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A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wrinkle in Time
(same cover as first edition except for addition of the Newbery Medal)
Author(s) Madeleine L'Engle
Cover artist Ellen Raskin (1960s editions),
Leo and Diane Dillon (current hardcover)
Country United States
Language English
Series Time Quartet
Genre(s) Young Adult, Science fiction novel
Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication date 1962
Media type Print ( hardcover and paperback)
Pages 211 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-374-38613-7
Followed by A Wind in the Door

A Wrinkle in Time is a science fantasy novel by Madeleine L'Engle, written between 1959 and 1960 and published in 1962 after at least 26 rejections by publishers because it was, in L'Engle's words, "too different". The book went on to win a Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. It is the first in L'Engle's series of books about the Murry and O'Keefe families.

Plot summary

Meg Murry is a teenage girl, regarded by her peers and teachers as a bad-tempered underachiever. Her family recognizes her problem as a lack of emotional maturity but also regards her as being capable of great things. The family includes her beautiful scientist mother, her mysteriously missing scientist father, her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace Murry —a nascent super-genius— and ten-year-old twins, athletic brothers Sandy and Dennys Murry.

The book begins with the line, " It was a dark and stormy night," an allusion to the opening words in Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The Murrys are visited by an eccentric old woman named Mrs Whatsit, who has previously made the acquaintance of Charles Wallace. After drying her feet and having a midnight snack with Charles, Meg and their mother, Mrs Whatsit tells an already perplexed Dr. Murry that "there is such a thing as a tesseract."

Shortly thereafter, Meg and Charles encounter Meg's schoolmate Calvin O'Keefe, a high school junior who, although he is a "big man on campus", turns out to be keen to join Meg and Charles Wallace for further encounters with Mrs Whatsit and her equally eccentric friends Mrs Who and Mrs Which.

Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which turn out to be transcendental beings who transport Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin through the galaxy by means of tesseract, a fifth dimensional concept which is explained as being similar to folding the fabric of space and time. The "Mrs W's" reveal to the children that the galaxy is under attack from a dark cloud, which is the visible manifestation of evil. Meg's missing father was working on a secret government project to achieve faster-than-light travel by tesseract, and accidentally wound up on Camazotz, an alien planet inside the "Black Thing". The children also discover that Earth is partially covered by the darkness, although great religious figures, philosophers, and artists are fighting against it. They also learn that Mrs Whatsit was a star who exploded in an act of self-sacrifice to fight the darkness.

The children travel to Camazotz and rescue Meg's father, who has been imprisoned by an evil disembodied brain with powerful telepathic abilities, which the inhabitants of Camazotz call "IT". However, Charles Wallace is mentally dominated by IT, and is left behind when the others flee, tessering through the Black Thing to a planet inhabited by sightless but wise beasts. When she arrives, Meg is paralyzed, and coldly resentful. Meg recovers and is tessered to Camazotz with Mrs Which, as she is the only one who can rescue Charles Wallace from IT. Confronting IT, Meg realizes that she can free her brother by loving him intensely, because love is an emotion that the evil IT cannot stand. Charles Wallace is freed, and the three Murrys and Calvin return home.


Primary human characters

Meg Murry

Margaret "Meg" Murry is the eldest child of scientists Alex and Kate Murry. Mathematically brilliant but less than adept at other subjects in school, Meg is "awkward", unpopular, and defensive around authority figures as well as her peers. Although she has the brains to accomplish difficult tasks, she rarely puts her strengths to use. She loves her family, especially her brother, Charles Wallace, and longs desperately for her missing father. Like many adolescent girls Meg is unhappy with her physical appearance, particularly her mouse-brown, unruly hair, braces and glasses; and considers herself a "monster" in comparison with her mother. Her age is not given in the book (or in subsequent books of the series), but she is "a couple of grades" below Calvin, who is fourteen years old but in eleventh grade, making her approximately fourteen years old also. Introduced on the first page of the book, she is the story's protagonist.

Charles Wallace

Charles Wallace Murry is the youngest Murry child, the most extraordinary and the most vulnerable of the novel's human characters, and the youngest to journey to Camazotz. Charles Wallace did not talk at all until he was nearly four years old, at which time he began to speak in complete sentences. Now five years old, Charles Wallace seldom speaks to anyone but his family, but can empathically or telepathically "read" certain people's thoughts and feelings, and has an extraordinary vocabulary. A biological "sport", he is intellectually curious, loving, and unfazed by extraordinary people and events. He was the first to meet the Mrs Ws and brought Meg to see them. Initially able to block IT out of his mind, he opens himself to the Man with Red Eyes and thus falls under ITs control. He first appears in Chapter Seven.

