Double Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time & A Wind in the Door

I have two book reviews today, for the first two books in the A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L'Engle.

L'Engle's story is an inspiration for authors who struggle to find time to write and yet continue the attempt until finally achieving success. Born in 1918, she kept a journal as a child, which was the start of her writerly pursuits. By the mid 1940s she had published two novels, but then she met her husband, and they started a family and took over the running of a general store. Still she found time for another novel in 1951. Raising a family and busy helping with the store made it difficult to find time to write. She kept on writing but was finding limited success. In 1958, on her 40th birthday, after receiving another in a line of rejection notes she vowed to give up on any further career as a writer. Fortunately, despite her stated intent, she continued to write and in 1960 completed her most famous work, A Wrinkle in Time. She went on to write more than 50 published books.

L'Engle was an Episcopalian who, at the time of writing A Wrinkle in Time had struggled with her faith, but found affirmation in the unlikeliest of places - physics. It is her unique combination of her religious and the scientific understanding that is said to power much of her work, and that definitely comes through in these two books.

And so, on to the reviews - 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

The first of what became a series of interrelated books, A Wrinkle in Time was considered unprintable when it made the rounds at publishing houses in 1960. A mix of science fiction and fantasy, fable and parable, the religious and the irreligious, it was considered too much for younger audiences and too odd for adult audiences. Finally picked up and published in 1962 by Farrar, Strauss and Cudahy it has defied the opinions of those early editors, and remained in print ever since. 

A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbery Medal. It was adapted into a well received made-for-TV movie in 2003, and a less well received theatrical one in 2018. It has also been adapted as a play and as a graphic novel. It has been cited by the American Library Association as one of the most commonly challenged (i.e. banned) books in the United States both for its religious themes and it's "supernatural" content. It is today considered a classic young adult book.

It's also a book that, sadly, I had never read until now. For whatever reason the book has existed just on the edge of my awareness and interest. But casting about recently for something more fantasy and less hard science fiction I picked it up. 

I will also admit that I was influenced by reading this recent article from Mental Floss about the origin of the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" as a metaphor for bad writing. The author notes that the line "was a well-known trope in 1962, when Madeleine L’Engle co-opted it as the opening line of her classic fantasy novel". Well, I thought, that took courage as a writer, so I had to find out more...

This is the story of Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin O'Keefe, all three of whom are pulled into an adventure in search of their missing father. Led by Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who they encounter memorable characters like the Happy Medium, Aunt Beast and the dreadful IT. It is an adventure through time and space and a battle between the epic forces of good and evil.

There isn't a lot in the story to pin it to a specific decade or time (although when Calvin talks early on in the book a few old fashioned phrases pop out of his mouth). Much of the story seems not to have aged at all, and is as accessible today as it would have been in 1962. But that's not to say that it's an easily accessible book. It has always been known as a story that refuses to talk down to its younger audience, and challenges them with its references to higher level concepts of math and science.   

I listened to the audiobook that included both a forward by L'Engle and an Afterward by her granddaughter. The narration was by actress Hope Davis, who did a great job voicing all the characters. So what did I think of my long delayed introduction to the book? It rates Four Stars ⭐⭐ from me. If you've never had a chance to pick up this book before, or even if it's been ages since you have it's well worth your time.

A Wrinkle in Time links:

πŸ“™  Borrow this book: Find out if your library has the ebook or audiobook available.

πŸ“˜ Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | AbeBooks | Powells | ThriftBooks 

πŸ“— Support Indie Bookstores: Buy this book directly from or find an Independent Bookstore near you.

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle

Finding that I liked the first book in the series, I decided to pick up the second. A Wind in the Door picks up some time after the completion of the first book and starts with the precocious young Charles Wallace reporting to his older sister that there are dragons in their twin brother's vegetable garden. 

This second book is filled with the same mix of fantasy and science, fable, and religious references as the first. But it is a darker tale than the first book, and as such, is not really as suitable for a younger audience as its predecessor. Charles Wallace is ill, and in fact as the story develops it becomes clearer that his life is in real danger. It falls to Meg, Calvin, and the unlikeable principal of their grade school Mr Jenkins, to work through another adventurous battle between good and evil so that they can not only save poor Charles Wallace but also right the balance of the universe.

This adventure is structured as a series of lessons as laid out in an education from an unlikely creature who it turns out isn't a dragon but rather a cherubim. Yes, there are lessons to be learned and they can only be learned through journeying deep into Charles Wallace's cells to turn back the evil Echthros that threaten his life.

If the world and the epic journey of A Wrinkle in Time seem timeless and the main parable of the story broadly applicable, the same can't be said for A Wind in the Door. The references to the work of the Murry children's father seem to tie the story to the 1970s, and in fact the book was published in 1973. And the theme of the book - the cosmic struggle between good and evil - is tied to the acts of naming and counting, to allow things to be, just as God is said to have numbered every hair on our heads, and to be aware of the fate of even the lowly sparrows. Thus the book is more closely tied to a Christian understanding, and L'Engle's own religious beliefs, than was the first book. 

Perhaps it's because of that that this story comes across as a bit too preachy to me. Also, structuring the story as a set of lessons didn't really seem to spring out of the story itself but rather seemed a writerly crutch. Altogether I wasn't as taken with this book as I was with A Wrinkle in TimeSo for that reason I give A Wind in the Door Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐.

A Wind in the Door links:

πŸ“™  Borrow this book: Find out if your library has the ebook or audiobook available.

πŸ“˜ Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | AbeBooks | Powells | ThriftBooks 

πŸ“— Support Indie Bookstores: Buy this book directly from or find an Independent Bookstore near you.