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A Quick Guide to the World of “A Wrinkle in Time”

A Wrinkle in Time, the first book in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, has been adapted to film for the second time and will be in theatres on March 9. The young adult book was first published in 1962, swept up various book awards for that year, gained, and keeps on attracting, many loyal fans.

Because the world of the Time Quintet can be a little heady even for adults, we thought we would compose a quick guide to the series for those who have never read the books before, and for those whose memories of the books may be a bit foggy.

It’s worth starting with L’Engle. She lived from 1918 to 2007, and wrote for many years before any of her novels were accepted. In fact, A Wrinkle in Time was rejected over thirty times. From there she published nearly fifty other books which also raked in awards and fan adoration.

Almost all of her books reflect her deep interest in science along with her Christian beliefs, which ironically had many of her books, especially A Wrinkle in Time, banned by some religious groups. Though many of her books reflect her Episcopalian worldview, they are probably on the same level of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, which also reflect his religious worldview to some degree. (Of course, there are exceptions: the bulk of L’Engle’s Many Waters is obviously set during the book of Genesis.)

Characters

A Quick Guide to the World of “A Wrinkle in Time” - n3rdabl3
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) and Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) in a still from the upcoming film.

A Wrinkle in Time and the other Time Quintet books almost all feature the same main cast of characters, mostly centered around the Murry family. The family consists of Meg, the main character in three of the books, her brothers Sandy and Dennys, the middle twins who are rarely involved in more fantastical elements of the Quintet’s books, Charles Wallace, the youngest, who shares something of a psychic condition with his sister, and of course, the Murry parents, who are both scientists. There is also Calvin O’Keefe, a boy a few years older than Meg that attends her school. In the very last book in the QuintetAn Acceptable Time, the main character is a young girl named Poly, though some Murrys return for it.

Though antagonists differ from book to book, it’s usually a sense of darkness cutting people off from light more than a specific, defined antagonist. Sometimes this darkness manifests itself as the “ecthroi,” which literally means “enemies” in Greek. They are creatures which imitate, trick, sicken, and deaden in an effort to snuff out more light, especially the stars, which are anthropomorphized to some extent within this series. Each book also has casts of fantastical guides and companions unique to each volume.

The Time Quintet

A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time is the first in the series. Avoiding too many spoilers, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin go with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, three supernatural guides, to find Meg and Charles Wallaces’ father. Wrinkling is a particular mode of transportation which the US government is experimenting with, though other mystical beings do it naturally enough.

A Wind in the Door takes place shortly after the first book. Charles Wallace has entered school and is bullied because of his advanced intelligence, and worse yet, has come down with an unidentifiable disease. This adventure delves into the inner space of the body, rather than outer space, as we are usually inclined to think of it.

Many Waters is technically the fourth book in the Quintet, but it takes place before A Swiftly Tilting Planet, so we would recommend you read this one after A Wind in the Door. It was notoriously hard to find pre-Internet and it’s still often overlooked today.

It’s actually a fairly interesting book for its take on theology. In the Old Testament, there are a few lines about the daughters of men marrying giants or the “sons of God,” depending on the edition. L’Engle suggests that these giants are fallen angels. Sandy and Dennys appear in the midst of this world before the flood that made Noah famous because they were monkeying around with an experiment in their parents’ labs.

goes back to Meg and Charles Wallace. Meg is now a married adult, and the family has gathered for a tense Thanksgiving, as a dictator is threatening nuclear war. Charles Wallace is summoned to address the situation by traveling through time in an attempt to change the future. Charles Wallace’s interactions with the past are done through entirely unique means which sets it apart from many other time travel stories. The story is heady, and definitely meant for an audience that has aged along with the cast of the books.

An Acceptable Time is about the next generation of children. Poly, a Murry character’s child (we won’t say whose) spends the autumn with her grandparents. Poly begins experiencing strange things near their home, such as running into ancient druids who lived in the same area 3000 years earlier. Although she is instructed on how to refrain from slipping into the past, she can’t really stop it, and she becomes embroiled in a conflict from long ago.

This book is also the fourth and last book L’Engle wrote about Poly, so there is a lot to miss in An Acceptable Time. The catch-up can feel frustrating at times, even when L’Engle is gentle with the references and call-backs. If you really want to get into the meat of Poly’s story too, her four preceding books are The Arm of the StarfishDragons in the Waters, and A House Like a Lotus. Keep in mind that these books are technically their own series, and not a part of the Time Quintet. 

While we’re on the subject of books, there are a ton of editions of all of these books out. Even the most recent book in the series is almost thirty years old!

A Quick Guide to the World of “A Wrinkle in Time” - n3rdabl3
The art varies wildly in quality from edition to edition of each book, but the consistent (and attractive) art style of the Dell-Yearling editions make them highly sought after by fans.

All of the editions are pretty much the same in terms of content, though the Dell-Yearling books had great covers (many editions are downright ugly), if aesthetics are important to you. Later volumes also tend to include family trees. The graphic novel edition of A Wrinkle in Time is also worth checking out, but we would recommend reading the original first. It also important to remember that multivolume editions usually only include the first three books of the Quintet. 

2003 Film Adaptation

There was also one previous film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time that came out in 2003. Don’t bother with it. The effects are lame, the book was translated poorly and reedited and recut a number of times for film and TV, and most damning of all, L’Engle herself said that she had, “glimpsed it… I expected it to be bad, and it is.

Although L’Engle is no longer with us, we have to hope that this new adaptation would exceed her past expectations were she still around, and perhaps paves the way for a whole film series about the Murrys and the O’Keefes.