Calvin O'Keefe

Calvin O'Keefe is the third eldest of Paddy and Branwen O'Keefe's eleven children, a tall, thin, red-haired 14-year-old high school junior who plays on the school basketball team. Neglected by his own family, Calvin joyfully enters the lives of the Murry family, starting in Chapter Two. He shows some signs of being able to communicate telepathically, a technique referred to in later books as kything.

Primary immortal characters

Mrs Whatsit

Mrs Whatsit is first described as an elderly woman wrapped in layers of clothes. She first appears in chapter one. Charles Wallace, a five year old boy in the book, found her in a ' haunted house' in the woods, where she has been living with her two friends, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. Mrs Whatsit is the youngest of the Mrs W's (despite being over 2.37 billion years old), and the best of the three at interacting with the children.

In Chapter Four, the group (Charles Wallace, Calvin, and Meg) witnesses the physical transformation of Mrs Whatsit into a centaur-like winged being on the planet Uriel. Mrs Whatsit is also revealed to have been a star that sacrificed itself by exploding in order to destroy a section of the Black Thing.

Mrs Who

Mrs Who is described as a plump woman with spectacles. She is seen quoting Latin, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Greek. She also quotes William Shakespeare and the Bible repeatedly. Mrs Whatsit explains that Mrs Who finds it "difficult to verbalize" in her own words. She is first introduced in Chapter Two.

Mrs Which

Mrs Which is the oldest of the Mrs W's, and the most authoritative, although she interacts less with the children than do Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who. She is normally seen as little more than a shimmer of light or a shadow. Mrs Which seldom (if ever) fully materializes, but in human form she resembles a stereotyped witch in black robe and peaked hat. She finds it hard to think as a corporeal being. In Chapter Five, she accidentally takes Charles, Meg, and Calvin to a two-dimensional world. She speaks with a stammer


IT is the bodiless telepathic brain that dominates the planet of Camazotz. It speaks through The Man With Red Eyes and later through Charles Wallace, and is functionally part of the interstellar cloud of evil called the Black Thing. IT is described as slightly larger than a human brain. Housed near the "CENTRAL Central Intelligence" building, IT is said to pulse and quiver on its dais. Its aim is to enforce absolute conformity on Camazotz, with the claimed benefit of eliminating war, unhappiness and inefficiency. However, IT is aware of its cruelty, referring to "ITself" as "the Happiest Sadist".

Proper way to refer to the immortal characters

Madeleine L'Engle specifically requested her American publisher to use the British punctuation of "Mrs" (with no full stop following) to designate the characters Mrs Who, Mrs Which and Mrs Whatsit. However, there were several mix-ups regarding punctuation in general, and the books were printed with a full stop following "Mrs" despite the author's wishes.

Supporting human characters

Dr. Alexander (Alex) Murry

Dr. Alexander (Alex) Murry is an astrophysicist, researching the mysteries of the space/time continuum, specifically five-dimensional means of travel between planets. He is also the father of Meg, Sandy, Dennys and Charles Wallace. He has been missing for some time as the novel opens. Not even his government colleagues know where he is. (Note: Dr. Murry's first name is given in a later novel in the series, a fact that was ignored by the writers of the book's television adaptation.) He first appears in a flashback in Chapter One.

Dr. Katherine (Kate) Murry

Dr. Kate Murry is a microbiologist, wife of Dr. Alexander Murry, and mother of the four Murry children. She is considered beautiful by the Murry children and others, having "flaming red hair" and violet eyes. Her physical attractiveness, academic and scientific accomplishments give Meg a bit of an inferiority complex. She is introduced in Chapter One, and usually referred to as Mrs. Murry. As in her husband's case, her first name is revealed in a later book, and does not match the one given in the television version of the story.

Alexander (Sandy) Murry

Sandy Murry and his twin brother Dennys are the middle children in the Murry family, older than Charles Wallace but younger than Meg. They are 10 years old at the time of this book. Sandy is named after his father, Dr. Alex Murry. Although they are certainly intelligent, Sandy and his twin are considered the "normal" children in the family: B students, good at sports, and well able to fit in with their peers. Of the twins, Sandy is generally the leader, and the more pragmatic of the two. He and Dennys first appear in Chapter One.

