If it was impossible to describe sight to Aunt Beast, it would be even more impossible to describe the singing of Aunt Beast to a human being (177).”

            But maybe not everything needs to be spoken to be understood. This is an interesting concept to draw from a novel, seeing as a story is told through words. Oftentimes throughout the novel, we see characters refusing to tell each other information. Whether this is because they believe the other person would not understand them, as is often the case with Charles Wallace talking to Meg, or because that person needs to figure it out for themselves, as is the case with the Mrs.’ clues, it is a common occurance in the novel to have someone begin to explain something then suddenly stop or to give vague advice. This failure of language is not necessarily a bad thing because it puts an emphasis on another theme in the story: that which cannot be seen. Often, when words are inadequate, it is because there is a feeling behind them that is stronger or gentler or more beautiful than the words are. For example, when Mrs. Which will not tell Meg how to defeat IT, when words fail Meg, it is the idea, the feeling, of Love that saves her and her brother. In the case of Charles Wallace, he is able to understand so much more than everyone else without the use of words. Charles Wallace has some sort of access to the minds of those around him and, sometimes, it seems as though this access is not in the form of words. When the group is on Uriel, we see that Charles Wallace is able to pick up parts of the thoughts from creatures on a completely different planet. It is logical to believe that his understanding comes not from words but from the combination of emotions and abstract images in the mind of the people he is focusing on. Humans, at least, do not think in words but rather in ideas. When one thinks of the story of Cinderella, we do not go though every moment of the story. We seem to posses the whole idea, the whole story in a burst of understanding that we label “Cinderella.” Words are manifestations of thoughts and feelings; however, it was never a rule that only that which we can put into words are real and meaningful. It is from this sensation that I draw one of my last observations on the novel. The limitations on the human characters may hinder them from gaining the complete understanding of the deeper significance of the universe, yet, our inability to completely conceptualize these abstract concepts lead us to rely more powerfully on our feelings. In the end of the story it is obvious that Meg’s love is unlimited and stronger than she knows.

An average girl overcoming anything-but-average obstacles

While this book was enjoyable, it is hard for me to comprehend how exactly and why it was banned. On the surface, it is a tale of nonconformity – children who acknowledge their individual differences and learn to embrace them. In the pre-intro note, Anna Quindlen determines that, “it is really about a more primal battle all human beings face, to respect, defend, and love themselves” (4) and while I agree with this, I have a hard time understanding how a fantasy/science fiction story can be deemed toxic enough to be worth banning. Aside from the encouragement of individuality and nonconformity, the only other aspect I noted that might be troublesome to critics is the genderless transformation of Mrs. Whatsit into a horse-like creature. To live in a world where transgenderism is slowly becoming more accepted, I could understand how it might have been interpreted 50 years ago. Regardless, it is silly to take such a small fantastical element so seriously or to dismiss it before recognizing its worth. None of the Murry children seem to have a problem with it (this is the rewarding part to me), so why should readers?
Like some of the other novels we have read this semester, A Wrinkle in Time turns several seem-to-be truths on their heads, making it such a progressive and wonderful work. For example, the horrifying beasts on the planet Ixchel turn out to be kind and wise, the children are the ones to save the adult(s), and traveling through space and time is somehow possible. Even small details like the tall, scrawny, and outcasted Calvin proves to be an excellent athlete. Above all, the once incapable and pitiable Meg is the one to rescue Charles Wallace. L’Engle puts a sort of magical faith in her characters’ abilities, likewise encouraging belief in her readers. The only criticism I really had when reading this novel was the presentation of Charles Wallace… As a 5 year old, he is extremely unrealistic: too well spoken and too morally upright. I guess his unusual intelligence combined with the fact that he is the first to connect with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which makes his characterization fitting. In the words of Mrs. Murry, "you don't have to understand things for them to be" (25). And unlike critics who advocate for the banning of this story, I am able to overlook this small annoyance by acknowledging that this book is a combination of reality and fantasy. If others could do this, perhaps they would see the overwhelming value in the portrayal of an average girl overcoming anything-but-average obstacles.
All in all, this story uses imagination in an influential way. Unfortunately, critics are quick to overlook the imaginative aspects when they are, in fact, really crucial to understanding the bigger picture. One cannot understand the full worth of this novel without a sort of "willing suspension of disbelief" (47). That is, you have to cut ties with reality and allow your mind to flow freely through the limitless boundaries of the imagination to really grasp L'Engle's message. You have to willingly submit to the fantasy in order to be positively impacted. The contrast of the ordinary and extraordinary makes this story exciting, but also emphasizes the importance of individuality and faith in toxic or oppressive environments. There needs to be some use of imagination to be able to rise above.

