Thanks to author Madeleine L’Engle, many readers know exactly what “tesseract” means.
At least they think they know. In real life, "tesseract" is actually a geometry concept. But in pop culture, the word is inextricably linked to time travel and L’Engle’s classic novel “A Wrinkle in Time,” which celebrates its 50h anniversary this year. A special edition of the book will be released tomorrow, with extras that include the text of L’Engle’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech, an introduction by “Bridge to Teribithia” author Katherine Paterson, and an afterword by L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis.
In the novel, main character Meg Murry’s father left on a government mission months ago but has gone missing. Then, one night during a thunderstorm, Meg and her family are visited by a mysterious woman who introduces herself as Mrs Whatsit. Mrs Whatsit and her companions convince Meg, Meg’s brother Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend Calvin that they must embark on a journey to find Meg and Charles Wallace’s father and save him from a terrible evil.
In addition to winning the Newbery Medal, “A Wrinkle in Time” was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and won the Sequoyah Book Award and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. The book was the first in a series by L’Engle about the Murry family which consisted of four other books. The first, “A Wind in the Door,” follows Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin as they meet a cherubim and fight off new villains, creatures called Echthroi. The next book in the series, “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” jumps ahead several years to a time when Charles Wallace must save the world from a dangerous dictator. In “Many Waters,” Meg and Charles Wallace’s brothers Sandy and Dennys are transported back to Biblical times, and the last book in the series, “An Acceptable Time,” details the adventures of one of the members of the next generation of the family, a girl named Polly.
Despite time travel and other science fiction plot devices, L’Engle biographer Leonard Marcus says the book’s major theme is Meg’s love for her family, the most powerful weapon she possesses in the fight against the evil IT.
“At its core it’s about a girl’s love for her father,” Marcus said in an interview with The New York Times. “And that emotional level transcends the genre aspect of the book.”
While still beloved by many readers, “A Wrinkle in Time” is also one of the most frequently banned books in the United States, according to a list released by the American Library Association. In the ALA’s list of “100 Most Frequently Banned Books” for the decade of 1990 to 1999, L’Engle’s novel came in at number 23. Critics say the book’s battle between good and evil reflects badly on religion.
But banning the book hasn’t stopped it from being deeply embedded in pop culture – and it’s not going away anytime soon. “A Wrinkle in Time” has been adapted into play form, and a film version was produced by several companies in Canada and aired in the United States on ABC in 2004. The movie starred actress Katie Stuart as Meg, David Dorfman as Charles Wallace, and “Everwood” actor Gregory Smith as Calvin. (L’Engle, who died in 2007, saw the film and later said, “I expected it to be bad, and it is.”) Later, the book cropped up on the popular ABC television series “Lost,” which was famous for referencing classic works of literature. (Con man Sawyer read the book while stranded on the island). A feature film adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” is currently in production at Disney.
And future generations? Author Melissa Wiley, who writes for the blog GeekMom, says she loved the novel so much she couldn’t wait to share it with her kids, who devoured it as quickly as she did and clamored for the sequels.
“Tessering – what a marvel!” Wiley wrote of the book. “And all those Camazotz kids bouncing their balls in perfect unison! Remember how your heart pounded when that one boy lost control of his ball and it went rolling into the street, and his mother totally panicked? I swear, my heart is beating faster right now, just thinking about it. Because this is a book that still tessers me to another world.”
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.