Dennys Murry

Dennys Murry is the twin of Sandy Murry. Dennys and his twin are usually inseparable, with Dennys generally following Sandy's lead. However, Dennys is slightly less skeptical than his brother about the strange theories and even stranger adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace. (Note: The name Dennys is a shortened version of " Dionysus", but is pronounced the same way as the more common spelling Dennis.)

Supporting alien characters

The Happy Medium lives in a cavern on a planet in Orion's Belt. Human in appearance, she is described as wearing a satin gown and a silk turban, and uses a crystal ball to look at distant places and people. Her title comes from the character's jolly temperament, and her preference for looking at happy things. She is introduced in chapter five. (The name "Happy Medium" is a pun alluding to the common expression for reaching an acceptable compromise: "to find a happy medium.")

Aunt Beast is a character who takes care of Meg on the planet Ixchel after Meg is "frozen" by the Black Thing. Introduced in chapter ten, the character has four arms, no eyes or mouth, and numerous long, waving tentacles instead of fingers. Tall, gray in colour, sightless and telepathic, Aunt Beast has a motherly, nurturing attitude toward Meg. The name Aunt Beast is one that Meg and the alien come up with together, based on the character's perusal of Meg's mind. The character's actual name, if any, is not given.


Early scenes in the novel take place in and around an unnamed village, later established in An Acceptable Time as being in Connecticut. The nearly 200-year-old Murry farmhouse and the nearby "star-watching rock" have parallels in both the Austin family series of books and in L'Engle's Connecticut home, Crosswicks.

When Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace travel to other planets, the ones whose names are given include the following:

  • Camazotz – A planet of extreme, enforced conformity, ruled by a disembodied brain called IT. Camazotz is similar to Earth, with familiar trees such as birches, pines, and maples, an ordinary hill on which the children arrive, and a town with smokestacks, which "might have been one of any number of familiar towns". The horror of the place arises from its ordinary appearance, endlessly duplicated. Thus, the houses are "all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray"; this characterization has been compared with "the burgeoning American suburbia" such as the post-war housing developments of Levittown, Pennsylvania. The people who live in the houses are similarly described, with "mother figures" who "all gave the appearance of being the same". Camazotz has also been compared with "an early sixties American image of life in a Communist state", a characterization partially dismissed as too glib. The name Camazotz refers to a Mayan bat god, one of L'Engle's many mythological allusions in her nomenclature.
  • Ixchel – A planet of muted colors, inhabited by tall, sightless creatures with tentacles. It orbits the same sun as Camazotz. Then name Ixchel refers to a Mayan jaguar goddess of medicine.
  • Uriel – A planet with extremely tall mountains, an allusion to the Archangel Uriel. It is inhabited by creatures that resemble winged centaurs. It is the third planet of the Star Malak in the spiral nebula Messier 101. The site of Mrs Whatsit's temporary transformation into one of these winged creatures, it is the place where "the guardian angels" (i.e. the Mrs Ws, who are explicitly referred to as such by Calvin later in the book) "show the questers a vision of the universe that is obscured on earth."

They also stop briefly on an unnamed two-dimensional planet and on an unnamed planet in Orion's belt, the latter of which is the home of the Happy Medium.

Major themes

Religious content

On the planet Uriel, the centaur-like beings sing a song which translates (brackets indicates text that is in the book but not in the Bible): "Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice[,] … let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord[!]" — Isaiah 42:10–12a (KJV)

When the Mrs W's reveal their secret roles in the cosmic fight against "the darkness" they ask the children to name some on Earth (a partially dark planet) who fight the darkness. First named is Jesus followed by several scientists, religious figures, and artists, including Buddha, Gandhi, Bach, Einstein, Euclid and Copernicus. The three women are ancient star-beings who act as guardian angels.

After the escape from Camazotz, while they are on Ixchel, Alex Murry (Meg's father) tells Meg: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Later in the same chapter, the alien 'Aunt Beast' says to Meg, "We are the called according to His purpose, and whom He call[s], them He also justifie[s]." — Romans 8:28, 30 (KJV)

The last chapter, "The Foolish and the Weak", Mrs Who advises Meg, "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are." — 1 Corinthians 1:25–28

L'Engle's liberal Christianity has been the target of criticism, especially with respect to certain elements of A Wrinkle in Time. This novel is on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number 22. Reasons given include the book's references to witches and crystal balls (although the characters are not in fact witches, and the crystal ball is a science fictional one), the claim that it "challenges religious beliefs", and the listing of Jesus "with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders".