Misinterpretation or Failure to Communicate?

On the surface, it would seem like a book like A Wrinkle in Time would go largely unnoticed as far as the "Banning Books" crowd goes. There does not seem to be anything particularly controversial, especially when compared to some of the other novels we have read this semester. But apparently, the aspect of the book that is most cited as the reason for its removal from the public view is its descriptions and references to magic, specifically in the form of fortune telling, as well as having Jesus listed among a number of other influential individuals. While there does not seem to be a lot of official explanation for some of these arguments, one could assume that concerned parents did not want their children being exposed to the concept of witchcraft in any kind of positive light.

It's safe to assume that these were likely the same people who had a problem with books like the Harry Potter series, who likely retain some view that witchcraft and magic are real phenomena, are inherently evil, and should be stamped out of all public discourse. But it also particularly interesting that they seem to hold the view that A Wrinkle in Time is in some manner anti-religious or anti-Christian, considering the fact that the author, Madeleine L'Engle is herself a Christian, and attempts to convey a somewhat Christian ideology through her writing. She is not unlike C.S. Lewis in this regard, who uses a host of Christian imagery throughout his Chronicles of Narnia. L'Engle does not seem to be as overt, and utilizes more aspects of science fiction in the work, but the symbolism is clearly present.

It would seem that there are two explanations for this criticism of L'Engle: That her work is not religious enough, or that it is too religious. There was apparent dispute over listing Jesus among a number of other influential persons in the novel. One possible way to view this criticism is that concerned individuals did not want Jesus being portrayed as just another member of a particular club, but rather being above it. But another potential criticism could be that concerned individuals simply did not want children being exposed to religious content in a nonreligious environment. Obviously this argument is somewhat less believable, considering the fact that much of the book has religious content that is inspired from both ancient and contemporary practices, and Jesus is only one of several religious figures who are mentioned in the course of the novel. But it is conceivable that just as someone would want to control the kind of religious messages children read about, it is equally conceivable that someone else would want to prevent children from receiving any kind of religious content at all. Both are, in this writers opinion, equally wrong to try and assert their personal will over this conversation, but it is nevertheless a conversation that will remain controversial.

Joining the Banned Wagon

After looking into the why's behind past bannings of "A Wrinkle in Time" it is interesting to see that the reasons include promoting witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons, the addition of Jesus' name to a list of challengers to the Black Thing (in association with artists and philosophers), and for generally undermining religious beliefs. Though there are certain situations that do not adhere to religious norms, such as the presence of the "The Happy Medium" who uses her clairvoyance and crystal ball to aid the children on their journey, it is strange that specific incidences and examples within the text are taking precedence over the overall message and theme of the text, which is one of overcoming death and evil with love. The Christian faith adheres to spreading a doctrine of love and being in communion with others and standing up against evil and corruption. L'Engle seems to promote a similar concept in her text, however she does so by invoking supernatural and science fiction elements which do not generally coincide with the norms of Christianity or other popular faiths.

At one point L' Engle is quoted as having said then when you ban a book "What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2012/02/10/november-17-2000-madeleine-lengle-extended-interview/10284/). The act of banning is being characterized as harmful because it attempts to limit the amount of information available to the public which is detrimental to the public good. By critics harping on certain characteristics of the text, such as the presence of a psychic, the witchlike qualities of Mrs. Whatsit, Which, and Who and somewhat supernatural abilities present in some of the characters, they ignore the important overall message which is the importance and strength behind the bond of family and the ability to use love and compassion to overcome evil. Children lose the opportunity to better learn this message through the text by schools choosing to ban the books in the classroom, however the message itself still remains and can still be available. Though the attempted banning of the book shows how much of an impact it can have, the constant threat of close mindedness is having a degrading effect on younger generations ability to learn and grow in an open environment. 

Fighting the Norm

As Megan said in her post, I too wish I had known about this book long before this class. I can completely relate to feeling like a social outcast during my middle school years, and not knowing what to do or who to turn to. The difference, however, is that Meg handles her status as somewhat of a social pariah with a wisdom far beyond her years. She frequently challenges what is considered socially acceptable, or the norm, and this theme ties in directly with our class discussions. Conformity is expected in our society, but there are those that refuse to conform, and it is these individuals that face controversy and criticism. We have seen it in the songs presented, as well as in the novels we have read thus far.

