A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal.
I am not sure Madeleine L’Engle’s book would have been published in today’s market. It starts very slow, taking three chapters to introduce all the main characters and raise a question: where is Meg’s father and why hasn’t he contacted them in over a year? The quest to find her father doesn’t begin till chapter four—page 56 in my version!
Now, I love this book, and I know the end is worth every word I read to get there. But someone who’s never read this book doesn’t know that. And from the (admittedly limited) feedback I’ve gotten about my novel, slow doesn’t hook. Of course, Madeleine L’Engle endured an entire decade of rejection when she tried to get A Wrinkle in Time published, so maybe slow didn’t hook in the 1950’s, either.
The thing is, I’m not sure how else she could have written the story. Dropping us into the middle of the quest to find Meg’s father might have worked to add more excitement right off the bat, but how to explain Calvin’s presence and Charles Wallace’s precociousness and the Missuses Whatsit, Who, and Which?
Some books are slow burners. They kindle a little interest at the beginning, introduce you to a character you want to know more about, raise a question or two that pique your interest. And then they slowly, slowly, flicker into flame until you get to the end, and there’s an enormous conflagration, and you realize with satisfaction that the fire started with that little spark and that it was, in fact, inevitable once the spark caught.
This is a book like that. It explores the nature of space and time and love and freedom, but it does so slowly, unfolding like a flower, at its own pace, in its own way. I like that—that it doesn’t try to be something it’s not (a fast-paced thriller, for instance), that it doesn’t conform to the “rules” that fiction is supposed to follow (there are, for example, several characters who make but one appearance in the story), that it, instead, reaches for something beyond those rules, for truth that can only be expressed in story, in this story, told this way.
Perhaps that is why this book ultimately won a Newbery—because it is true and beautiful and reminds us who we are and what we are capable of.
If you’ve not read this book and would like a free copy, I’m giving mine away. I warn you, though: it’s a mass market version that is hideously ugly in the way that only books printed in the 70’s can be. And it’s been well-loved (including a possible douse in the bathtub or some other body of water…). But it’s totally readable, and it’s free for the asking. Just leave a comment and Jack-the-random-number-generator will pick a winner. I’ll announce who it is next Tuesday.