Banned Books Awareness: “A Wrinkle in Time”

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Upon its publication in 1962, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time became an instant classic, selling more than 10 million copies in the years since. L’Engle’s book takes place in a vibrant fantasy world that stimulates the imagination and captivates readers both young and old.

A writer for the Saturday Review said, “[it is] original, different, exciting.” The New York Times Book Review described the novel with “imaginative readers should find it wholly absorbing- for in her highly accelerated spin through space, Miss L’Engle never loses sight of human needs and emotions.”

A Wrinkle in Time quickly won the coveted Newbery Medal in 1963. It is a tale filled with magic, mystery, and adventure; but the very core of it is the heartwarming quest of a girl wanting nothing more than to find her father- a government scientist who disappears after working on a mysterious project called a tesseract, a concept commonly known today as a wormhole; L’Engle was inspired after reading several texts about quantum physics.

Their travels take them to the planet Uriel, where everything is good; and winged centaurs sing praises. They discover that the Universe is being attacked by a monster called the Black Thing. The Black Thing captured Meg’s father and took him to the planet Camazotz, where everything is controlled by a disembodied brain called IT. IT demands absolute conformity, to the point that all houses, towns, and cities look exactly the same.

Doesn’t sound like such a bad book, does it? Unfortunately, some people needed yet another item for the fires of ignorance…

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different” due to it having a female hero as a lead character- something unheard of at the time; and because it “deals overtly with the problem of evil, was too difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adults’ book, anyhow?”

Some early accusations centered around rhetoric that it was pro-communist- a hot-button issue for the politically-unstable 1960’s.

A Wrinkle in Time has been mostly banned by various religious groups. Chief among them, the Jerry Falwell ministries, accuse the book of containing offensive language, and argue that it undermines religious beliefs and challenges their idea of God.

Some people think it’s too Christian, while others think it is not Christian enough.

In addition to quotes from various philosophers, poets, and playwrights (notably Shakespeare), the novel contains several references to Biblical verses. L’Engle was the official writer-in-residence at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is known for being in the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church. Her Christian viewpoint shows throughout much of her fantasy series in much the same way as C.S. Lewis’ did in his works.

Her “liberal Christianity” has been the target of criticism from other, more conservative, Christians, especially with respect to certain elements of A Wrinkle in Time; marking another similarity between her and Lewis.

L’Engle doesn’t feel that any of her books have specific Christian messages, as she doesn’t want to limit her books to Christian readers. If her books have any message, says L’Engle, it’s that “the universe is basically benign.”

Ironically, while religious extremists like Falwell spend so much time and energy trying to ban books, America’s largest Christian publisher, Zondervan Publishing House, circulates a guide to teenage literature for Christian families called Read for Your Life that actually gives praise for several books that are common targets of the Religious Right, including A Wrinkle in Time. The guide lists it as one of the Top Ten Christian fiction stories of all time.

One of the main concepts in the book is the struggle between good and evil. The book is also about love, friendship, honor, loyalty, and family; yet, ironically, critics cry of supposedly Satanic undertones.

The school system of Anniston, Alabama, challenged it in 1990 because someone objected to the book’s citing the name of Jesus together with the names of other artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders who defended Earth against evil.

Religious groups have challenged the book because its female characters- Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which- use magical powers to take Meg and her brother, Charles, on a space trip through the fifth dimension. Objecting parents and pastors claimed that the characters are really witches practicing black magic under the guise of “New Age” religion, based on Hindu and Buddhist cultures. They claim that children are being indoctrinated with Eastern religions and mystical practices by the references and imagery of crystal balls, psychic healing, astral travel, and telepathy.

Citizens for Excellence in Education in Waterloo, Iowa, accused L’Engle of promoting occult practices, employing Satanic suggestions, sadism, and “implying that Christ was not divine” by comparing him to the world’s other great leaders of peace.

Most efforts to ban A Wrinkle in Time have failed, but the novel is nevertheless listed at number 23 of the 100 most-challenged books of 1990-1999 and at number 90 for 2000-2009, according to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

At the climax of the adventure, when our heroes arrive on Camazotz, Charles is kidnapped by IT. The family escapes, but Meg goes back to rescue her brother after learning that IT cannot tolerate the emotion of “love.” With IT defeated, they return to Earth, enlightened about how to live peacefully, and how to treat others well.

It combined science and Christianity in an ingenious and entertaining way. The two are so often seen as polar opposites, but she showed just how similar they both can be. Family, loyalty, love, courage, and a quest for knowledge- these are virtuous things that everyone should aspire to.

Perhaps the Black Thing has stepped out of the pages of fiction to shroud the minds of the ignorant and cast its dark shadow over reason and common sense.

 

 

For a complete list of titles covered and more information about the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project, please visit www.deepforestproductions.com

Sources: USA Today, Wikipedia, Amazon, American Library Association, Detroit News, The South End (Wayne State University)
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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