Like other students, I was also extremely curious as to why this novel has been banned so frequently, and it all centers around the religious elements present in A Wrinkle in Time. Jesus is named along with famous philosophers, artists, scientists, and other notable historical figures. One would think this presentation is flattering, but many critics say it brings Jesus down a peg and makes him seem too human. Further reading revealed that the author is from a school of liberal Christianity, and her presentation of witchcraft, crystal balls, and the battle between light and dark all incensed people to ban the book and condemn it as heretical and damaging. Of course, Harry Potter has also been banned for these same reasons concerning magic, and that in itself seems completely ridiculous. The same can be said for this novel, as I do not understand why a book that touches on sensitive issues present during adolescence and that can be helpful in dealing with those problems has been marked as controversial and detrimental. It is unfair to prevent young people from reading this novel because it truly does give preteens and teenagers a relatable character: Meg. Instead of focusing on the positive aspects of non-conformity and learning how to cope with the challenges of growing up, critics have ignored all of this and turned it into a discussion focused around religion. This is a demonstration of the narrow-minded thinking that is present when a novel is banned.

God and the Galaxy

L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is fascinating for so many reasons. In particular I was fascinated by how religion continued to exist in the work and that while it wasn't explicit for Meg, Cal, or Charles, an essentially human take on religion existed on other planets. Traveling through space and time didn't call into question human religion religious beliefs as is so often suggested, and in fact the work simply revealed that the believe in a God is universal. Science fiction is so interesting in that it can change everything we know believe about society by creating a different one. 
I find it interesting that while L'Engle intentionally changed the looks of the other, the sensory perceptions of the other, and the lifestyle of the other, she created a world in which God remained nearly the same. Is this heartening or frustrating? Is it more effective to suggest what we know about god is as much as any sentient creature can know about God?or is it more effective to see God as totally differently conceived in all walks of life's?
L'Engle explores many human experiences through the lens of seeing the other perform them differently. She she advocates a sort of cultural relativism in order to promote a love of differences. Interestingly, she never promoted cultural relativism in relation to religion or in relation to love. It's possible that this is intentional there's a direct parallel for L'Engle between love and God.
Twice, L'Engle has two different  characters whom Meg associates with love, speak passages about the glory and praise as well as the great grace of a divine being. In the first case Mrs what attempts to translate a song with the help of Charles, another person who Meg loves and who loves Meg, that translates into a psalm of praise. In the second instance, Aunt Beast talks about how "we are the called according to His purpose, and whom He calls, then He also justifies " ( L'Engle 173). In the sense the police echo of bringing universality that Christianity often strive for. 
On another level, it is uncomfortable to hear the other speaking of earths God. With the all of the differences between the many worlds, and the celebration of difference in the book, it is confusing to see a refusal to celebrate religious difference as well. While I haven't done any research on it, I could understand the book being banned for its challenging view on religion. Is it trying to speak to the universality of one God, or is it trying to associate God with the occult and the impossible in science fiction?
In my reading of the work, L’Engle celebrates the beauty of the living God and that love active in this world and any other world in our universe. I found the book's take on religion surprisingly challenging, but enjoyed considering how the concept of God might look to a creature can't see. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Love yourself, Meg

 As a child (especially a middle schooler) I had trouble making friends and also like Meg, I commonly thought that “everything was wrong”. This novel taught me so much when I was younger, about love and individuality and acceptance of oneself. I felt that Anna Quindlen said it beautifully at the end of the introduction “On its surface this is a book about three children who fight an evil force threatening their planet. But it is really about a primal battle all human beings face, to respect, defend, and love themselves, (4).” Reading this novel for the second time as a 21 year old I still find many of those themes still relevant. Maybe they will always be relevant, which is what makes this novel so special.
I was curious to find out why this novel was even banned in the first place. What I found was that it was mostly banned for its religious elements (referencing Jesus in comparison to great philosophers and artists). It was astonishing to me that it would ever be banned for such a thing but then looking back I guess I can see why many would be against the novel, because of all of the references to crystal balls and witches. However, I still don’t feel like reading this novel will make any religious person want to stop believing in God and become a witch (that just sounds ridiculous). It’s also important to note that this is a children’s novel. It is not made for adults so anything involving magic or the supernatural sells to kids.

Even though this novel is written for children, I feel it is still a fantastic read for adults. There are a lot of important themes, like learning how to love yourself and accept apologies and understand that even those who are older (like her father) make mistakes. It’s so crucial that children read this novel, because it does explore these themes and many more. It focuses on not only the love of oneself but also the love of family. Also Meg not only learns to accept herself but she learns that it is okay to be different.