A novel by Madeleine L'Engle
(1983, Farrar, Straus and Giroux [original copyright 1962])
Three children travel to a remote planet to rescue their father
from an evil entity that has enslaved entire civilizations, helped by
three immortal witches.
4th, 2014 to March 7, 2015 in paperback for the 2nd time
I had a lot of trouble with this book.
From the very first page, I found the writing to be very difficult. I
got used to it to a certain extent, and I don’t even know how to explain
what the trouble was. The story was a simple one, but good for the kids,
I guess, though I found the ending to be anti-climactic and rather
I first read this book a long time ago, possibly as a pre-teen. I
remember enjoying it, but it never really stuck in my mind. The only
thing I really remembered was the kids traveling to a 2D planet and
getting squashed, as well as tesseract being a 5-dimensional space.
There is more to this book than that, including the love family members
have, the exploration of conformity, and resistance to anything that
restricts freedom of decisions.
Unfortunately, I had trouble
reading the book from the first few pages, and all throughout. I can’t
describe what I had trouble with –the words were not excessively
difficult, and although some sentences were quite long, I’ve had no
trouble with other authors who do the same thing. But every time I sat
down to read this to my child, I felt like I had to start the struggle
again, which is unfortunate.
The book didn’t really engage me,
either. The beginning was slow, and the characters seemed overly
simplistic. Out to rescue their father, the kids visited a couple of
planets, where they observed various spectacular oddities, then moved on
to Camatzotz, where the dark IT has taken control. Fighting IT is hard,
especially for kids, and it is nice to see that they couldn’t defeat IT
in the first book, at least. But they accomplish what they set out to
do, and we get the sense that there is more to do.
Charles Wallace are not normal children. The offspring of very
intelligent people, they are super-intelligent themselves - Charles
Wallace even more so. He could almost see into people, see their
thoughts, and even though he is very young, he talks like an adult. Meg
always feels like she needs to protect him, while he also protects her
It appears that he has already met the three
witches. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit are really immortal
creatures that have taken human form, but have come to help the children
fight the dark thing, which their father has also gone to fight. We
don’t get insight on how the father learned about the dark thing, nor
how he managed to tesser to the planet where IT was in control. Is IT
the brain of the darkness, or one of the dark thing’s servants?
boy from school, Calvin, joins them. He is a little older, and is a
little more popular, but comes from an abusive family. All are outcasts
in some ways.
The story gets going when the witches take the
kids to a planet where they see beautiful beasts on a stopover to their
real destination. Then they visit a being that can apparently see all
across the universe. She shows them Earth, partially blocked by the Dark
Thing, as well as Camatzotz, which is totally encased –this is where
their father was captured.
Camatzotz is under the control of IT,
which issues commands through the man with the red eyes. As in fairy
tales, the witches cannot help them in their quest, but give them gifts
which will undoubtedly help. The only really useful one is Mrs. Who’s
glasses, which eventually allow Meg to pass through a wall into the
pillar where her father is being held. Telling Calvin he has a gift for
communication doesn’t help, though he almost gets through to Charles
Wallace after the boy succumbs. Charles Wallace was given a warning about his
pride and faith in his abilities. The man with the red eyes was much
stronger, and once ensnared (on purpose, to get within), he couldn’t get
For a society that prides itself on being uniform, Charles
Wallace is kept different. He becomes pompous, crass, condescending and
unlikable, which is different from the other people of this planet. Even
the man with the red eyes wasn’t this bad. Things would have been made
easier for IT if it had made him behave like the others, keeping him
indifferent to things around him. Instead, Meg and Calvin are constantly reminded of how
different he is from his old self –but only because he keeps treating
Once Meg rescues her father with Mrs. Who’s
glasses, they confront IT, a gigantic brain sitting on a table, but it
is too strong for all of them. Just before they are taken by IT, the
father tessers them away to another planet – but without Charles
Wallace. Having been touched by IT and traversed through the Dark Thing,
Meg is grumpy and severely upset at her father for leaving her brother
behind, at least until the sightless creatures of that planet take the
darkness out of her and she recovers. I liked the description of those
creatures, as they knew so much about the universe without sight, though
they are missing so many wonders of the universe.
Everybody then agrees (some
reluctantly) that Meg should go back to rescue Charles Wallace. It
doesn’t make sense, for all the reasons she states in that chapter, but
everyone agrees anyway. Typical in a kids’ book, they tell her she has
the gifts to defeat IT, but refuse to tell her what it is, so she has to
figure it out on her own, just in time. I guess it becomes more powerful
and genuine in that case. But when she realizes that love is the weapon
she can use, I had to scratch my head. Why? Why would IT be without
love? Maybe it loves the citizens of the planet –loves them for
following its instructions, loves them as a community. Love doesn’t have
to be completely selfless- there are many kinds of love. Restricting
love to a single definition is over-simplifying.
works, she rescues Charles Wallace, and they are all tessered back to
their home in the US for a family reunion, and with Calvin.
don’t mind the fact that the book doesn’t actually solve the problem of
the Dark Thing, as the point of this first in a series was to rescue
their father. But the rescue seems way too easy after the mental
struggles they went through earlier. The book is old enough to call the
Andromeda galaxy a nebula, and it has a lot of religious overtones not
usually seen in a SF book. The story calls people like Jesus and Ghandi
beings who went out to fight the Dark Thing, which implies the evil has
been around a while.
I don’t remember what happens in the next
books, so when I resume this series, it will be like rediscovering it
all again, I hope.