L'Engle has written repeatedly about the writing of the story and the long struggle to get it published. In A Circle of Quiet ( 1972, ISBN 0-374-12374-8), she explains that the book was conceived "during a time of transition". After years of living at Crosswicks and running a general store, L'Engle's family, the Franklins, moved back to New York City, first taking a ten-week camping trip across the country and back again. L'Engle writes that "we drove through a world of deserts and buttes and leafless mountains, wholly new and alien to me. And suddenly into my mind came the names, Mrs Whatsit. Mrs Who. Mrs Which." This was in the Spring of 1959. L'Engle was reading about quantum physics at the time, which also made its way into the story. However, when she completed the book in early 1960, it received a long series of rejections, "because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was too difficult for children, and was it a children's or an adults' book, anyhow?"

In "A Special Message from Madeleine L'Engle" on the Random House website, L'Engle explains another possible reason for the rejections: "A Wrinkle in Time had a female protagonist in a science fiction book," which at the time "wasn't done" according to L'Engle. After trying "forty-odd" publishers (L'Engle later said "twenty-six rejections"), L'Engle's agent returned the manuscript to her. Then at Christmas, L'Engle threw a tea party for her mother. One of the guests happened to know John Farrar of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and insisted that L'Engle should meet with him. Although the publisher did not at the time publish a line of children's books, Farrar met L'Engle, liked the novel and ultimately published it.

The book has been continuously in print since its first publication. The hardback edition is still published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The original blue dust jacket by Ellen Raskin was replaced with new art by Leo and Diane Dillon with the publication of A Swiftly Tilting Planet in 1978. The book has also been published in a twenty-fifth anniversary collectors' edition (limited to 500 signed and numbered copies), at least two book club editions (one hardback, one Scholastic Book Services paperback), as a trade paperback under the Dell Yearling imprint, and as a mass market paperback under the Dell Laurel-Leaf imprint. The cover art on the paperback editions has changed several times since first publication.

The book was reissued by Square Fish in trade and mass market paperback formats in May 2007, along with the rest of the Time Quintet. This new edition includes a previously unpublished interview with L'Engle as well as the text of her Newbery Medal acceptance speech.

Other books in the series

L'Engle has written three other books featuring this generation of the Murry family, collectively known as the Time Quartet. Listed in order of the internal chronology of the series, they are:

  • A Wind in the Door ( 1973) ISBN 0-374-38443-6
  • Many Waters ( 1986) ISBN 0-374-34796-4
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet ( 1978) ISBN 0-374-37362-0

Note that although Many Waters was published approximately eight years after A Swiftly Tilting Planet, it takes place several years earlier, when Sandy and Dennys are in high school and Meg is in college.

Four further novels have been published that feature Meg and Calvin's children, especially Polly O'Keefe. The most recent of these, An Acceptable Time ( 1989, ISBN 0-374-30027-5) features Meg's parents, and is marketed with the four Murry books as the Time Quintet. Nearly every novel by Madeleine L'Engle connects to the Murry-O'Keefe series either directly or indirectly due to appearances by recurring characters. See also: List of L'Engle's works and Major characters in the works of Madeleine L'Engle for further detail.

Concerning A Wrinkle in Time

  • Scholastic BookFiles: A Reading Guide to A Wrinkle in Time ISBN 0-439-46364-5
  • Chase, Carole F. Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine L'Engle and Her Writing, p. 170. Innisfree Press, 1998, ISBN 1-880913-31-3

Audio book

An unabridged four cassette audio edition, read by the author, was released in 1994 by Listening Library, ISBN 0-8072-7587-5.

Television movie

In 2003, a television adaptation of the novel was made by Disney. The movie was directed by John Kent Harrison, and the teleplay was written by Susan Shilliday. Among the many differences between the book and the movie are different first names for Meg's parents and a more contemporary and attractive look for Meg, with neither glasses nor braces. More significantly, religious elements of the novel are largely omitted. For example, the name of Jesus is not mentioned as one who fought against evil; and when Mrs Whatsit asks Charles Wallace to translate the song of the centaur-like creatures on Uriel, he simply says "it's about joy". In an interview with Newsweek, L'Engle said of the film, "I expected it to be bad, and it is." The film was subsequently released on DVD. The special features included a "very rare" interview with Madeleine L'Engle, discussing the novel.

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