‘A Wrinkle in Time’ opens March 9. Here’s why both the book and the feature film are such important milestones.
In 1963 Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious prize in children’s literature. The book was adapted to a TV miniseries in 2003, but given the book’s literary and commercial success, it’s surprising that it’s taken nearly six decades to make its way to the big screen. Finally, on March 9 Ava DuVernay’s highly anticipated film adaptation will hit theaters across the country and world.
But the stars aligned, because there’s no better director than DuVernay to transform the iconic middle grade book into a feature film that’s just as groundbreaking as its inspiration. Meg Murry, the young protagonist of A Wrinkle in Time, has frequently been hailed as one of the most inspiring heroines of fiction — so it couldn’t be more fitting that the film’s director and screenwriter (Jennifer Lee, of Frozen fame) are women.
Then there’s the diversity of the cast, which makes the movie groundbreaking in its own right. If A Wrinkle in Time had been made shortly after the book’s publication (or even several years ago), it’s highly unlikely that a director would have considered casting a non-white actress for the role of Meg Murry. But DuVernay had a clear vision: she told TIME she immediately knew she wanted Meg to have brown skin. For the three adult leads (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who), she looked for performers who were “black, white and someone who wasn’t either… I wasn’t just casting for actresses. I was casting for leaders — icons,” DuVernay said. She found them in Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling.
The role of Meg Murry is particularly meaningful for 14-year-old Storm Reid, who previously collaborated with DuVernay on 12 Years a Slave. “It means everything to be a girl of color and play Meg Murry because Meg Murry is, in the books, a Caucasian little girl,” Reid told Entertainment Weekly last October. “It’s just surreal because I get to empower other little African-American girls around the world and say that you can be a superhero and you rock and you can conquer the world and you are beautiful just the way you are and your flaws are nothing and you’re awesome. It feels really good to be able to inspire not only little girls [but] everyone.”
DuVernay has said: “You’re seeing worlds being built from the point of view of a black woman from Compton… So, when I’m told, ‘Create a planet.’ My planet is going to look different from my white male counterparts’ planet, which we’ve seen 97 percent of the time, so you’re used to seeing that. So is this going to be as fallible, as interesting, as intriguing? These are all questions that we’ve only barely been able to ask with Patty Jenkins’s great work in Wonder Woman. What do worlds through a woman visionary’s lens even look like?” It’s safe to say that millions of people are eagerly awaiting the chance to see those worlds.
Although many of us grew up reading L’Engle’s classic Time Quintet, we could all use a plot refresher and some background on the literary genius who penned the series before we head to the movie theater.
1. A Brief Summary of L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time
When the book begins, Meg Murry is painfully insecure about both her appearance and her intelligence — especially because she’s the child of two brilliant scientists. A misfit at school, Meg is mocked by her classmates and dismissed as “stupid” by her teachers. To top it off, her father has been missing for over a year and the town can’t stop gossiping about his disappearance.
When Mrs. Whatsit (played by Mindy Kaling in the film) arrives at the Murry home in the middle of a stormy night, Meg learns she’s a celestial creature who can read the young girl’s mind and has a solution to finding Mr. Murry: They’ll travel through space and time to get to the “fifth dimension.”
Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and her new friend Calvin O’Keefe embark on the journey, but it’s a dangerous one. Mrs. Whatsit, along with her friends Mrs. Who (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) tell the children that multiple planets —including the one on which Mr. Murry is imprisoned — have been overtaken by an evil force. Mr. Murry, Calvin and Meg successfully escape, but Charles Wallace becomes a prisoner of the very same planet as his father.
Fearless Meg returns to the planet on her own to save her brother. The power of her love is stronger than the evil that resides there, and she brings him safely home.
2. It’s Been on Many “Banned Books” Lists
L’Engle was a liberal Christian, and A Wrinkle in Time has been controversial since its publication in 1962. Strangely enough, it’s been criticized by different groups for being both “too religious” and “anti-Christian.” In 1985 a Florida school challenged the book, claiming it promoted witchcraft and demons. In 1990 a number of Alabama schools called for A Wrinkle in Time to be banned due to references to Jesus Christ alongside Buddha, Shakespeare and Gandhi.
L’Engle took the criticism in stride and even looked for the bright side. “It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy,” she told The New York Times in 2001. “First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, ‘Ah, the hell with it.’ It’s great publicity, really.’”
3. Meg Murry Is Based on L’Engle
Although the whole (spoiler alert!) traveling-to-a-different-planet plotline is pure fiction, L’Engle’s characterization of Meg was semi-autobiographical. She described her preteen and teen self as gawky, eccentric and a poor student. From the moment she could hold a pen, L’Engle used writing as a coping mechanism.
In a personal interview featured at the end of the 2007 edition of A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle shared that she always knew she wanted to be a writer. She wrote her first story at age five, and her work was published shortly thereafter. “When I was a child, [my] poem [was published] in Child Life,” she recalled. “It was all about a lonely house and was very sentimental.” (Not too shabby for someone who considered herself unintelligent.)
L’Engle went on to graduate cum laude with an English degree from Smith College, so it’s safe to say she’d always been smarter than she gave herself credit for.
4. A Wrinkle in Time Was Rejected at Least 26 Times
Aspiring novelists, take note — J.K. Rowling isn’t the only iconic author who received multiple rejections before finally publishing one of the most popular books in modern history.
L’Engle finished writing A Wrinkle in Time in 1960, but it took two years and many rejections before she personally delivered the manuscript to John Farrar, the publisher at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, won the Newbery Medal the following year, and the rest is history.
5. The Book’s Themes Remain Relevant in 2018
Twelve-year-old Meg’s perception of herself as someone who will never fit in and does everything wrong is a universal theme that has remained relevant since the day A Wrinkle in Time hit the shelves. In the introduction to the 2007 edition, Anna Quindlen summed up why the book’s message is so important: “On its surface this is a book about three children who fight an evil force threatening their planet. But it is really about a more primal battle all humans face, to respect, defend, and love themselves.”
Aside from the universal theme of the struggle for self-acceptance, 2018 is the ideal year to release A Wrinkle in Time — especially with DuVernay’s diverse, incredibly talented cast. Because the genre is science fiction, it’s an excellent form of escapism. But its themes of fear, evil and the incredible dangers of complacency and inaction hit close to home.
Although the plot has a happy ending, it’s just dark enough that audiences will hopefully be inclined to reflect on what’s happening in the country and world and why it’s so dangerous. Much like Meg, we’re more powerful than we think — and we can all be change makers in our own way.