‘Twas the summer of 1996, on a particularly Californian afternoon. A young befreckled me sat in my room, listening to either No Doubt or Weird Al Yankovic, arranging my library by genre, then alphabetically by author, pining for something new to read. Mom walked in and said, “I have something for you…” and my world changed.
I was an avid reader at age 9. I would zip through books like Rain Man counts cards, devouring literature like Half Magic, the Spooksville series (I was apparently too hipster for Goosebumps), and anything by Ellen Conford.
And yet, I was dancing around Sci Fi, and my mother, being the brilliant and intuitive woman that she is, handed me her original 1962 edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She told me that it was her favorite book when she was a kid, and that I might like it. She was right. It’s because of that book that I found my first literary hero: Meg Murray.
Meg, and this book, is special in many ways. From a cultural perspective, Meg is one of the first female Sci Fi protagonists. Up until that point, science, math, physics, etc was still a completely boy’s game. In fact, prior to winning the Newbery Award in 1963, L’Engle was rejected by reportedly 26 different publishers because of her story’s heroine in conjunction with a storyline deemed too complicated for children (pfft, who says kids aren’t down with quantum physics?).
I don’t want to spend too much time discussing the plot of the book, because it is a bit complicated, so check out the Sparknotes summary if you’re unfamiliar with the plot. It involves travelling through time and space via tesseract, aliens, the universe being overtaken by a dominating and controlling evil blackness, and a lot of quotes from classical literature. It’s like Doctor Who in a book, minus the TARDIS.
As I was saying, Meg is a special character. At 14, Margaret “Meg” Murray is the awkward eldest child of brilliant scientists. She has glasses, “mouse-brown hair,” and “a mouthful of teeth covered with braces.” She has a brilliant mind for math, but can’t stand the constraints of school, and is subsequently failing. She is quick tempered and extremely stubborn, and very straightforward.
With this, L’Engle sets up a perfectly relatable character. She’s not particularly pretty, successful, popular, or even likable by those who don’t understand her, but she is certainly relatable. That is the foundation for my love for her. Since she is the lens through which we get to enjoy this adventure, Meg needs to be someone that a young kid can appreciate, and did I ever understand being an awkward kid. I was hyper, clumsy, and wore stirrup pants for much longer than one should admit.
What makes Meg so compelling, however, is her perception of herself. When she gets swept away on a mission to save her missing scientist father by the Mrs. Ws, celestial creatures working against The Black Thing (seriously, go read the summary), she is so caught up in her inability to be normal, that she has no idea why she, along with her youngest brother and her friend, is the one taken to save her father instead of her more normal brothers or her beautiful, intelligent mother.
What she does have, as we learn, is a strong moral compass, a nonconformist attitude, a brilliant capability of understanding complex travel through the fifth dimension, and a warm, affectionate heart. It’s Meg’s ability to see the positive attributes in others that causes her to overlook her own, leaving her to be a humble and reluctant hero. Yet hero she is, as she saves her father and her brother from being taken by IT and The Black Thing, by being the loving person that she is.
Meg was my Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and frankly, I don’t think Katniss would exist without Meg as her predecessor. Like Meg, Katniss is unsure of her positive attributes, loving and protective of her youngest sibling, willing to sacrifice herself for what’s right (though she may not always be sure what that is), and has an absent father (Katniss’ dad is dead, but Meg’s father has been missing for over a year at the start of the book).
Really, though, who doesn’t love the unsuspecting hero? It’s a delightful archetype, and for a young girl, this book was an experience and a revelation. If you haven’t read it, and you have a long afternoon to kill, I highly recommend to everyone, man or woman, child or adult. Let yourself be transported through a wrinkle in time, and enjoy.